Alberta Cancer Foundation

Smoothies: Are They Healthy?

foodlife_storyA smoothie is a blended drink made with fruit and ice. Often it is sweetened with sugar, honey or syrup. There are many types of smoothies available commercially, with some claiming to be healthy alternatives to fast food. Are they? It depends. What food are you comparing them to, and what ingredients are in the smoothies?

The smoothies from juice bars or smoothie bars are often large portion sizes and can contain large amounts of sugar and calories. For example, some commercial smoothies can be 20 to 24 ounces (2 1/2 to 3 cups, or 625 to 750 mL) and can have 30 to 127 grams of sugar (or eight to 30 teaspoons of sugar) and 400 to 600 calories.
Some of the sugar is from fruit but much of it is added sugar from syrups or sweetened yogurts. The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugar to about 11 teaspoons (44 grams) for women or 15 teaspoons (60 grams) for men per day.

It is easy to consume a lot of calories in liquid form. We typically do not feel as full when we drink our calories as when we eat them as food. Many commercial smoothies have as many calories as a whole meal, yet they don’t satisfy our hunger as much as a whole meal does.

If you do like to buy smoothies on occasion, and want to make healthier choices, follow these tips:

  • Look for smoothies made with fruit, ice and milk or low fat yogurt (plain yogurt if available).
  • Choose the smallest size available or share with a friend.
  • Avoid smoothies made with juice, syrup, frozen sweetened yogurt or ice cream.
Making a smoothie at home can be a great way to manage the sugar and calories in your drink.

Making a smoothie at home can be a great way to manage the sugar and calories in your drink. Use ingredients like fresh, canned or frozen fruit (try berries, peaches, mango or pineapple), ice and lower fat milk. Try it without sugar or juice – fruit provides natural sweetness! Since most Canadians do not eat enough vegetables, you can also add some leafy greens to your smoothie.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends choosing one dark green and one orange vegetable every day. The recipe below contains spinach, which counts as a dark green vegetable. Try our Fruity Greens Smoothie as a great way to sneak some green vegetables into your day! One serving of this smoothie is low in fat and sodium, a source of fibre, high source of calcium and a very high source of vitamin C.

Fruity Greens Smoothie

  • 1 cup spinach, fresh (250 mL)
  • 1 cup strawberries, frozen (250 mL)
  • 1 cup milk, 1% MF* 250 mL
    *For a tangier taste and a thicker consistency, use plain low fat yogurt instead of milk.
  • 1 banana, medium

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Makes 2 servings (1½ cups or 375 mL per serving)

This recipe provides ½ serving of the Food Guide’s Milk and Alternatives and 2 servings of Vegetables and Fruit per serving.

Per Serving: 150 calories, 1.5 grams fat (1 g saturated, 0 g trans fat, 0.5 g unsaturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein, 70 mg sodium, 3 g fibre.

Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services who has expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.