Ask Mickey: Are Smoothies and Fresh Juices Good Meal Replacements?

I consume a lot of blended fruit, vegetable, and nut smoothies because I’ve heard that blending preserves the fiber and is better than juicing. Does blending destroy the fiber, and should I be worried about the sugar content?

An apple-spinach smoothie

An apple-spinach smoothie

With warmer weather on the horizon, a cold smoothie or fresh-pressed juice sounds mighty refreshing! By employing a few simple strategies, both can be delicious treats and enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Fresh juice is made by pressing the juice from fresh fruits and vegetables then discarding the skin and pulp. This process removes the fiber, a nutrient linked to improved digestion, lower cholesterol, and satiety (the feeling of fullness). Fresh-pressed juice can be a good way to add vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to your diet; however, be mindful of the calorie content and how it fits into your total calorie needs. Because juice is nearly 100% carbohydrate, lacking protein and fiber, it is quickly digested and absorbed, which can be a concern for someone trying to manage their blood sugar levels. For this reason, it is also not a good meal replacement.

Smoothies made in a blender retain the fiber from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Adding a protein source can help keep you full and limit blood-sugar spikes, making smoothies a good snack or on-the-go meal. For both juice and smoothies, the calorie and sugar content vary depending on the ingredients (fruit adds more calories and sugar than vegetables). Avoid calorie bombs such as ice cream or flavored yogurt and beware of adding too much nut butter, oil, or juice — it’s easy for calories to add up quickly if you aren’t careful!

Some research suggests that our bodies don’t register liquid calories in the same way we do solid calories, or that they aren’t as satisfying. However, protein may increase satiety, as can a small amount of healthy fat such as a quarter of an avocado or 1 to 2 tablespoons of flax seed or peanut butter (choose the unsweetened kind, or even better, almond butter, which has more fiber). With that said, we often drink smoothies more quickly than we would eat a meal. To keep from overeating after enjoying your smoothie, wait 20 minutes before you reach for another snack to allow your brain time to register the calories.

The key to a healthful smoothie is to balance your ingredients without going overboard on high-calorie add-ins. Follow these steps to create a delicious and nutrient-packed smoothie that can keep you satisfied until your next meal.

  1. Start with about 1 cup of a low-calorie base liquid such as water, coconut water, low-fat milk, or unsweetened nondairy milk.
  2. Then add:• ½ to 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit of choice
    • 1 to 2 cups leafy greens such as spinach or kale, or other vegetable
    • A protein source such as plain Greek yogurt or silken tofu.
  3. Get creative with one or two optional additions such as rolled oats; flax, hemp, or chia seeds; nuts or nut butters; avocado; cacao nibs; grated ginger; or fresh herbs such as mint, parsley, or basil. Limit portion sizes of nuts and seeds to 1 tablespoon to avoid excess calories.
  4. Avoid adding sugar and skip the ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and fruit juice.
  5. Taste your smoothie: If it’s blah, add a squeeze of lemon juice or other citrus, or some fresh herbs. Too runny? Half a banana will fix that.

12-3790_bamco_askmickey_web-157x300When choosing smoothies, look for options that follow the guidelines above. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about ingredients — many commercial smoothies are loaded with added sugar and more than a meal’s worth of calories. And that’s not what most of us are looking for when we reach for a cool smoothie on a hot day!

 

About Ask Mickey: At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. Making good food choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. In the Ask Mickey column, Bon Appétit Management Company registered dietitian nutritionists offer tips on “chewing the right thing” and answer your nutrition questions. (Mickey, aka Michelina, is a particular feisty Italian grandmother who continues to inspire us.) Email your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.commailto:nutrition@cafebonappetit.com.