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Smoothie Smarts: Get This, Skip That

by Berkeley Wellness  

Smoothies, whether bottled from the market or made fresh in a shop, are a health trend that’s still going strong. Conventional smoothies are made from combinations of juice, fruit or vegetables, milk, frozen or regular yogurt, or sorbet. In recent years, smoothies have morphed into “wellness” or “functional” drinks, with the addition of “boosts” of herbs, vitamins, fiber, protein, and other substances. They often come with promises of increased energy, a healthier heart, better mood, sharpened memory, stress relief, weight control, super immunity, detoxification, and other far-reaching health claims. That’s a lot for a smoothie to live up to.

Smoothies made with mangoes, berries, melons, beets, carrots, kale, and other colorful produce are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. When made with whole fruit or vegetables, they also have some fiber. Those containing yogurt or milk provide protein and calcium. Soy milk, almond milk, or other nut milks are also good options.

Caveats to keep in mind:

  • “Boosts”—such as aloe, bee pollen, ginkgo, echinacea, St. John’s wort, and carnitine—are not likely to do much, if anything. Most probably contain too little of an herb or other substance for it to have any effect, good or bad. On the other hand, the safety of some ingredients is unknown. Energy and performance-boosting drinks often contain caffeine and other stimulants.
  • Most smoothies are loaded with calories. Jamba Juice’s medium size Strawberry Surf Rider has 450 calories, the Peanut Butter Moo’d, 770. Larger sizes have 600 to nearly 1,000 calories. Smoothie King’s Slim-N-Trim smoothies come as large as 40 ounces and have up to 750 calories—not quite a diet snack. Some juice bars offer lower-calorie smoothies made with sugarsubstitutes. Bottled smoothies, as from Odwalla and Naked Juice,have about 250 to 450 calories in a 16-ounce bottle.
  • Smoothies that contain açaí, pomegranate, or other so-called superfruits boast of being especially high in antioxidants. They’re not any healthier than smoothies made from other fruits.
  • Commercial smoothies are not cheap—about $4 to $7. A better long-term investment may be to buy a blender or juicer and make them yourself. Need ideas? See our recipes for Sweet and Savory Smoothies.