There’s more to preparing a nutritious smoothie recipe than simply tossing your ingredients into the blender. Just a few poor choices, and you’ll wind up with a sugar- and calorie-filled indulgence instead of a healthy concoction. Registered dieticians agree that it’s important to use real, whole food ingredients—going overboard with highly processed add-ins can lead to sugary calorie bombs. Here are the 6 ingredients that nutritionists never, ever add to smoothies.
Ice cream is an obvious no-no—once that goes in the blender, you’ve made a milkshake, not a smoothie. But despite having fewer calories than ice cream, frozen yogurt should also be avoided. “There’s still too much sugar in it, and it’s not going to nourish you,” says Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If there’s fruit in your smoothie, no further sweetener is required. “I would never add sugar: white sugar, table sugar, honey, agave nectar—you’re already getting enough sweetness from the fruit,” says Torey Armul, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And while fruit is a good way to sweeten your smoothie, keep an eye on the portion size. “Only add a cup, because the more fruit you add, the more sugar and calories you’re adding, too,” says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, LDN, CDE, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Try one of these 5 go-to smoothies from super-healthy nutritionists.
Opt for plain yogurt to cut down on added sugars. According to the American Heart Association, men should only consume 37.5 g of added sugars per day; for women, the number is lower—just 25 g of added sugars per day. Some flavored yogurts contain around 26 g of sugar per 6 oz container—that’s already over the daily recommended amount for women. Hass never adds flavored yogurts to her smoothies. Instead, she uses low-fat Greek yogurt, which typically contains just 6 to 9 g of sugar per serving, and limits the serving size to 4 to 6 oz. Read labels carefully, and aim to keep your added sugar within the recommended daily amount.
Including fruit juice in your smoothie won’t add any flavor or nutrients, says Ginn-Meadow. And, what’s more, juices are often high in sugar and calories. Stick with real fruit instead of juice or juice concentrate. “Lean towards fiber-rich fruits such as berries, pears, apples, and add leafy greens for additional fiber,” adds Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Many registered dietitians find other sources of protein. “I prefer to add yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu, and nut butter for protein; if you are selecting a protein powder, look for a product that does not have a lot of added sugars and isn’t too high in protein,” says Sheth. (We like this organic protein powder.) In your smoothies, it’s best to have only 20-30 g of protein max. According to Sheth, there are protein powders on the market that contain up to 45-50 g of protein, but that’s a little excessive. In the United States, men are encouraged to consume 56 g of protein daily, and women are encouraged to consume 46 g of protein daily. If you’re eating 2-3 servings of protein-rich foods, it’s not terribly difficult to reach this daily recommendation, according to the CDC.
Because dried fruit isn’t as dense as fresh fruit, you have to eat more to feel satisfied, says Ginn-Meadow. In dried fruit, most of the water content has been removed through a dehydration process—either naturally or with specialized equipment. Some dried fruit products are packed with added sugars. On average, the only ⅓ cup of dried cranberries contains about 26 g of sugar. Use real fruit to add texture to your smoothie and to avoid exceeding your daily sugar intake. (Whole fruits also have tons of fiber. Here are 5 ways to sneak more fiber into your diet.