Why Smoothies Are So Popular
People have been making smoothies for many years, but they really became popular in the 1990s when you could buy them at your favorite coffee shop or at the gym after a workout.
Smoothies are quick, easy, and portable. They can be a rich and creamy cool treat that makes you feel just a little indulgent while enjoying one. But are smoothies healthy, and can they be good for weight loss?
The answer; it depends.
In this article, we’ll look at ways to boost nutrition as well as some common smoothie pitfalls. We’ll wrap up with some of my favorite smoothie recipes to get your day off to a great start or give yourself an afternoon energy boost!
Are Smoothies Healthy?
With only one in ten Americans eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily1, smoothies can be an easy way to get an extra serving or two of fresh produce. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that are important for reducing the risk of chronic disease.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/fruits-vegetables-colors">eating colorful produce for optimal health</a></p>
Most smoothies start with a dairy or plant-based dairy base. Dairy products, and many plant-based non-dairy beverages, are rich in protein, calcium, and vitamin D. All of these nutrients are important for bone and muscle strength as well as helping to support the immune system.
Many of the ingredients in smoothies are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber that help support our heart, brain, and GI tract. Many of these nutritious ingredients are also low in calories and high in fiber which helps fill you up. These are a perfect combination if you are working on losing weight, or maintaining your weight.
With all that good stuff packed in, is there a downside to smoothies? Sure, if you aren’t careful about what you add, or the portion size, smoothies can derail even the best weight loss plan. Many ingredients can be high in sugar and fat, which can add extra calories and added sugar you don’t need.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/insulin-and-weight">how excess sugar can lead to weight gain</a></p>
Can Smoothies Help With Weight Loss?
Smoothies can contain many essential nutrients and be a great part of a weight loss program. Drinking liquids has been shown to help reduce your appetite and some research has shown fruit smoothies to be more satiating than drinking a glass of milk alone.2
There are few key principles to follow if you want to include smoothies in your weight loss plan.
First, include nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and dairy products (or plant-based non-dairy beverages) as the base for your smoothie. These types of foods play an important role in weight loss. A recent large meta-analysis indicated that people who filled up on nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods had better weight loss and weight maintenance results than those who ate more calorie-dense foods.3
Second, keep your portion size in check. Consider how you are using your smoothie. If it is a meal replacement, your portion can be a bit higher than if you are using it as a snack. Stick to 8 - 10 ounces for a good serving size.
Finally, pay attention to how much added sugar and fat are in your smoothie. If you are making your smoothie at home you have much more control of what you include (more about that below).
If you’re picking up store-bought smoothies, check the label for the number of servings, serving size, calorie content, and added sugars.
If you’re ordering a smoothie at a cafe or smoothie bar, most will list the calorie content on the menu. You can also look online for their nutrition content.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/macronutrients-vs-micronutrients">macronutrients and micronutrients</a></p>
Are There Other Potential Health Benefits of Smoothies?
Most definitely. While many people drink smoothies to support weight loss, there are many other health benefits smoothies can support. With the right ingredients, smoothies can help promote:
- Heart health
- Brain health
- Digestive health
- Exercise recovery
- Bone health
When they’re made using fruits and vegetables with a milk or kefir base, smoothies are full of healthy nutrients. Adding extra ingredients like chia seeds, peanut butter, matcha tea, and other functional foods can help boost the nutrient profile even more.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/protein-before-after-workout">eating protein before or after a workout</a></p>
Can Smoothies Make You Gain Weight?
If you aren’t careful, yes, smoothies can undermine even the best weight loss plan. Large portion sizes and added ingredients like sugar, honey, and maple syrup can ratchet up the calorie count quickly.
Keep your smoothie portion to 8 - 10 ounces and aim for between 350-500 calories (or less) if using it as a meal replacement. Stick to around 150-200 calories for a snack.
What kinds of smoothies to avoid if you're trying to lose weight
If you are drinking smoothies as part of your weight loss plan, it’s best to choose smoothies with balanced protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Drinking a fruit smoothie with fruit juice as the base plus fruits and added sugars may not fill you up for long and add a lot of extra calories, not to mention the effects it may have on your blood sugar.
Read the label on premade smoothies and avoid any that use sugar, honey, or maple syrup as a sweetener. Most of the time a smoothie can be sweetened naturally by using fruit or even some spices. But if you need a little more sweetness, try using a liquid form of monk fruit or monk fruit with stevia to give it a sweet boost.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/sugar-substitutes-and-artificial-sweeteners-part-2">monk fruit & allulose, natural sugar substitutes</a></p>
Making Smoothies Good for Weight Loss
Filling your smoothie with ingredients that are nutrient-rich, but low in calories is a good place to start. This is where leafy greens and fruits come in.
Leafy greens like spinach and kale are commonly added to smoothies and for good reason. They are low in calories, are loaded with antioxidants and fiber, and adding them to smoothies is an easy way to get some extra veggies into your diet.
Bananas are the ideal sweetener for smoothies, and green bananas can be especially helpful. Using bananas in a smoothie often eliminates the need for any added sweeteners.
Let’s take a look at some other common ingredients in smoothies and the nutrition they provide.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/low-gi-fruits">low-GI fruits that won't spike your blood sugar</a></p>
Ingredients for Healthy Smoothies
In addition to fruit and vegetables, there are other healthy ingredients that can be added to smoothies for extra nutrition.
Yogurt or Kefir - Whether dairy or plant-based, yogurt and kefir make a good base for a healthy smoothie. They are rich in probiotics that are important for keeping your GI tract healthy and a good source of calcium. Some types of kefir are also fortified with vitamin D.
Probiotics add healthy bacteria to our GI tract and help keep bad bacteria at bay. They feed on fibrous food (prebiotics) in our GI tract which keeps the lining of our gastrointestinal tract strong and helps us digest and absorbs nutrients from our food. Probiotics also support our immune system and may help reduce inflammation.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/prebiotic-foods-list">the best prebiotic foods for gut health</a></p>
Milk, Almond, or Soy Milk - Dairy milk and non-dairy plant-based beverages provide the base for a rich smoothie. They also provide essential calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. If you are using a plant-based product, check the label for one enriched with calcium and vitamin D.
Seeds - Adding chia, flax, or hemp seeds will add some healthy fats and plant-based omega-3s that are important for heart and brain health. They also add much-needed fiber and prebiotics that help feed your GI tract.
Nuts and Nut Butters - Along with providing healthy fats that are satiating, nuts and nut butters add protein and plant-based omega 3s. The protein is important for muscle strength and recovery, and the omega 3s help support your immune system and may help reduce inflammation.
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/nuts-blood-sugar">the best nuts for stable blood sugar</a></p>
Matcha tea is a common addition to green smoothies. Learn more about the benefits of matcha tea.
Spices and herbs are common additions to smoothies and can add more than just flavor.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a potent compound that may have some anti-inflammatory effects and has been shown to reduce oxidative stress. A recent meta-analysis found people with diabetes who supplemented their diets with turmeric had reduced blood glucose and insulin levels as well as improvements in lipid levels.4 This bright orange spice has a bitter note, so use it sparingly. Turmeric pairs nicely with nutmeg, ginger, cardamon, and fruits like mango and coconut.
Ginger is related to turmeric and has been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and improve gastrointestinal issues. Fresh ginger adds a nice peppery bite to fruit-based or dark leafy greens-based smoothies.
Cinnamon adds a sweet note, helping to eliminate or decrease the amount of sugar you need. In addition, cinnamon has been shown to help reduce fasting blood sugar levels in some people.5
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/spices-that-may-lower-blood-sugar">spices and herbs that may help lower blood sugar</a></p>
Protein Powders - Protein powders can give you an extra boost of protein. Whey protein, one of the two main proteins in milk, is a complete protein that has been shown to increase satiety, support blood glucose control, and preserve lean body mass in people following low-calorie diets.6,7,8
In fact, a recent large meta-analysis found individuals who consumed whey protein daily had significant reductions in blood glucose and insulin levels as well are reductions in lipid levels.9
Plant-based protein powders such as soy, pea, and nut-based powders are also excellent choices that can give your smoothie a protein boost. Look for powder supplements without added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or thickeners.
How to Include Smoothies in a Balanced Diet
Should Smoothies Replace Meals?
Yes, a healthy smoothie can certainly replace a meal. Many people like to start off their day with a smoothie and that is perfectly fine as long as they are well balanced and have enough protein and fiber to fill you up.
If replacing a meal, look for smoothies with:
- About 350 calories (or less)
- At least 20 grams of protein
- At least 6 - 8g of fiber
Is There an Ideal Time of Day to Have a Smoothie?
You can enjoy a smoothie anytime, but many people find them to be especially helpful to have in place of breakfast or as a post-workout snack.
In the morning, a fruit smoothie can be pulled together in 2 - 3 minutes and is a great option for people who are on the go but need something filling for the day. A breakfast like the Matcha Green Smoothie below can provide a little caffeine boost along with the fruits, veggies, and protein that will keep you going throughout the morning.
Smoothies can be a good source of protein, which is both filling and helps preserve and rebuild muscle glycogen stores following intense exercise. Dairy products and some protein powders that contain whey protein are good to include post-workout. Whey is a fast-digesting protein that contains amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids that support muscle protein synthesis.10
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/protein-for-weight-loss">protein and weight loss</a></p>
Smoothies also work well as an afternoon snack to tide you over until dinner. Keep your serving small, but most importantly make sure it has some protein and fat to help fill you up.
Healthy Weight Loss Smoothie Recipes
There are many different ways to make smoothies, and so many different ingredients you can use to make them, that you’ll never run out of ideas. Here are a few of my favorite smoothie recipes to get you started.
Matcha Green Smoothie (Vegan)
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup packed baby spinach
- ½ cup plain almond milk yogurt
- 1 tsp. Matcha powder
- 1 frozen banana
- ¼ cup protein powder, optional (like almond protein powder)
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until spinach is chopped and the smoothie is thick and smooth.
Nutritional information (without protein powder)
270 calories 11 g fat 38 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 9 g protein, 550 mg calcium, 744 mg potassium
Nutritional information (with almond protein powder)
420 calories, 15 g fat, 50 g carbs, 11 g fiber, 25 g protein, 755 mg calcium, 1245 mg potassium
Berry Breakfast Smoothie
- 1 cup plain kefir
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
- ⅓ cup frozen raspberries
- ⅓ cup frozen blueberries
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate arils
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Optional: Refrigerate overnight. The chia seeds will expand and make the smoothie thicker.
350 calories, 8 g fat, 49 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 22 g protein, 48 5mg calcium, 200 mg potassium
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/10-best-fruits-metabolic-health">the top 10 fruits for metabolic health, according to a dietician</a>.</p>
Overnight Oats and Berry Smoothie Bowl
If you are someone who prefers to sit and eat your meal, this smoothie bowl may be the perfect fit. With a healthy dose of oatmeal, along with fruit, chia seeds, and yogurt, it’s thick and creamy and a great way to start your day. You’ll definitely need a spoon for this smoothie!
Prepare the night before, just as you would with overnight oats, and it’s ready to go when you are in the morning. The oats have beta-glucan which will help fill you up and keep your blood sugar from spiking.
- ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt (you can substitute almond or soy yogurt)
- ½ cup dry rolled oats
- ¼ cup low-fat milk (you can substitute non-dairy milk)
- ½ cup frozen blueberries
- 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- ¼ tsp. monk fruit sweetener (optional)
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Cover and place it in the refrigerator overnight. (or chill for at least 4 hours)
- Spoon into a bowl and top with sliced strawberries or bananas if desired. Keep in mind adding extra fruit will increase the calories and carbohydrate content.
Calories 430, 14 g fat, 50 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 29 g protein, 345 mg calcium, 620 mg potassium
<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong><a href="/blog/mitigate-high-glucose-spikes">mitigating blood sugar spikes to avoid fat gain</a></p>
Bottom line, smoothies can be an effective part of a weight loss plan and a simple way to get more servings of fruits and vegetables.
If you are just starting out with smoothies, use your CGM with the Signos app to understand how different smoothies and different ingredient combinations affect your blood glucose.
You may want to start by having a smoothie for breakfast and tracking how your blood glucose responds. By trying different fruits and protein sources you’ll be able to see if some are better for stabilizing your blood glucose levels.
Learn more about how to use your CGM to monitor your blood sugar.
Topics discussed in this article:
- Lee, S.H., Moore, L.V., Park, S., Harris, D.M., & Blanck, H.M. (2019) Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly 71(1), 1–9. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7101a1
- Rogers, P. J., & Shahrokni, R. (2018). A Comparison of the Satiety Effects of a Fruit Smoothie, Its Fresh Fruit Equivalent and Other Drinks. Nutrients, 10(4), 431. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10040431
- Stelmach-Mardas, M., Rodacki, T., Dobrowolska-Iwanek, J., Brzozowska, A., Walkowiak, J., Wojtanowska-Krosniak, A., Zagrodzki, P., Bechthold, A., Mardas, M., & Boeing, H. (2016). Link between Food Energy Density and Body Weight Changes in Obese Adults. Nutrients, 8(4), 229. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8040229
- Marton, L. T., Pescinini-E-Salzedas, L. M., Camargo, M., Barbalho, S. M., Haber, J., Sinatora, R. V., Detregiachi, C., Girio, R., Buchaim, D. V., & Cincotto Dos Santos Bueno, P. (2021). The Effects of Curcumin on Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in endocrinology, 12, 669448. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2021.669448
- Allen, R. W., Schwartzman, E., Baker, W. L., Coleman, C. I., & Phung, O. J. (2013). Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of family medicine, 11(5), 452–459. https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.1517
- Barely, M., Sepandi, M., Samadi, M., Parastouei, K., & Taghdir, M. (2019) The effect of whey protein on the components of metabolic syndrome in overweight and obese individuals; a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, 13(6), 3121-3131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2019.11.001
- Pal, S., Radavelli-Bagatini, S., Hagger, M., & Ellis, V. (2014). Comparative effects of whey and casein proteins on satiety in overweight and obese individuals: a randomized controlled trial. European journal of clinical nutrition, 68(9), 980–986. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2014.84
- Simonson, M., Boirie, Y., & Guillet, C. (2020). Protein, amino acids and obesity treatment. Reviews in endocrine & metabolic disorders, 21(3), 341–353. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11154-020-09574-5
- Amirani, E., Milajerdi, A., Reiner, Ž., Mirzaei, H., Mansournia, M. A., & Asemi, Z. (2020). Effects of whey protein on glycemic control and serum lipoproteins in patients with metabolic syndrome and related conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Lipids in health and disease, 19(1), 209. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-020-01384-7
- Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., Hoffman, J. R., … Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8