Are smoothes, like those from McDonald's, Jamba Juice, and Smoothie King, actually healthy?
McDonald’s fruit smoothies. They say they’re made with real fruit, they taste great, they’re easy on the waistline, and they cost less than $3. But let’s face it, this is Mickey D’s we’re talking about; the creators of mechanically separated chicken and the 1/2 pound Mega Mac burger. There has got to be some sort of nutritional catch. Right?
The truth is, McDonald’s smoothie isn’t the only frozen drink that contains unexpected, and often unwanted, ingredients. Like any other meal at a fast food restaurant (really want know what's in your Chinese food?), you really have no idea what’s going into that blender, so when it comes to smoothies, how do you weed out the good from the bad?
1. Go for fresh or frozen fruit
Every smoothie appears to be made with real fruit - until you catch a glimpse of the ingredient list. The peach in your smoothie has very possibly been processed into: peach juice from concentrate, peach puree, peach sherbet, peach sorbet, peach syrup, peach frozen yogurt, peach flavoring, etc. When fruits are processed, they lose much of their nutritional value and often contain added sugars. Water soluble vitamins (B and C vitamins) are particularly vulnerable and can be lost in processes using dehydration or high temperatures (like canning or juice concentration). So avoid fruit byproducts and stick to the fresh or frozen stuff instead. Jamba Juice’s All Fruit™ smoothies contain only fresh fruit and juices, and Smoothie King uses the fresh stuff in all fruit-based items. The easiest way to ensure the quality of your fruit, however, is simply to ask.
2. Beware of added sugars
This is huge when it comes to smoothies, and it’s the major source of Mickey D’s downfall. The McDonald’s Wild Berry Smoothie is not made with fresh or frozen berries, but with strawberry puree. Fruit purees contain processed fruits and lots of added sugars, which is why one 12 ounce McDonald’s smoothie has upwards of 40g of sugar. Smoothie King’s 20 ounce Grape Expectations II™ contains 125g of sugar...more than an entire pint of Haagen-Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream. If you’re trying to avoid spikes in blood sugar, choose a Jamba Light™ Smoothie, with 26g of sugar and 150 cals in 16 ounces. Smoothie King offers the option to “Make it Skinny,” sweetening your smoothie with honey and cutting the turbinado sugar out of the mix. This can reduce the sugar and calorie content by nearly 50%. Take a look at how Smoothie King’s 20 ounce Coconut Surprise® matches up to its skinnier version:
3. Don’t fall for boosts or supplements
Certain smoothie makers offer options to improve immune function, give a burst of energy, or fight colds. The bottom line is: don’t go for it. These fancy “boosts” or “shots” probably aren’t going to do much for you (outside of costing you a couple extra bucks). Take Jamba Juice Antioxidant Power Super Boost™ which offers 930% your daily value of Vitamin C. Thanks to Carolyn, we know that antioxidants are great for your health, but all of these excess water soluble vitamins will just end up in your pee a few hours later. The Flax & Fiber Boost advertises omega-3s, but the ingredients tell us they are coming to us in the inferior ALA form (see Marie’s Fish Oil article for further explanation!) The 3G Charger™ Super Boost offers up “natural energy” from Guarana, and Ginseng: two ingredients found in energy drinks.
4. Avoid anything creamy
This is the golden rule when it comes to sauces, dressings, soups, etc. Smoothies are no exception! The stuff making your smoothie creamy is also adding sugar and saturated fat, usually in the form of ice cream, frozen yogurt, or peanut butter. Jamba Juice makes it easy for you to avoid these drinks, labeling them “creamy treats.” The 16 oz Peanut Butter Moo’d® contains 12% your daily value of saturated fat, 71g of sugar, and 470 calories. So yeah, I’d stay away from any drink with “moo” in its title. And if you’re looking for a creamier texture, choose low-fat plain yogurt over frozen yogurt, ice cream, sherbet, or sorbet.
A smoothie can go from healthy snack that can help you lose weight and burn fat, to decadent disaster depending on what you allow in that styrofoam cup. The easiest way to protect your health is to ask those behind the counter exactly what’s going in. Choose smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruit, ice, and non- or low-fat yogurt. Stay away from concentrated juices, fruit purees, ice creams and nut butters. But above all, remember that this can be a great way to get your 4 servings of fruits each day, so enjoy!