What could be sweeter than a smoothie as the summer sun sizzles — all that dreamy, creamy deliciousness, with health benefits to boot.
But be careful what you’re tossing in the blender or buying from the smoothie shop. You might as well be ordering a banana split in some cases, with hundreds of calories and limited nutritional value.
Michelle Williams, owner of the Tucson franchise of Planet Smoothie, 7315 N. Oracle Road, and a second location to open in August at 345 E. Congress St., said many of her customers are looking to keep their smoothies lean.
The shop offers a line of light smoothies — 22-ounce drinks
under 300 calories each. Williams relies on fruit, greens, nonfat Greek yogurt, cocoa and a sweetener made from stevia and agave plants for some of the lighter smoothies.
“I’m selling food. This is nutrition,” Williams said as she blended a Strawberry Aphrodite, a leaned-down concoction of strawberries, bananas and unsweetened Greek yogurt. She added a handful of spinach and kale to the mix.
“I come from a long line of diabetics,” she said. “We never add sugar. We want to nourish you.”
Tucson registered dietitian Hana Abdulaziz Feeney says a smoothie can be a nutritional powerhouse.
Her best advice? Make your smoothies at home.
“It’s the best bet in terms of knowing what you are getting and making sure it’s nutritious,” she said.
Whether making smoothies at home or buying from a shop, seek out a smoothie that uses whole fruit and make sure to get a balance of protein and healthy fat when the smoothie is replacing a meal, Abdulaziz Feeney said.
“When you get a smoothie outside of your home, you don’t always know what you are getting,” she said. “You really have to ask what the ingredients are. Always avoid a powdery base that might have a lot of sugar and unhealthy oils.”
She suggests incorporating whole raw fruits and vegetables along with unsweetened milk such as almond, cashew, hemp or cow’s milk. Adding peanut butter, almond butter, nuts, seeds, avocado and other nutrition-packed ingredients can create a delicious, creamy and healthful smoothie.
Using frozen fruit provides sweetness and tang and eliminates the need to add ice, which can dilute the flavor, Abdulaziz Feeney said. She cores and slices apples and pears and places them in the freezer, along with bananas. They add great flavor and texture to the mix.
If you plan to replace a meal with your smoothie, make sure you have enough protein and fat, otherwise you’ll be starving before the next meal.
She recommends 25 grams of protein for meal replacement, and suggests trying cottage cheese, tofu and Greek yogurt.
“You can get a wonderful smoothie with all this great fruit, but an hour later you are hungry,” she said. “Fat can quench an appetite and balance blood sugar so we feel satisfied.”
If the smoothie is a snack or is accompanying a meal, fat is not necessary.
Other beneficial add-ins, according to Abdulaziz Feeney, are almonds, cashews, dates, chia seed, flaxseed and unsweetened coconut. Consider adding a piece of ginger or a sprinkle of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice for a flavor punch.
“You can make it up as you go along,” she said.
Leafy greens make a healthful addition, but be sure to remove kale stems to skip the bitter taste. And avoid mixing leafy greens with red berries for your kids, Abdulaziz Feeney recommended.
“Your smoothie will turn brown and your kids will hate it,” she said.
She recommends buying a high-speed blender to create truly smooth smoothies, especially when adding greens and other vegetables.
The bottom line when it comes to smoothies — choose your calories wisely.
“If you have a high-calorie smoothie but you are getting in your protein, healthy fats, greens and fruit, who cares? It’s well worth your while and you will be energized until lunch,” Abdulaziz Feeney said.