Eleven-dollar cold-pressed juice may be a status symbol in some places, but nutritionists (and some celebrity trainers) think smoothies are a far better option. Pressed juices gives you multiple servings of produce in a chuggable format, which is good, but they don’t help keep you full because there is next to no fiber left after the ingredients have been pulverized. Smoothies, on the other hand, can stave off hunger longer. But is drinking calories in any format a good thing? Can you really have a smoothie every day and not gain weight?
It depends on what’s in it, says Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, a nutritionist in Atlanta. A fruit-only smoothie isn’t that much better than a cold-pressed juice, but a smoothie with fruit, vegetables, and a source of protein is a different story.
Here’s the problem with fruit: “A lot of people love the flavor of a fruit smoothie so they’ll add bananas and pineapple and peaches and mango — all those things on their own are very healthy,” says Moore. “But if it’s just fruit, it’s digested very quickly and that usually leads us to feel hungry a lot quicker. Then mid-morning you might find yourself at the vending machine.” Or ravaging the office birthday cake later.
You don’t have to avoid fruit, but you should treat it as a sweetener — it should not occupy the majority of the space in your blender, Moore says. Ripened bananas are convenient for smoothies because, by that time, they’re sweeter than normal and if you have a bunch sitting around you can cut them up and keep them in the freezer. If you hate bananas or don’t have any, Moore suggests frozen grapes. You do not need honey or agave: Those are straight-up extra calories.
Moore encourages people to make or buy smoothies with a source of protein like nut butter or yogurt (Greek or regular) for satiety, alongside the standard fruit, but veggies should really be in there, too. They’ll help make the mixture substantial enough to keep hunger at bay without being a calorie bomb. She likes greens with a mild taste, like spinach, chard, and Lacinato kale, a.k.a. Tuscan kale. (And, yes, even a handful of spinach will change the color to a weird green-gray, but whatever, just drink it.)
If you’re having a smoothie for breakfast, some extra healthy fat is a great addition. I think you know what that means: avocado. “Avocado is a perfect way to add creaminess to a smoothie, and of course it’s going to help you feel fuller for longer,” she says. Speaking of breakfast, if you’re the type of person who didn’t use to eat in the morning but now you drink a solid, balanced smoothie, that will only help with weight management.
For times when you’re ordering at a smoothie bar rather than firing up a blender, just consider the ingredients listed. If there’s no protein in the blend you want, ask for some peanut or almond butter. But there are other times when you might be in a smoothie-bar desert when a craving strikes. Dare you purchase a pre-made blend at the grocery store? You need to look at the ingredient list.
“On the front it might say ‘green whatever’ but the first ingredient is apple juice. That just tells me that that product is primarily fruit juice and it may not be providing you with the nutrition that you’re looking for.”
These drinks do also have fruit purée, but remember that ingredients are listed in order of weight so there’s more juice than fruit in them. And there’s usually very little protein, unless you pick up one of the protein formulas which often taste like chalk.
Overall, the right blend can help you get your produce without making you feel starving. And while it’s not a chic bottle of green juice, it looks a hell of a lot better than a SlimFast.