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When it comes to dieting, smoothies are an tried and true standby. That said, it would be a mistake to think that whipping up a smoothie automatically makes it good for you. Does tossing a banana into a chocolate shake make a healthy smoothie for breakfast? We can only dream, but sadly that ain’t so!
That said, if you’re someone who doesn’t get in the recommended 5-9 servings of fruit and veggies per day, then smoothies are one of the simplest, easiest ways to get you caught up daily. And with only 1 in 10 adults meeting the guidelines for veggie consumption, chances are most of us could use that liquified boost.
But even the greenest of green smoothies can be a sugary minefield if not done properly.
Benefits of Smoothies
The degree to which smoothies can have a positive impact on your life depends on your answers to the following: Are you eating the recommended daily fruit and vegetable servings? Do you frequently skip meals? Are you nutrient deficient?
If you find that you’re running low on energy or experiencing crashes throughout your day, smoothies are a fantastic supplement to your diet.
Smoothies are packed with nutrients but they also hide boring flavors
A lot of people shy away from green smoothies because they think it’ll taste like the bottom of a mossy forest floor. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. You can throw in a ton of other helpful ingredients to mask or transform the flavor into something that’s more to your fancy.
That’s actually a big part of the appeal of smoothies in general. Instead of eating pure spinach, blend those leafy greens with some fun flavors, like peanut butter and banana. Although the health benefit of that spinach is still there, you’re more likely to taste the other ingredients, plus you get the protein of the peanut butter and the potassium of the banana.
Smoothies can help you digest food faster
When it comes to certain vegetables, we tend to eat them because we know they’re good for us and have high health benefits. But for some people, eating those foods can be tough on their digestive system. If you’re someone who deals with inflammation on a frequent basis or have trouble digesting your food, blending can help take the load off your digestive system by doing some of the work for it.
With smoothies, making a balanced meal isn’t too difficult
Assuming that you’re making your smoothie at home, you have full control over what and how much goes into it. On a low carb diet? No problem. Just tailor that smoothie to your needs by using more vegetables and sources of fat/protein to make up for the fruit you’re unable to use. And if you’re someone who uses supplements such as collagen in your daily life, same deal. Just toss a scoop of your collagen into that smoothie and start your day .
Smoothies are quick and portable
If you’re a regular meal skipper, smoothies make it harder to find an excuse not to eat. They can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for future snacks to-go. If you’re skipping meals, whether it be because you’re pressed for time or you’re using it as some sort of dieting technique, you could be unnecessarily taxing your body. For one thing, without the right balance of nutrients and vitamins, you’re going to feel less energetic as you go through your day. Plus, if that darn coworker brought doughnuts into the break room and you skipped breakfast, statistically you’re more likely to give into your cravings and indulge in that sugary ball of regret. That cycle of skipping breakfast only to give into cravings later is what’s called a yo-yo diet. Yo-yo diets are bad news as they can wreak havoc on your metabolism and makes it even harder to maintain your weight.
Should Smoothies Be Used For Weight Loss?
They can be. But it needs to be done correctly for positive results to be seen. If you’re planning on turning to smoothies to diet and lose some weight, you’ll want to be careful how you do this. A common misconception is that all smoothies are healthy, but like any meal the level of healthiness really depends on the ingredients used.
A Real World Example of a ‘Healthy’ Smoothie
Grabbing a strawberry and banana fruit smoothie from McDonald’s might seem like a healthier alternative to a burger because it has less calories, but it’s important to keep in mind that calories aren’t everything. When it comes to a healthy diet, controlling your sugar intake is just as important, if not more so.
That small strawberry banana McDonalds smoothie will add up to a whopping 39 grams of sugar. For reference, it’s recommended that women consume less than 22 grams and men less than 37.5 grams of sugar per day.
If you’re thinking that these sugars come from natural sources such as fruits and are therefore fine to eat, well then you’d be falling for a very common misconception. Both artificial sugars and sugars from natural sources are processed the same way. Both start as sucrose and are broken down into glucose and fructose by the body. Glucose can be metabolized by any cell in the body, but not fructose. Fructose can only be handled by the liver, which is where the problem lies.
The liver doesn’t know if that fructose came from a pie or from an apple. That being said, the way the liver processes fructose can be affected by other factors. For instance, fruit contains bioactive components such as fibre, which can aid in the liver’s ability to process sugar.
Returning to the McDonald’s example, it’s highly unlikely that those 39 grams of sugar comes from fruit alone. A single banana is responsible for approximately 3 grams of fibre. Blending up whole fruits should maintain this fibre but somehow the strawberry banana smoothie only has 2 grams of fibre! If the smoothie is lacking in the fiber that’s typically found when using whole fruits, it’s more than likely that it’s not using whole fruits and therefore the sugar is probably artificial.
Sugar can lead to a lot of health issues. It can lead to major metabolic problems and unhealthy weight gain is one end result. But it can also lead to heart disease. Fructose turns into droplets of fat called triglycerides which enter the bloodstream. It also lowers HDL, which is the kind of cholesterol that we want more of. Coupled together, those issues can severely raise your risk of heart disease.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
You’re a lot better off making your own smoothies if you want to try to lose weight. Even then, you should still be cautious. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just putting things into your smoothies without thinking about caloric or sugar intake. A peanut butter and banana smoothie sounds delicious and nutritious, but if you’re not measuring your tablespoons of peanut butter, you might unintentionally be cancelling out the desired health benefit.
Another common issue with using smoothies as a weight loss tool is that many smoothies don’t always leave you feeling full. This increases the chance of you snacking soon afterwards, even if you just used a smoothie as a meal replacement. Our bodies consider chewing to be a part of the digestive process. By drinking a meal, our brains don’t get the signal that we receive when chewing solid food to notify us to stop eating. Because that signal doesn’t happen when drinking smoothies, the body can get confused and we are therefore more likely to get the hunger signal sooner instead.
There is a way around this issue. It all depends on what you put in your smoothie. As much as we look to green smoothies as the gold standard of healthy smoothies, that’s not completely true. If you’re just putting a bunch of kale and spinach and other vegetables into your blender, you’re going to get hungry again, very fast.
In order to be satiated, you need to also include protein in your smoothies. Protein helps to slow the digestion process, which is what controls whether you feel hungry again or not. So when you make that smoothie, always make sure to leave room for some protein in addition to your fruits and vegetables. Protein powders are one way to go, but you can also use things like nut butters, Greek yogurt, or flax seed to help build up your protein intake. If possible, ideally you should use a couple sources of protein instead of just one.
And don’t forget about fat either! Contrary to popular belief, fat isn’t something to turn away from. In comparison to sugar, monounsaturated fat can actually lower your risk of heart disease. You can get this kind of fat from most nuts and avocados, which can easily be added to a smoothie. The other good kind of fat is polyunsaturated, which is needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. Our body actually can’t make this type of fat, but it’s necessary for survival. You can find polyunsaturated fat in most seeds, nuts and nut butters, all of which can be added to a smoothie.
When we think about weight loss, we often think about taking things away, like sugar and calories, but the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to give our bodies the things that we need like healthy fats and protein. Smoothies can be a great vehicle for these crucial elements of our diet, as long as we approach it in an informed and scientific way.
At the same time, be careful not to use smoothies as a crutch. Just because you’re drinking more smoothies, don’t forget that diet is only one part of the weight loss equation. If you’re not burning calories in addition to consuming them, even if you’re eating healthier if there is no daily calorie deficit you will not lose weight.
Should Smoothies Be Used as a Meal Replacement?
Whether or not you choose to use a smoothie as a meal replacement comes down to what you intend on putting in that smoothie and where it came from. If you grabbed it from a fast food place thinking it’s a healthier alternative to anything else on the menu, you’re probably in for a pretty rude surprise (see the McDonald’s smoothie example above). You also run the risk of overshooting your recommended daily sugar intake and to make matters worse, will likely end up hungry shortly after drinking that sugary bomb.
If you’re planning on using a smoothie as a quick and easy meal replacement, try your best to have it coming from your own kitchen. It’s the only surefire way you’ll know exactly what you’re putting into your body. And although it may seem like a good idea to simply blend up a bunch of vegetables, that by itself is not necessarily a great meal replacement. Whether you’re drinking your food from a shaker cup or eating from a plate, a healthy meal should contain a few key elements.
Fruits and/or vegetables should be included of course, but it’s important to realize which of them works best. If you are looking to replace a whole meal, it’s essential that you’re getting enough fibre. Skimping on fiber means being hungrier faster and a meal should be able to fill you up enough that you can make it to your next meal without the overwhelming urge to snack.
Fruits like pears, apples, berries, and avocados can provide that crucial fibre boost to your smoothie. So can vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and beets.
If you want your fibre intake to the next level, try also adding chia seeds.
Also, believe it or not, quality dark chocolate is a great source of fibre! So feel free to treat yourself to a little guilt-free chocolatey goodness in your next smoothie.
Although some people choose to forgo dairy altogether, it’s recommended by the USDA that your average meal contains at least some dairy or a dairy substitute. If your diet isn’t lactose-friendly, consider blending your smoothie with alternatives such as almond or soy milk. Just be sure to go for the unsweetened and unflavored versions.
The key nutritional components that are often overlooked in a smoothie are fats and protein. It’s such a shame that the word ‘fat’ has such a negative connotation in our diets. It’s been a standard belief for far too long that people should follow low-fat diets. But the reality is that we need healthy fats in order to keep our bodies functioning properly. There are easy ways to include a little healthy fat in our smoothies, like adding an avocado or nut butter.
Similarly, protein is crucial for our body’s health. Although it’s a common misconception that protein is just for developing muscles, it is also essential for healthy hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, and enzymes. It’s recommended that we get 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. If you’re replacing multiple meals with smoothies and not adding in sources of protein, it’s likely that you will could become deficient in the nutrient – so don’t be shy!
Replacing Breakfast With a Smoothie
We’ve spent most of our lives being told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But nutrition science can sometimes be a fickle beast! New studies are starting to challenge the old classic standbys. At the very least, we’re discovering there is more than just one approach to living a healthy lifestyle.
More than anything else, it’s because people’s bodies are inherently different. What works for one person may not work for another. If you’re an intermittent faster who never eats breakfast anymore, maybe that works incredibly well for you.
Many people that use intermittent fasting actually have more energy and use it to effectively lose weight, all while skipping ‘the most important meal of the day’. But for others, it’s the exact opposite; without a proper breakfast their day is not nearly as productive as it could be. The human body is a complex machine, and we need to pay attention to our own body’s unique needs, and not just the latest diet guru’s commandments.
If you’re not typically a breakfast fan, adding smoothies to your morning routine might not be a top priority for you. However if you do eat breakfast and need to figure out a way to up your nutrition game, smoothies are a pretty solid option.
This is particularly true if you’re someone who often can’t find the time to have breakfast. Need to be at a meeting for 9am but regularly wake up at 8am because of late night Netflix binge watching? Cooking eggs will probably have you running late.
Skipping breakfast when you haven’t already made a habit of skipping the meal can leave you feeling lethargic throughout the day and put your mind in a fog during that big meeting. Blending up a smoothie allows you to eat on the go, because let’s face it: you’re probably not going to bed any earlier!
Most people’s impression of breakfast smoothies is something that is packed with a ton of fruit. That is because for whatever reason we don’t associate breakfast with vegetables. It’s normal to see a side of fruit come with your french toast. But why not a side of spinach?
Remember, having too much fruit isn’t ideal as it can really up your daily sugar intake. Try to look for smoothie recipes hat have a high amount of vegetables in the mix.
With that in mind, here are a few examples of some smoothies that kick butt for breakfast:
Berry Nice Spinach Smoothie
- ¾ cup of vanilla almond milk (unsweetened)
- 2 cups of fresh spinach
- ½ cup of frozen mixed berries
- 1 Tbsp of flaxseed
- 1 heaped Tbsp of almond butter (or peanut butter)
- 1 banana
This recipe is a great example of a green smoothie that’s well balanced and can help kick your morning off right. Play around with the amount of almond milk you use to adjust the consistency to your liking.
- ¾ cup of vanilla almond milk (unsweetened)
- ½ avocado
- 1 whole apple (cored and sliced)
- 2 cups of fresh spinach
- ½ banana
- 1 tsp honey
- ¼ ground ginger + optional: chia seeds
- Handful of ice cubes
Not only is this a great morning smoothie, but if you’ve had a particularly social night before, it’s a great detox drink. It’s high in fibre and healthy fats.
Strawberry Tangerine Smoothie
- ¾ cup coconut water
- ½ cup of fresh or frozen strawberries (about 4 whole berries)
- ½ tangerine (peeled and seeded)
- ¼ inch of fresh ginger
- 2 Tbsp raw hemp seeds
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Beets are high in fibre, and if you grab a smaller one it won’t have as bitter a taste. Even if it is bitter, that should be overshadowed by the sweetness of the fruit.
How About Smoothies for Dessert?
Got a sweet tooth? Find it hard to end the day without a little treat? Good news: smoothies can be a fantastic substitute if you’re willing to exercise a bit of will power will still scratching that itch.
As always, be mindful of what ingredients you add to those smoothies. If you want something sweet, rely on fruit as much as possible instead of going for artificial sugars. But remember, even with fruit it’s possible to go overboard as too many natural sugars aren’t great for us either.
When making a dessert smoothie, since it’s less likely to be vegetable based and sweeter than a breakfast smoothie, go for a smaller portion size than you normally would have.
Here are a few examples of smoothies that work for a healthy yet delicious dessert:
Banana Fundae Smoothie
- 1 medium-large sized banana (sliced and frozen in advance)
- 1 Tbsp cacao powder
- 0.5 tbsp salted almond butter (if unsalted, add a pinch of sea salt)
- ½ cup of unsweetened almond milk
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- Optional (but delicious!): 2 pitted dates
Who doesn’t love a good banana split? Well too bad, you’re trying to be healthy. This smoothie skips the sundae part but no sacrificing taste here! And if you have them handy, don’t forget on the pitted dates – we highly recommend it.
Black Forest Smoothie
- ¾ cup of unsweetened almond milk
- 1 Tbsp cacao powder
- 1 Tbsp rolled oats
- 1 tsp chia seeds
- Handful of baby spinach
- ½ frozen pitted cherries
- Drizzle honey to taste
Black forest cake is decadent but so is this smoothie. And the best part? This smoothie is healthy enough that you can have it a whole lot more often than that cake.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
- 1 ripe banana
- 1.5 Tbsp cocoa powder
- ½ Tbsp maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
- 1 cup vanilla almond milk
- Handful of ice cubes
Perhaps one of the most common dessert smoothies, the chocolate peanut butter smoothie is a go-to favorite because those two flavors marry so well together. This recipe is quick, easy and filling with the right amount of sweet.
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