Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that adults eat at least two servings a day. As long as the ingredients in your fruit smoothie are nutritious and you limit your serving size, fruit smoothies are healthy for you. However, if your smoothies contain sugary ingredients and lots of calories, they can detract from an otherwise healthy diet.
Fruit smoothies are good for you as long as they don't contain a lot of sugar and don't cause you to exceed your daily calorie needs.
What's in a Fruit Smoothie?
A fruit smoothie can make a healthy breakfast on the run or a nutritious midafternoon snack. Some people use them as meal replacements for dieting or to replenish hydration and nutrients after a tough workout. But people also drink them simply because they taste sweet and delicious.
For all their uses, there is a seemingly endless variety of smoothie recipes. Many of these don't just contain fruits, but may also contain vegetables, juices, nuts, seeds, dairy, protein powders and sweeteners. Some of these ingredients are healthier than others. At the top of the list are:
- Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- Chia seeds
- Plain yogurt
- Milk (cow, goat)
- Unsweetened plant milks (soy, hemp, almond)
- Stevia (calorie-free sweetener)
These are all nutritious ingredients when they are eaten in balance and moderation. Some other ingredients can be suspect when they add excess calories and fat to your smoothie. These ingredients include:
- Maple syrup
- Full-fat dairy
- Fruit juice (a concentrated source of calories)
- Sweetened nut butters
Store-bought fruit smoothies may contain other ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup and heavy cream, that are not healthy for you.
Smoothie Calories and Sugar
The calorie content of a fruit smoothie varies significantly, depending on its ingredients and the serving size you consume. Some recipes for homemade smoothies provide 200 to 400 calories per serving, while store-bought smoothies may contain as many as 1,000 calories per serving.
One serving of a fruit smoothie recipe containing unsweetened coconut milk, blackberries, banana, unsweetened shredded coconut and protein powder contains 378 calories. On the other hand, a smoothie from Smoothie King called the "The Hulk Strawberry" contains ice cream, sugar, strawberries, bananas, a "weight gain blend" and "super grains enhancer," with 800 calories in one serving, which is 20 ounces.
The homemade smoothie contains whole foods and no added sugar. The calorie count is suitable for a small meal or a large snack, depending on your calorie needs for the day. The store-bought smoothie contains cream and added sugar, both of which drive up the calorie count. As such, it's more of a decadent dessert than a smoothie.
When Fruit Smoothies Cause Weight Gain
When you consume calories in excess of your body's daily needs, you gain weight. Calories from fat, protein and carbohydrates are what your body uses for energy; when energy supply exceeds energy demands, your body stores the excess calories as fat for later use.
Any type of calories can contribute to weight gain, even if they come from healthy fruit. If you need 2,000 calories to maintain your weight, but you eat 2,378 because you drank a fruit smoothie, you'll tip the calorie balance. While doing this every once in a while won't make a big difference, if you do it repeatedly, you could find yourself packing on the pounds.
Calories in Fruit
A lot of the calories in a fruit smoothie come from add-ons like nut butters, dairy and added sugars, but fruit contributes calories, too, because of the natural sugar it contains. Many people underestimate the amount of fruit they can eat without busting their calorie budget.
The sugar in fruit is natural, but on its own, it's not any different than table sugar. The difference is that when you eat the whole fruit, you also get fiber and nutrients your body needs for good health, which offset the sugar content — but they don't offset the calorie content. If you're concerned about the calorie content of your fruit smoothie, it's a good idea to choose fruits that are lower in sugar, such as:
Avocado is low in sugar but high in fat, so it is calorific. If your concern is the calorie count, use avocado sparingly.
Nutrients in Fruit Smoothies
- Complex carbohydrates — provide energy while keeping blood sugar steady
- Fiber — promotes healthy digestion, increases fullness and protects against colon cancer
- Vitamin C — aids growth and repair of soft tissues, aids wound healing and supports dental health
- Vitamin A — important for healthy eyesight and skin and protects against infection
- Folate — aids red blood cell formation
- Potassium — supports healthy blood pressure and muscle function
- Phytochemicals — plant compounds that have a variety of effects on health, including fighting free radical damage that causes cancer
Other ingredients commonly added to fruit smoothies also add nutrients, some of which are absent or low in fruits and vegetables:
Fitting in Fruit Smoothies
If you love drinking fruit smoothies as a tasty way to get your daily nutrients, it's easy to fit them in without going over your calorie budget. You simply need to do a little math, choose the healthiest ingredients, balance the other foods you eat and stick to serving sizes.
When making smoothies, it's easy to go over serving sizes if you don't measure. Get out your measuring cups and spoons, and be sure you're not overdoing it. Serving sizes for common smoothie additions are:
- Fruit: 1/2 cup
- Vegetables: 1 cup raw, leafy greens or 1/2 cup cut-up veggies
- Oats: 1/2 cup (cooked or dry)
- Nuts: 1/2 ounce
- Nut butters: 2 tablespoons
- Seeds: 2 tablespoons
- Yogurt: 1 cup
- Milk/plant milk: 1 cup
Use the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to get an estimate of your daily calorie needs. Determine how many calories you are going to eat at each of your meals and whether you are going to allot some calories for snacks. As a meal replacement, your fruit smoothie will be higher in calories than if you are having it as a snack, so you can adjust the ingredients accordingly.