Smoothies: Are they healthy?

Sugar (5)

You throw some fruit, kale, protein powder and a splash of juice into your Nutribullet for a super-nutritious drink. Your smoothie each morning might seem like a healthy choice; but are you getting more than you bargain for in each sugary sip?

Smoothies are made from blending fruit and/or vegetables with liquid such as juice or yoghurt, and extra such as nuts, psyllium husk or supplements. It’s a quick option, and seen as healthy. After all, fruits and vegetables are low-kilojoule, full of fibre, vitamins and minerals. But are smoothies as healthy as they seem?

Although smoothies may seem like a good option, they can contain 20g or more of sugar, depending on the ingredients and the size of the drink. Take Boost Juices’ Kinky Kale as an example, a large smoothie (610mL) has 50g of sugar in it, that’s more than 12 teaspoons of sugar!

A whopping 80g of sugar is found in a large Boost Juice Blueberry Blast. That’s nearly the same amount of sugar found in three Mars BarsThese are big serving sizes, but even the small sizes (350mL) have around half the amount of sugar. A significant amount. Check out the infographic below to see how some popular brands measure up. 

 

But isn’t the sugar in smoothies healthy because it comes from fruit? 

Well, yes it does. Although the sugar found in smoothies generally comes from healthy sources like fruit and dairy, it’s still a lot  of sugar for our bodies to have at once. Remember, some of these smoothies contain upward of 10 teaspoons of sugar. That much sugar drunk in a short time causes blood sugar levels to rise quickly.  This gives our body a short burst of energy. As the body quickly processes the sugar those blood sugar levels come crashing right down = instant energy slump. Think about the times you are low in energy. Maybe you find it hard to concentrate, are irritable, or literally dozing off – what do you instinctively crave to give you a lift? Sugar? Caffeine?  Our bodies are smart. They know these foods will  quickly bump energy levels back up. But the roller coaster of ups and downs plays havoc with our mind and health. Not to mention too many sugary foods or caffeine drinks won’t ever give you sustain energy levels. 

Sugar buzz

CHOICE recently compared 95  smoothies and frappes sold around Australia. They found 81 had sugar levels classified as high in sugar (7.5g/100mL or above). Juice concentrate or added sugar in some brands means you could be consuming far more sugar than you realise. Another thing to consider is that when we eat many sweet foods, even if it’s from healthy sources like fruit and yoghurt, it primes our body to want more sweet things. A cycle begins where we crave sweet foods more often as our taste buds get used to sweeter foods. In general, most sweet foods are unhealthy (think chocolate, lollies, cake etc) so we should limit them to stop craving them. Learn more about sugar here

Down in one

It can be all too easy to sip on a smoothie without thinking of it as food, since you are not chewing. When we sip, rather than chew, our bodies are less likely to register we have eaten; and less likely to realise quite how much. A smoothie is often drunk in addition to a meal, so we may end up eating more, adding extra kilojoules that we don’t need.  The CHOICE report found “regular” serving sizes at some juice bars exceed what is considered a reasonable snack. Given a regular flat white coffee provides about 500kJ of energy, packing up to 2600kJ into one smoothie is simply encouraging people to overeat, the report states.

Think about what is in your smoothie: let’s use the Innocent Seriously Starwberry as an example. Imagine you have a bowl with the following fruits in it.

How long would it take you to sit down and eat it all?  Eating the whole food is a lot slower than drinking it in liquid form; especially fibrous foods like fruit which take much longer to chew properly. Instead of a machine (the blender or nutribullet) breaking down the food, our teeth and other digestive organs work to break it down instead. The physical act of chewing is far slower than sipping and swallowing. Our stomach needs at least 20 minutes of eating before it tells our brain it’s full, so taking time to eat the ingredients of a smoothie instead of drinking it gives your body a chance to register it’s no longer hungry. This is key if weight loss is a goal, to prevent overeating.

The final sip

While fruit and vegetables are always encouraged in a diet, be mindful of how much you eat. Drinking large smoothies and also eating multiple pieces of fruit is just too much sugar. Aim for just two pieces of fruit a day and limit smoothie consumption.  But it’s not all bad; a smoothie can provide your body with vitamins, minerals and fibre from the fruit and vegetables. Plus much-needed calcium from the milk and yoghurt. Follow these tips to keep it healthy:

  • If you can, make your own so you can control what is going into it. Add in oats, bran and other whole grains or seeds to keep you full.
  • Check the nutrition info. For bottled drinks check the amount of sugar per 100 g. Anything over 7.5g/100ml is a considerable amount, so aim for less than this.
  • Be aware of the portion size. Having a medium-large smoothie as well as a meal could mean you are consuming extra kilojoules without realising. Go for a small or kids’ size if possible.
  • Mix it up and try some other snacks, take a look at my 10 healthy snack ideas guide here.

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