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You’ve probably seen smoothies of all sorts over TikTok and other social media platforms lately. Or maybe you’ve gotten lots of questions about them lately. Smoothie recipes that claim to help you lose weight, reduce bloating, improve your skin, increase your energy levels and help you feel happier. But how healthy are they actually?

Smoothies are getting more popular because they blend healthy, whole ingredients into a nutritious and delicious on-the-go option. While you can make them at home or get them from a smoothie shop or restaurant, homemade smoothies tailored to nutritional needs and taste preferences are excellent sources of protein, fiber and other nutrients.

When speaking with clients, patients and consumers, it’s important to know the low down on trending smoothies so you can advise them when viewing such social media. Clients may have questions or misconceptions about their health benefits and potential drawbacks. Health and wellness professionals can provide accurate information and guidance to help clients make informed decisions, whether it’s managing weight, reducing risk of chronic diseases like diabetes or just promoting overall well-being.

Here are some tips for helping clients select protein powders, fruits, veggies and other ingredients for both homemade and smoothie shop options. By carefully selecting ingredients and moderating consumption, smoothies can be a nutritious component of a balanced diet. So, grab your blender and let’s dive in.

Fiber

Before your clients transform their kitchens into permanent smoothie laboratories, there are some cautions to keep in mind. While smoothies can be a healthy addition to any diet, it’s crucial to be mindful of their ingredients.

Have clients consider the fiber content instead of just throwing a bunch of fruit in a blender and calling it a meal. Including fiber in your diet, especially at breakfast, is essential for healthy digestion. However, most people aren’t getting enough fiber. Generally, recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are that people of all ages consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories. In adults, it’s 38 grams per day for men under age 50 and 25 grams per day for women under age 50. For adults over the age of 50, it’s 30 grams per day for men and 21 grams per day for women. However, most Americans consume about half of the amount of fiber recommended by NASEM and only about 5% of the population actually meet the recommendations for dietary fiber intake.

Fiber keeps you feeling full and satisfied, aids in digestive regularity, supports a healthy gut microbiome and helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Lifestyle media brand mindbodygreen has seven clever ways to get more fiber in smoothies, including adding oats, avocado and greens powder. EatingWell also provides 16 five-minute smoothie recipes loaded with fiber.

Sugar

When consumed in moderation, smoothies can be a good way to increase the intake of healthy foods and nutrients. Clients should opt for whole fruits, vegetables and healthy add-ins while limiting added sugars to maximize nutritional benefits.

High sugar content in smoothies can lead to dental cavities, tooth erosion and obesity, according to Utah State University. Fruits are high in natural sugars and acids, which can erode tooth enamel with frequent exposure. Ingredients like ice cream, honey or sweetened yogurt can increase sugar content further. Liquid or semi-liquid foods additionally don’t satisfy hunger as effectively or as long as solid foods. Drinking calories may lead to consuming more calories later to satisfy hunger. Moderation is key, considering your clients’ overall caloric needs.

Be cautious of diet trends and cleanses that promise detoxification and extreme weight loss. Diets like the “green smoothie cleanse” can be dangerous due to extremely low caloric intake (<1,000 calories), potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies. The body’s liver and kidneys naturally remove toxins without the need for cleanses.

Added vs. natural sugars

Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, fruit juices and smoothies. When consumed in whole fruit, fructose doesn’t contribute to your clients’ intake of free (or added) sugar. However, in fruit juice or smoothies, it does, according to Diabetes UK. Whole fruit contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, promoting overall health. The fiber in whole fruit slows down the absorption of fructose into the bloodstream, helping clients feel fuller for longer. Fruit juice and smoothies often have most of the fiber removed during processing, making it easy to consume large quantities quickly. This can result in consuming excessive calories, carbohydrates and sugar in a short amount of time. Therefore, whole fruit is a better choice for maximizing nutritional benefits and managing calorie intake.

Free (added) sugar refers to sugars added to foods by manufacturers, as well as sugars naturally present in fruit juices, smoothies and honey. To promote health, recommendations from the American Heart Association suggest men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day and women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. Excessive consumption of free (added) sugar is linked to obesity, tooth decay and the risk of Type 2 diabetes. However, reducing intake of whole fruit is unnecessary. To manage sugar intake, it’s important to be label savvy and aware of hidden free (added) sugars in packaged foods. Making smoothies at home allows your clients to control the amount of sugar used. 

What should you add?

There are countless smoothie recipes to try. For beginners, John Hopkins Medicine recommends to combine:

Protein: Commercial protein powder, Greek yogurt (higher in protein than regular yogurt) or nut butters.

Fruit: Berries, mango, bananas and avocado.

Greens: Spinach or kale.

Liquid base: Dairy or plant-based milk, water or fruit juice.

Protein powders

Finding the right protein powder involves several considerations. Consumers should read the label and check the ingredients, especially if they have food allergies such as dairy or soy. Look at protein, carbohydrate levels and the presence of added sugars or artificial flavors.

Whey protein powder is recommended for its high absorption rate. It’s derived from the liquid byproduct of dairy production, which is dried and powdered. It’s also rich in leucine, an amino acid that provides energy during exercise, helps build muscle, supports tissue healing and aids metabolism.

Vegan protein powder options include pea protein, seeds, brown rice, soy and hemp. Plant proteins are generally less easily absorbed, but pea protein is recommended among vegetable-based options. By considering these factors, clients can choose a protein powder that best suits their dietary needs and preferences. Each fruit or vegetable offers unique nutrients, so have them mix them up to get a variety in their smoothies.

Fruit smoothies

Using whole fruits in smoothies is preferable to fruit juice because it retains more fiber and delivers less concentrated sugar. Fruits are rich in flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, reducing inflammation and supporting cellular health.

  • Raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, fresh or frozen, are packed with vitamins, fiber and add vibrant color and flavor.
  • Bananas contain potassium and inulin, a fiber that helps you feel full and satisfied.
  • Mangos provide delicious flavor along with fiber and vitamin A.
  • Avocado adds a creamy texture and fiber, making it a great vegan alternative to yogurt.

Vegetable smoothies

Incorporating vegetables into smoothies is a great way to meet the daily veggie intake.

  • Carrots offer natural sweetness, appealing color and vitamin A, especially when paired with fresh ginger.
  • Cucumber adds a hydrating, refreshing boost to summertime smoothies.
  • Beets provide vibrant color, minerals and natural sweetness.
  • Cauliflower blends seamlessly with other flavors, adding fiber and vitamins. Frozen cauliflower can also make your smoothie cold.
  • Cooked sweet potatoes make smoothies rich, creamy and packed with vitamins.

Green smoothies

Green smoothies are a delicious way to incorporate fresh greens’ vitamins, minerals and fiber into clients’ diets. Combining these greens with fruits and other ingredients results in delicious, nutrient-packed green smoothies.

  • Kale or spinach provide extra micronutrients without making the smoothie taste like a pureed salad.
  • Spinach has a mild flavor, lots of nutrients and is a great choice for beginners.
  • Kale is more fibrous but blends well for a nutrient-dense smoothie.
  • Arugula adds a peppery kick.
  • Collard greens are rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Chard provides a slightly earthy flavor.
  • Wheatgrass boosts nutrients with a grassy taste.

Trends

What’s on the smoothie menu for 2024? There are several trends, as noted by Parkside Medical Group, which reflect a broader movement towards health, sustainability and creativity in the smoothie industry, catering to a growing demand for nutritious, environmentally friendly and innovative food and beverage options.

With trends constantly evolving, dietitians need to stay informed about the latest developments in the smoothie industry. This includes understanding emerging ingredients, sustainability practices and consumer preferences. By staying up-to-date, dietitians can provide relevant and evidence-based advice to their clients.

1. Hyper local ingredients

Smoothies featuring ingredients sourced from local farms and gardens are becoming increasingly popular, especially as the farm-to-table movement catches fire. This not only supports local agriculture, but also ensures fresher and more nutrient-rich components. Look out for seasonal berries, local greens like spinach or kale and homegrown herbs such as mint and basil.

2. Exotic superfoods

Superfoods from around the globe are being incorporated into smoothies for their health benefits and unique flavors: dragon fruit for vibrant color and antioxidants, acai berries for fiber and healthy fats and maqui berries for anti-inflammation.

3. Plant-based innovations

Innovative plant-based ingredients are being used to create creamy, protein-packed smoothies: silken tofu for a protein boost and smooth texture, hemp seeds for omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and spirulina for protein and rich green color.

4. Functional add-ins

Smoothies can be a functional part of a health regimen in many ways. Watch out for adaptogens like ashwagandha and maca to help manage stress, collagen peptides for skin, hair and joint health and probiotics to support gut health.

5. Creative flavor pairings

Somewhat unconventional yet delicious flavor combinations are trending. Avocado and honey can create a creamy, sweet blend. Watermelon and basil can make for a refreshing and slightly savory taste. Pineapple and jalapeño can bring a spicy kick to your clients’ taste buds.

6. Sustainable practices

Eco-conscious consumers are driving the push towards sustainability in smoothie preparation and consumption. Reusable straws made from stainless steel, bamboo or silicone are trending. Eco-friendly packaging like biodegradable cups and lids are also key. Consumers also want to reduce food waste by incorporating surplus or “ugly” produce into smoothies.

In conclusion, the surge in popularity of smoothies, especially in social media circles, prompts critical examination of their health claims and ingredients. While smoothies offer a convenient and nutrient-rich option for incorporating fruits, vegetables and other wholesome ingredients into clients’ diets, it’s essential to be mindful of their potential pitfalls. Excessive sugar content, lack of fiber and the risk of liquid calories contributing to overconsumption are factors that warrant attention. However, by having clients, patients and consumers make informed choices, such as opting for whole fruits, vegetables and protein sources and moderating sugar intake, they can enjoy the benefits of smoothies while minimizing potential drawbacks. As trends in smoothie consumption evolve, incorporating hyper-local ingredients, exotic superfoods and sustainable practices can further enhance their nutritional value and environmental impact. As a health and wellness professional, by staying informed and helping consumers make conscious choices, smoothies can continue to serve as a delicious and healthful addition to a balanced diet.

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