Smoothies offer summer in a cup without all the sugar
Posted July 14, 2016
The warm, sunny days of summer are here and for many locations across the U.S. that means an abundance of fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables to enjoy. Summer is also a time to indulge in frozen or other cooling foods. Smoothies are one popular option in part because there’re nearly endless combinations of ingredients to choose from.
Given the range of smoothies available, it’s not surprising that some are healthy while others are loaded with calories and sugars. For example, a medium smoothie sold in smoothie or juice shops could have 400 calories and 60 grams of sugar or more. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 percent of daily calories in a single beverage.
While total calories and sugars matter, an important distinction is between calories from naturally occurring sugars versus sugars added during food processing. Naturally occurring sugars are found in some healthy foods such as nutrient-rich fruits and milk and milk products. Added sugars with a variety of names like corn syrup are found in sweetened foods and beverages.
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy eating patterns limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s no more than 200 calories or about 50 grams of added sugars daily. The American Heart Association recommends even lower amounts of added sugars for heart-health.
So what can individuals do to make a healthier smoothie without too much added sugar? To build a better smoothie start by choosing whole fruits and vegetables as the stars and think of the liquids and other ingredients as the side show.
Fresh or frozen fruits
Fresh, ripe fruits bring flavor and color and are often the foundation of a healthy smoothie. Keep the peel on whole fruits for an extra nutritional boost. Simply wash and chop fruits and they’re good to go. Or, if desired, peel fruits before blending. Try different varieties of fruits, especially those that are in season. Think fresh peaches or cherries. Dark-colored berries like blueberries, raspberries or strawberries are antioxidant and fiber-rich fruits that pair well. Frozen fruits are also a convenient way to have smoothie ingredients on hand any time of year.
Vary your veggies
To increase the nutritional advantage of smoothies, consider boosting the veggies with dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, romaine or less common greens such as swiss chard or bok choy. Including fruits and starting with smaller portions of greens will make the flavor more mellow until it becomes acquired. Adding nutrition and a flavorful pep with herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint or parsley is also something to explore. Other vegetables such as carrots or cucumber can be added for a lighter natural sweetness.
Boost the protein
Consider adding a protein source such as plain or vanilla low-fat/low-sugar yogurt or kefir drink, silky tofu or a scoop of protein powder to smoothies. Although not required, this can be a convenient way to get a healthy boost of protein and is especially good for people “on the go” or active individuals who want a post-workout snack. An additional benefit of choosing yogurt or kefir is the gut-friendly probiotics that are also provided.
Think healthy fats
Including healthy fats such as peanut butter, a small handful of almonds, or chia seed or ground flax seed is another way to pack more nutrition into a smoothie. Other options are flax seed oil or avocado. Just remember that all fats/oils have more than twice the calories as carbohydrates or protein so watch portion sizes. Aim for one to two tablespoons of nut butter or seeds or one to two teaspoons of oil for example.
Choose fluids wisely
For liquids, consider using water, low-fat milk or unsweetened milk substitute such as plain, fortified almond or soy milk. Ice cubes are another way to make smoothies cold and refreshing without adding a lot of calories. Using fruit and vegetable juices is also an option. To keep added sugars low, choose 100 percent juices. Coconut water is gaining in popularity and provides electrolytes that are good after strenuous exercise. Look for unsweetened versions.
What about adding sugars such as honey or agave to smoothies? This typically isn’t necessary if using a variety of fresh, ripe fruits. However, a small amount of sweetener can be added if desired. Keep portions to a teaspoon or so. Sugar substitutes such as Stevia are an alternative to keep sugar intake as low as possible.
Remember that many smoothie recipes are formulated to create at least two servings (and maybe more). It’s easy to overindulge. Watch the portion sizes and keep a couple of fun smoothie cups at home that are about four to six ounces. Enjoy summer in a cup as part of a healthy, balanced eating pattern.