Just because your smoothie is made from fruits and vegetables doesn’t mean it’s low in calories or good for you. Even green smoothies can cause you to gain weight if you aren’t careful. Whether it’s store-bought, handcrafted in a juice cafe that claims only the purest of ingredients, or made at home, your favorite blended beverage isn’t always as good for you as you might think. (Weight loss that does work? Try Prevention’s Younger In 8 Weeks plan—you can lose up to 25 pounds in 2 months and feel your best ever!)
You may feel virtuous gulping down a hefty green smoothie, but you are easily eating more than you realize. Smoothies can contain a pound or more of produce—significantly more than you would ever sit down and eat raw. All of that adds up to extra calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. (Here are 5 portion control tips every smart eater should know.) A smoothie should be no more than 8 to 10 ounces according to Leah Groppo, clinical dietitian at Stanford Health Care. Most premade or made-to-order smoothies are nearly twice that at 16 or 24 ounces.
Fix it: Measure out 8 ounces and freeze the extra for later. When you eat out, order the kid’s size—it’s usually closer to 10 ounces. Or, ask for two cups and divide it up so you aren’t tempted to drink the whole thing in one go. You can always freeze or share your uneaten portion.
Even low-calorie foods—like fruits and vegetables—add up. And many smoothies include ingredients like yogurt, sweeteners, sorbet, nut butter, milk, or even ice cream that increase the calories. Bottled and made-to-order smoothies can easily pack in 300 to 600 calories in 16 ounces. “Don’t assume that one package or one bottle is one serving,” says Groppo. “Look at the nutrition label to see how many servings are in it.”
Fix it: Keep an eye out for smoothies with added nut or seed butter, coconut oil, or avocado, as these all add significant amounts of calories. (Steer clear of these 6 ingredients nutritionists avoid putting in their smoothies.)
If you grab a smoothie for a snack, don’t forget to include it in your total calories for the day. Groppo recommends keeping snack smoothies under 150 calories and any that you drink as a meal under 350 calories if you’re trying to lose weight. People who are trying to maintain their weight can go up to 500 to 600 calories for a filling smoothie meal replacement.
Your taste buds don’t lie: If your smoothie tastes sweet, it’s likely full of sugar—many store-bought options have almost as much sugar as a soda. Starbucks’ strawberry smoothie, for instance, has 41 grams of sugar, and Jamba Juice’s Banana Berry Smoothie has a whopping 59 grams in 16 ounces; the same size Mountain Dew has 61 grams of sugar. Bottled smoothies don’t fare any better. Naked Juice smoothies range from 34 to 55 grams.
While there absolutely are health benefits in smoothies including fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, that much sugar (even from fruit) isn’t good for you. Excessive sugar can leave you tired and cranky a couple of hours later and wreak havoc on your blood sugar. It’s particularly dangerous for people with prediabetes or diabetes (here are 8 things you need to do if you’re diagnosed with prediabetes).
Fix it: Make sure your smoothie has more vegetables than fruits, and opt for low-sugar vegetables like kale, spinach, cucumber, and zucchini. Ditch bananas for good—they are high in sugar and are a higher calorie fruit. Fruit juice is also a big no. Use sweet veggies like carrots and beets or low-sugar berries instead. Look for 15 grams of carbs or less for a snack and 30 grams or less for a smoothie you eat as a meal, and make sure not all of those 15 or 30 grams are from sugar.
The rush of sugar from a smoothie spikes your blood sugar and leaves you feeling tired and hungry just hours later. And a lack of protein and healthy fats, which help keep you full, also means you get hunger pangs sooner. Plus, when you actually sit down and chew your food, your body secretes hormones that help increase satiety or how full you feel, says Groppo. “It’s actually better to chew and swallow food rather than drinking food for fullness,” says Groppo. (For the record, there’s also no evidence that blending your food increases how well you absorb the nutrients or improves digestion; blended food just moves through you faster, which means you may end up actually absorbing less than if you were to chew the food.)
Fix it: Slow down! Eat a smoothie with a spoon instead of slurping it up with a straw. Adding fats and protein will help make you feel full longer, but these also make the calories skyrocket. A tablespoon of peanut butter has almost 100 calories, half of an avocado is around 117 calories, and half a cup of Greek yogurt is around 100 calories. An extra boost of fiber and protein from hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax meal, and unsweetened protein powder (try our favorite organic protein powder from Rodale’s) can also help keep you full, but keep an eye on calories here, too. Two tablespoons of chia seeds alone is around 140 calories.
Your body is better able to handle sugar at different times of the day. The more active you are, the better your body can process and absorb sugar. Better absorption means that your blood sugar won’t spike as much and you won’t be left tired and hungry hours later.
Fix it: Post workout is best, but otherwise stick to lunch or another part of the day when you’re the most physically active.