By Anna Sachse
So, you’re feeling pretty proud of yourself because instead of cruising by the drive-through at McDonalds for a Big Mac and a side of fries, you decided to pop into Jamba Juice and get yourself a smoothie—fruit is good for you, right?
Well, sorta. Sure, smoothies are a fast and easy way to get your recommended daily fruit servings, but they are also a deceptively easy way to pack on the pounds.
Here’s how to differentiate the healthy smoothies from the high-calorie hype.
According to the USDA Food Pyramid (www.mypyramid.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 has you more than covered. These all-in-one, easy-to-travel-with bottles or cups pack in a lot of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
However, these concentrated formulas also often mean concentrated calories, without the benefit of all the water and fiber that bulks up whole fruit and keeps you feeling full for longer. In addition, many preserved products may also contain diet-dashing high fructose corn syrup or sugar. You should 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, yogurt, milk or soymilk, protein powder and peanut butter, combined with huge portions, essentially turn your smoothie into a milkshake. For example, at Jamba Juice, an Original Size (24-ounce) Mango-A-Go-Go weighs in at 470 calories. An Orange Dream Machine is 520. A Chocolate Moo’d is 680. A Peanut Butter Moo’d is 840—at 790 calories, you’d be better off with that Big Mac and side of fries.
But that doesn’t mean certain smoothies can’t be part of a healthy diet. The key is both paying attention to the building blocks and exercising portion-control.
First, you should always read the ingredients—don’t just rely on the name of the beverage or the pictures on the front. If there’s anything other than real fruit or vegetable juice, you probably want to skip it. However, if you’re looking for a meal replacement, protein powder, yogurt, low-fat milk and soymilk are also okay. Just try to keep the total calories under 500 at the most.
Second, always opt for the smaller sizes. Sometimes smoothie stores will provide eight or 10-ounce cups if you request them, or you can ask the server to only fill a 16-ounce cup half-full. When it comes to bottled smoothies, such as Odwalla or Naked Juice, make sure you read the nutrition information first because calorie counts are often for six- or eight-ounce servings, with a whole bottle containing two or more servings. For example, your eyes might flash to the 160 calories listed on the back of an Odwalla Strawberry C Monster, but that’s for half the bottle. Guzzle the whole thing and you just consumed the equivalent of 1.2 Snickers bars. Try sticking to smaller bottles that only serve up eight ounces, making it difficult to mindlessly overindulge. Keep in mind that even small smoothies/juice blends will have the same number of calories as a can of Coca-Cola, but the only healthy component of a Coke is water.
You can also save yourself the worry (and some cash) by making your own. Whip together fresh fruit, such as strawberries or blueberries, with lots of ice for calorie-free volume (or substitute frozen mangoes or pineapple for more flavor) and some nonfat yogurt, milk or soymilk for richness and calcium. Or, for the perfect summer drink, simply puree naturally low-cal watermelon with a little mint or lime juice to spice things up.