Smoothies from retailers are advertised as full of super foods - fresh exotic fruit with anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals. But are they really a wise choice if you are concerned about your health and/or weight? Just because there are fruits in them doesn’t mean all smoothies are healthy. Though they may provide some fiber, smoothies could have a surprising amount of added sugar from fruit juices, lemonade, sherbet, frozen yogurt or brown sugar, a.k.a. turbinado. It’s even possible there could be more sugar in a smoothie than in the notoriously maligned sugar-sweetened beverage, Coca Cola.
Smoothie retailers may not always have nutrition facts handy. You can ask what ingredients are used and if there are any fruit juices or sugars added. If they have nutritional information to share, sugar amounts are usually listed in grams rather than teaspoons. Most of us can visualize a teaspoon of sugar. It’s much harder to visualize a gram. To get a visual cue, convert those grams to teaspoons. There are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon.
A ½ cup of sugar is the same as 24 teaspoons. Imagine dumping a ½ cup of sugar or spooning 24 teaspoons of sugar into your drink. That’s a lot of sugar! There’s almost that much and more in some smoothies. More sugar than a Coke! A 20 oz. serving of Coke has just over 16 teaspoons of sugar. The large amount of added sugar in some smoothies offsets any health benefits.
Here’s a sampling of smoothies compared to a similar portion size of Coca Cola. There may be other smoothies on their menus that have less added sugar but I intentionally looked for these to illustrate my point. The following data on sugar was gathered from the retailers’ websites.
The standard American diet is overflowing with sugar. There’s clearly an excessive amount in some smoothies. You’ll also find added sugar in so many processed foods. This abundance of sugar is taking its toll on the shape of Americans. Look around you and you can’t help but notice that people are getting bigger and bigger. Obesity is not a standalone health issue; it leads to so much dysfunction in the body. Habitual overeating of sugar is tied to increased incidences of heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver, cirrhosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
SugarScience.org is an authoritative source for the scientific evidence about sugar and its impact on health. This team of health scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, has reviewed more than 8,000 scientific papers published to date, focusing on the areas where the science is strongest – specifically, on diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. They take the information out of medical journals and make it available to the public, to help individuals and communities make healthy choices.
Here’s one of my favorite tropical smoothie recipes, with a total of 8 teaspoons of sugar (or 32 grams). It’s loaded with fiber from the fruit, and there is no added sugar. Only what is naturally occurring in the fruit.
Mix in a high-speed blender:
- 8 oz. coconut water (no added sugar)
- 1 frozen banana
- 70 grams frozen pineapple chunks
- 1 scoop of whey protein powder (no added sugar)
- Seek out the healthiest choices on the menu.
- Avoid added sugars from fruit juices, lemonade, sherbet, frozen yogurt or brown sugar and its equivalents.
- Mix up your own smoothie, so you can monitor exactly what ingredients go into it.
- Eat whole fruit instead of relying on smoothies for your daily fruit intake.