Smoothies are an increasingly popular wellness trend and are frequently marketed as a health food.
These versatile beverages are portable, family-friendly, and modifiable for any taste or dietary preference. Smoothies are easy to prepare yourself, but you can also purchase fresh or bottled ones from specialty cafés and most major grocery stores.
While some types are loaded with veggies and fruit, others pack sugar or other unhealthy ingredients. As such, you may wonder whether they’re a healthy choice.
This article explains everything you need to know about smoothies, including their potential health benefits and downsides, whether they aid weight loss and tips for making nutritionally balanced versions at home.
What are smoothies?
Smoothies are thick, creamy beverages usually blended from puréed fruits, vegetables, juices, yogurt, nuts, seeds, and/or dairy or nondairy milk.
The most basic smoothie starts with two essential ingredients — a base and a liquid. From there, you can combine ingredients to your liking.
Many smoothies include frozen produce or ice cubes to give the final product the cool, icy consistency of a milkshake. However, their flavor profiles vary tremendously depending on the ingredients.
Common ingredients of smoothies
Popular ingredients in homemade and store-bought smoothies include:
- Fruits: berries, banana, apple, peach, mango, and pineapple
- Vegetables: kale, spinach, arugula, wheatgrass, microgreens, avocado, cucumber, beetroot, cauliflower, and carrots
- Nuts and seeds: almond butter, peanut butter, walnut butter, sunflower seed butter, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax meal
- Herbs and spices: ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cocoa powder, cacao nibs, parsley, and basil
- Nutritional and herbal supplements: spirulina, bee pollen, matcha powder, protein powder, and powdered vitamin or mineral supplements
- Liquid: water, fruit juice, vegetable juice, milk, non-dairy milk, coconut water, iced tea, and cold brew coffee
- Sweeteners: maple syrup, raw sugar, honey, pitted dates, simple syrup, fruit juice concentrates, stevia, ice cream, and sorbet
- Others: cottage cheese, vanilla extract, soaked oats, cooked white beans, silken tofu, and dairy or nondairy yogurt
Types of smoothies
Most smoothies can be classified into one or two of the following categories — though there’s significant overlap between them:
- Fruit smoothies. As the name implies, this kind of smoothie usually features one or more types of fruit blended with fruit juice, water, milk, or ice cream.
- Green smoothies. Green smoothies pack leafy green vegetables and fruit blended with water, juice, or milk. They tend to be heavier in veggies than regular smoothies, though they often include a little fruit for sweetness.
- Protein smoothies. Protein smoothies usually start with one fruit or vegetable and a liquid, as well as a major protein source like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, silken tofu, or protein powder.
Because smoothies are so customizable, it’s fairly easy to pack them with nutrients.
Summary: Smoothies are made by blending fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and other ingredients to make a thick, creamy beverage.
Potential health benefits of smoothies
Many people consume smoothies as a morning meal or afternoon snack. They can be a great way to incorporate more healthy foods into your diet.
Smoothies may help boost fruit and vegetable intake
Smoothies made primarily from fresh or frozen produce may increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, which provide a diverse array of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
Together, these nutrients may reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and lower your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and age-related mental decline.
Suggested read: 12 sweet and diabetes-friendly snacks
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults eat at least 5 servings (around 400 grams) of fruits and vegetables per day. However, most people fall short of this mark.
If you find you’re not eating enough fruits or veggies, a smoothie can be a delicious way to pack in 2–3 more servings.
Smoothies may support increased fiber consumption
Fiber is an important nutrient that aids digestion by preventing constipation and supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract.
Early research suggests that a healthy, thriving community of gut bacteria can help reduce inflammation, promote healthy immune function, and support mental health.
Adequate fiber intake is also linked to a reduced risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Yet, many people are not meeting their daily fiber needs — especially those who follow Western diets.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a daily intake of at least 38 grams of fiber for men and 25 grams for women. Research indicates that most Americans, on average, eat only 16 grams of fiber each day.
With the right ingredients, smoothies can be an excellent way to boost your fiber intake.
Some of the most fiber-rich foods are also common smoothie ingredients, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains (such as soaked oats), nuts, seeds, and legumes (such as white beans).
Summary: Smoothies are a convenient way to boost your intake of fruits, vegetables, and several other fiber-rich foods.
Some varieties of smoothies contain large quantities of added sugar
The difference between a healthy and unhealthy smoothie largely depends on the quality and quantity of its ingredients.
Smoothies’ biggest pitfall is their propensity to contain large quantities of added sugar.
Suggested read: The 12 best foods to eat in the morning
Added sugar reduces the nutrient density of smoothies. Furthermore, routinely consuming too much added sugar may increase your risk of chronic ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of added sugar to no more than 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams) per day for men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women.
Commercially prepared smoothies tend to be higher in added sugar than homemade versions, but it ultimately depends on the ingredients used in each recipe.
For instance, Smoothie King’s 20-ounce (590-mL) The Hulk Vanilla Smoothie packs 47 grams of added sugar, which is well above your daily sugar recommendation.
Their Original High Protein Pineapple Smoothie is a much better option, as it provides only 4 grams of added sugar in the same serving size.
Many sugary ingredients are easy to identify, such as granulated sugar, honey, maple syrup, ice cream, sherbet, and agave nectar.
Nonetheless, you should keep in mind that nut butter, protein powder, flavored yogurt, fruit-flavored sauces, and sugar-sweetened juices, and non-dairy kinds of milk are all potential sources of added sugar.
Occasionally indulging in small quantities of added sugar is not likely harmful, but if you drink smoothies frequently, it may be best to limit sugary ingredients as much as possible.
When making smoothies at home, use whole fruits, such as a ripe banana, to add sweetness instead of honey or maple syrup.
When buying pre-made smoothies, try to limit or avoid added sugar, mainly focusing on smoothies that include whole foods like fruits and veggies.
For bottled smoothies, you can find the added sugar content on the label. For made-to-order ones, check the company website or ask for nutrient information at the counter.
Summary: Certain smoothies contain large quantities of added sugar, which can reduce the drink’s overall nutrient density. Excess added sugar intake may increase your risk of disease.
Do smoothies aid weight loss?
Smoothies are frequently marketed as a weight-loss tool.
Research suggests they may be effective for this purpose as long as they’re not causing you to exceed your daily calorie needs.
While some people find smoothies an easy way to monitor food portions and stay on top of their weight loss goals, others may not feel as full when they drink their calories rather than eating them.
That said, several small studies demonstrate that smoothies used as meal replacements can be as filling as solid foods and that drinking calories instead of chewing them don’t necessarily lead to overeating when solid foods are consumed later.
Drinking versus chewing’s effect on your feelings of fullness may be more closely related to how satisfying you expect the meal to be rather than the form of the food itself.
One small study found that people who viewed a large serving of fruit before drinking a fruit smoothie felt fuller and more satisfied afterward, compared with people who viewed a small serving of fruit before drinking the smoothie.
This occurred even though both groups consumed an equal amount of calories and nutrients from the smoothie.
Ultimately, although weight loss can be a complex process with many contributing factors, it’s important to expend more calories than you take in. If a smoothie helps you offset other calories you would otherwise consume, it can be an effective weight-loss tool.
If you prioritize ingredients low in calories and high in protein and fiber, your smoothie may keep you full until your next meal. Whole fruit, vegetables, nut butter, and low or no-added sugar yogurts are all excellent weight-loss-friendly ingredients.
Keep in mind that your nutritional needs and ability to lose weight vary depending on many factors, including age, activity level, medical history, and lifestyle habits.
Smoothies can be tailored to meet your needs
You can drink smoothies as a snack or meal replacement, but it’s a good idea to know which types to choose — especially if you have specific fitness or body composition goal in mind.
There’s a common misconception that smoothies are inherently low-calorie snacks, but some smoothies pack over 1,000 calories depending on their size and ingredients.
Generally, a 200–300-calorie smoothie with 10 grams of protein is a great snack, whereas a 400–800-calorie smoothie providing at least 20 grams of protein is better suited as a meal replacement. It’s best to assess your goals and calorie needs to determine your specific needs.
Suggested read: 14 foods to avoid (or limit) on a low-carb diet
The difference between the two may be as simple as adjusting the serving size.
Many smoothie chains provide the ingredient and nutrition information for each of their products, which usually come in 16–32-ounce (475–945-mL) servings.
When making smoothies at home, be sure to control your portion size. Fats like nuts, seeds, nut butter, full-fat yogurts, and avocado will provide more calories but increase nutrient density. Meanwhile, sugary add-ins like syrups will provide more calories without quality nutrients.
Summary: Smoothies may aid weight loss if they help you maintain a calorie deficit. However, they can be high in calories, so you should choose those that will fit into your daily calorie needs.
Healthy smoothies recipes
The most nutritious smoothies utilize whole foods, contain little or no added sugar, and include a balanced amount of carbs, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
If you want to try making smoothies at home, here are two sample recipes to get you started.
Ginger green smoothie
- 2 cups (56 grams) of fresh baby spinach
- 1 large ripe banana, sliced and frozen
- 1 tablespoon (6 grams) of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons (32 grams) of unsweetened almond butter
- 1/4 of a small avocado
- 4–6 ounces (120–180 mL) of unsweetened almond milk
- 1/2 cup (125 grams) of low or nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt
Add all ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth. If it’s too thick, add more almond milk.
This recipe makes approximately 20 ounces (590 mL) and provides:
- Calories: 513
- Fat: 25 grams
- Total carbs: 56 grams
- Fiber: 10 grams
- Added sugars: 6 grams
- Protein: 21 grams
Tropical berry beet smoothie
- 1 cup (197 grams) of frozen mixed berries
- 1/2 cup (82 grams) of frozen mango
- 1/4 cup (34 grams) of raw beets, roughly chopped or grated
- 2 tablespoons (20 grams) of hemp hearts
- 1/2 cup (125 grams) of low fat plain Greek yogurt
- 4–6 ounces (120–180 mL) of unsweetened coconut water
- a squeeze of fresh lime juice
Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth. If you want it a little sweeter, use lightly sweetened yogurt or swap the coconut water for 100% fruit juice.
Suggested read: 14 easy ways to increase your protein intake
This recipe makes approximately 20 ounces (590 mL) and provides:
- Calories: 380
- Fat: 13 grams
- Total carbs: 52 grams
- Added sugars: 0 grams
- Fiber: 8 grams
- Protein: 22 grams
For more healthy smoothie recipes, check out this article: 9 healthy yet delicious smoothie recipes
Summary: When making smoothies at home, aim to include a balanced combination of carbs, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
Smoothies are popular meals and snacks and can suit almost any taste or dietary preference. Their healthiness is largely determined by their ingredients.
The most nutritious smoothies are made with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and healthy fats, while those with lots of added sugars aren’t as nutrient-dense and may contribute to negative health effects over time.
Smoothies high in protein and fiber may even aid weight loss by keeping you full.
If you’re looking for a creative way to boost your fruit and veggie intake, smoothies may be the way to go.