By Rachel Vincent, Clinical Nutritionist Educator
Health clubs, gyms and organic grocery stores sell them. Exercise infomercials promote them. Smoothie detoxes and cleanses are all over Pinterest. So what’s the truth about smoothies and their impact on weight loss? If you’re not careful, they can actually promote weight gain rather than weight loss. Here’s what you should know to have smoothies be an effective part of your weight-loss
Avoid These Ingredients
Calorie-dense ingredients to use cautiously or avoid include nut/seed butters, plant oils like coconut or hemp oil, avocado, fruit juices, agave nectar, coconut milk, coconut water, flavored syrups, sherbet, frozen yogurt, granola and honey. These ingredients can turn a 150-200-calorie shake into a 400-500-calorie shake.
It’s also important to be mindful about portion sizes. Liquid calories can be easier to overconsume than solid-food calories. Liquid meals empty more rapidly out of the stomach than solid meals, and larger volumes of liquid calories empty faster compared with smaller volumes. Avoid the 44-ounce smoothie — it could be your entire days’ worth of calories, but leave you hungry again within 1-2 hours.
Retail Smoothie Stores
Two popular smoothie chains, Planet Smoothie and Smoothie King, sell a wide variety of options. Review the nutritional information on their websites to make an advanced informed choice. For example, at Smoothie King, the 20-ounce Hulk Strawberry smoothie contains 910 calories, 27 grams of fat and 127 grams of sugar compared to the 20-ounce Slim-N-Trim Strawberry smoothie, which contains 240 calories, 2 grams of fat and 38 grams of sugar. The former won’t help you reach your weight-loss goals, while the latter is a healthier choice.
Some local specialty/non-chain smoothie or juice cafes do not publish their nutritional information, so it can be difficult to know what you’re actually getting. Similarly to cooking at home versus eating out at restaurants, making your own smoothies can be a great way to control calories and nutrition.
Replace a Meal, Not a Drink
To avoid weight gain, a smoothie should replace a meal or snack, not a beverage. A smoothie prepared with quality ingredients — healthy high-fiber carbohydrates like berries and leafy greens, a lean protein source like fat-free Greek yogurt or silken tofu, and a healthy fat source like a teaspoon of chia or flax seed — can support weight loss when used to replace a skipped meal or high-calorie meal.
Rachel Vincent, RD, is a clinical nutritionist educator at Mission Weight Management.