Smoothies can pack nutrients, but be careful

 


W hile a bottled fruit smoothie might provide the recommended daily number of fruit servings, it also might provide the caloric equivalent of a side of fries. Skipping the soda in favor of a “healthier” fruit option is merely a sideways step for the average calorie counter.

Store-bought smoothies are a great way to pack in a lot of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, said Andrea N. Giancoli, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

And the all-in-one, easy-to-travel-with packaging makes getting your fruit servings easy.

Although it can vary a little depending on your age and gender, according to the USDA Food Plate (ChooseMyPlate.gov), the average recommended daily amount of fruit is two cups. In general, a half cup of dried fruit or one cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice takes care of one of those necessary two “cups,” which means a 16-ounce smoothie will have you more than covered.

However, these concentrated formulas also often mean concentrated calories.

“Many bottled smoothies can have upwards of 300 calories or more,” Giancoli said. “They contain concentrated juice and fruit without all the water and fiber that bulks up whole fruit and keeps you feeling full with less calories.”

An easy way to limit excessive calorie intake is to limit your portion size. If a product advertises itself as lower calorie, make sure you read the nutrition information first because those numbers are usually per 6-ounce serving, with a whole bottle containing two or more servings. Giancoli recommends sticking to the small bottles that serve up 8 ounces, making it difficult to mindlessly overindulge.

If you're on the run and don't have whole fruit with you, these smaller bottles, at 150 calories or so, make for a healthy snack, she said. The larger bottles with 300-plus calories could suffice as a small meal, perhaps with an additional fiber or protein-rich snack.

But even with smaller bottles, you don't want to judge a book by its cover, Giancoli said. Many preserved products might also contain diet-dashing sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

You want to be especially wary of calorie-dense add-ins at smoothie and juice shops, such as Jamba Juice or Robeks, because the commonly used sherbet, sorbet or yogurt, combined with huge portions, essentially make your smoothie a milkshake. Even protein powder, which is nutritious, can tip the scales from healthy to heavy.

“Whatever picture or words you see advertised or on the front of the package is just the tip of the iceberg,” Giancoli said. “Always turn the bottle around and look at the ingredients. If there's anything other than real fruit, vegetable juice or perhaps a little protein powder, if your smoothie is serving as a meal replacement, you probably want to skip it.”

Your safest bet is to look for brands that must be kept in the refrigerated section, such as Odwalla or Naked Juice, because they are usually made with pure whole fruit and juice.

But you can also save yourself the worry (and some cash) by making your own smoothie at home.

“Smoothies are a great way to get your fruit and veggies,” said Jenn Louis, chef/owner of catering firm Culinary Artistry and Lincoln Restaurant, Portland, Ore. “The unnecessary high calories come from what is added, such as peanut butter, whole milk yogurt, sugar, etc.”

Louis recommends whipping together fresh fruit, such as strawberries or blueberries, with lots of ice for calorie-free volume and a refreshing mouth feel, as well as a touch of honey (one teaspoon adds only 20 calories) and some nonfat plain yogurt for richness and calcium.

Naturally low-cal melon (it's mostly water) is wonderful when pureed on its own, or you can add a little mint or lime juice to spice things up.

Fall and winter fruits, such as apples and pears don't take as well to blending, so during these months, Louis suggests substituting frozen fruit, such as mangoes or pineapple, for some of the ice, along with a dash of fruit juice or nonfat milk or soy milk.

Frozen bananas make a great thickening agent anytime of the year — you just have to be sure to add enough additional liquid, or you'll end up eating your healthy, low-calorie smoothie with a spoon.

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