A smoothie is a thick, smooth drink, usually made of fresh fruits, puréed with low-fat milk, yogurt or ice cream. But is it as healthy as it’s made out to be?
“Without a doubt, it is a great option when you are on the go and don’t have the time for a balanced meal. It is better to have a smoothie than unhealthy foods,” says Preeti Rao, consultant, health and wellness, at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Panchsheel Park in Delhi.
A study published last year in the Health Education & Behavior journal showed that drinking a smoothie, especially for breakfast, is one of the easiest ways to add some fruit to your diet. Researchers from the Brigham Young University in the US found that only about 4% of children ate a school breakfast with a serving of fruit. But when the school offered morning smoothies, the percentage went up to 45%.
“The same works for adults too. Plus, you get a lot of calcium via dairy, which is an important part of most smoothies, and if you add vegetables, you get antioxidants too,” says Ritika Samaddar, head, clinical nutrition and dietetics, at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Saket, Delhi. She, however, adds: “Fruit is undeniably healthy in its whole form instead of when pulverized into a smoothie. But that said, a smoothie is possibly the easiest way to add fruit to your diet, and most of us can do with more fruits.”
“Smoothies are a quick, satisfying and easy way to get nutrients, but only if you choose the ingredients carefully,” says Debjani Banerjee, consultant dietitian at the PSRI Hospital in Delhi. “A kiwi smoothie, for example, doesn’t just taste great, it delivers vitamins A, C, E, B6 and B12, calcium, iron and magnesium, while the edible seeds of kiwi deliver omega-3 fatty acids,” she says.
Samaddar suggests picking a fruit with a low glycaemic index (which measures the effect of carbohydrates present in food on blood sugar levels), like apples and pears.
Chef Noah Barnes of the Tabula Beach Café in Delhi likes to add beetroot to smoothies because these are not only high in fibre and vitamin A, but add a wonderful texture and taste too. Another ingredient he likes to work with is amla (Indian gooseberry), which is loaded with vitamin C. “Just grate some in every smoothie you make,” he says.
Chef Manoj Pandey of The Piano Man, a restaurant in the Capital, prefers using cold-pressed fruit juices of orange, pineapple, apple and grapes—these, he says, make a delicious and healthy base.
There are other ways to maximize the nutrient quotient. “You can add seeds like chia, pumpkin and flaxseeds for a boost of fibre, and you can even choose a green leafy vegetable as the base. Spinach usually works well, and pairs well with banana and dairy or almond milk. A good ratio to follow is 70% vegetables and 30% fruit,” suggests Samaddar.
And if you wish to boost protein, opt for Greek yogurt (strained yogurt with a thicker consistency) instead of milk or plain yogurt. Also, “adding fresh herbs like basil and rosemary is a great way to get antioxidants and trace minerals in the body,” says Banerjee.
Getting it right
Eating a fruit keeps you full longer. Since a smoothie isn’t as filling, you might feel hungry sooner, end up eating more, and gain weight. “An apple has only about 100 calories, whereas even a basic smoothie will deliver close to double that amount,” says Banerjee.
Be careful not to make your smoothie too rich. Keep it simple and resist the temptation of adding too many ingredients. Some of the pretty-looking glasses of smoothies that you spot at restaurants may be packed with more than 400 calories—pretty much what an entire meal should deliver.
Steer clear of the known diet offenders: ice cream, sugar, cream, chocolate, peanut butter and coconut milk. “Opt for low-fat yogurt and milk, or opt for juice as a base; sherbets and sorbets can also help keep the fat content down,” says Rao. Keep your smoothie low on sweets too. Fruit like bananas, berries and peaches, as well as citrus fruits, all add enough natural sweetness. “And if you must, instead of sugar add maple syrup (or honey), as it is a healthier option with antioxidants, minerals and vitamins,” says Samaddar.
It is also important to keep the smoothie thick. A study published in June in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition reported that participants felt fuller after drinking a thick shake with only 100 calories than after drinking a thin shake with five times as many calories. So the thicker the shake, the less wide your waistline is likely to be.
It’s important to remember, however, that a smoothie cannot replace a meal. A study published in 2007 in the International Journal Of Obesity found that when people drank the beverage form of carbohydrate-rich food, they consumed 12% more calories overall.
If you are lactose-intolerant, you can opt for soy milk. “Its smooth texture works best for smoothies,” says Pandey. According to him, vegans can opt for coconut yogurt that is made by adding live active culture. “It’s a perfect dairy alternative and is packed with fibre,” he says. If your agenda is detoxing, use a combination of berries with ginger. “The berries activate detoxifying enzymes and ginger stimulates digestion in the body. Berries also give a thick texture and a pleasant colour to the smoothie,” adds Pandey.
“Don’t start your day with a milk-based smoothie on an empty stomach, for it might lead to acidity in some people,” warns Rao. She suggests that those with a weak digestive system and those trying a smoothie for the first time must begin with a fruit-based one (this is the easiest on your digestive system), and progress to vegetable-based ones and then milk-based ones.
Seven perfect smoothie add-ons
Flaxseeds: to score on omega-3
Spirulina: to boost protein and EFAs (essential fatty acids)
Wheatgrass: for vitamins (A,C, E) and to detoxify the body
Wheat bran: to boost fibre content and for vitamin B complex
Sesame seeds: for calcium and trace minerals like copper, zinc and selenium
Almonds and peanuts: to give the body lots of iron and vitamin E
Coconut flakes: to boost memory
— Ritika Samaddar, head, clinical nutrition and dietetics, at the Max Super Speciality Hospital in Saket, Delhi
Add more fruits to your breakfast
Try these easy-to-make, mouth-watering smoothies (one serving each)
Chikoo Banana Smoothie
2 tsp honey
Peel and cut the ‘chikoo’ and banana. Blend all the ingredients in a blender for about 40 seconds. Pour in a glass and serve.
—By Chef Noah Barnes, Tabula Beach Café , Delhi
1 cup yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
25g dates (pitted)
A pinch of cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients and whirl in a blender until the dates are crushed and the mixture is smooth. Add ice and blend again briefly.
1K cups baby spinach (blanched)
A pinch of cinnamon
K cup coconut water
1 tbsp honey
Blend all the ingredients together and serve.
—From the book Don’t Diet! 50 Habits Of Thin People, by Kavita Devgan