Even green smoothies can harbor unwanted calories, sugar, and fat.
Just because your smoothie is packed with fruits and vegetables doesn't mean it's low in calories or good for you. Even green smoothies can cause weight gain if you aren't careful about what you put in it. Whether it's store-bought or homemade, your favorite blended beverage might be disguising unwanted calories, sugar, and fat.
Yes, smoothies can make a healthy breakfast, as long as they're filled with a good balance of nutrients, including protein, carbs, and healthy fats, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, and author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table. Unlike juices, smoothies don't strip the fiber from vegetables and fruits so they're more filling.
"Smoothies can make a healthy breakfast, but they've evolved into having a health halo even if you put a lot of fruit juice and syrups into them," Taub-Dix says. "It can make you feel invigorated for a little bit because of the sugar high, but then you're left feeling hungry shortly afterward."
To make your smoothie more filling and reduce the sugar content, dietitians recommend getting between 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal. Protein powders are an excellent way to pack in this essential macronutrient, but be sure to choose varieties that have little to no sugar and have zero artificial sweeteners.
You also want to be wary about the kind of liquid base you choose. Fruit juices are loaded with sugar and lack protein and fat. Instead, go for low-fat milk or an unsweetened, non-dairy milk alternative of your choice, like almond, coconut, or cashew. They won't have as much protein as cow's milk, but they'll have some healthy fats that'll help curb hunger.
"I like using Almond Breeze's unsweetened almond milk," says Taub-Dix. "It's only 30 calories per serving and is an excellent source of calcium and vitamins D, E, and A. It’s also lactose-, gluten-, and dairy-free so the whole family can enjoy it."
Healthy fats can also come from unsweetened nut butter, and hemp, chia, or ground flax seeds; they add bit of crunch, too, for digestion. "Adding some 2% Greek yogurt also incorporates healthy fats and protein without loading too many calories. It also adds creaminess and volume, so it promotes satiety," Taub-Dix says.
Moreover, adding low-sugar fruits to your smoothie is a good way to add infuse some natural sweetness without sugar—just remember to stick to only one or two servings. Overloading your smoothies with fruit can cause your blood sugar levels to skyrocket and crash quickly. Using frozen fruits instead of fresh ones also helps thicken your smoothie and makes them creamier.
To further promote satiety and aid digestion, Taub-Dix suggests eating your smoothie in a bowl with a spoon, rather than slurping it down with a straw."It's actually better to chew and swallow food rather than drinking food for fullness," says Leah Groppo, a clinical dietitian at Stanford Health Care. For the record, there's no evidence that blending your food increases how well you absorb the nutrients. Blended food just moves through you faster, which means you may end up actually absorbing less than if you were to chew the food.
Yes and no. If you load up on too much fruit and use fruit juice as your base, then you run the risk of consuming too much sugar and calories, Taub-Dix says. However, if you limit your fruit intake to no more than two servings in your smoothie, then you're getting a healthy amount of fruit while reaping their antioxidants.
If you have trouble eating enough vegetables, smoothies are a great way to incorporate more greens into your diet with the flavors you love. Tossing in dark, leafy greens ensures you're getting a hefty dose of vitamins A and K, as well as fiber, but frozen cauliflower, sweet potato, and zucchini are also great options. For an additional nutrition boost, consider popping in some turmeric, matcha powder, or adaptogens, and warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom for flavor.
"Some people who are vegetable averse will find it easier to sip on a green smoothie if it tastes like strawberry banana. And then, there are some people who like to load up on greens and blend it with fresh herbs instead of fruit. It all depends on your taste preference," Taub-Dix says.
But you also want to be mindful of portions: 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 meal replacement shake.
Now that you know how to turn a smoothie into a healthy meal, here are some other ways your smoothie can be sabotaging your weight loss—and how to fix it.
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