Are smoothies good for you?
Smoothies are a popular choice for breakfasts and snacks, but are they too high in sugar? Our expert nutritionist looks at the facts.
Quick to make and often used to tempt kids into consuming more fruit and veg, it’s easy to see the appeal of smoothies. But when we blend or juice fruit, we’re breaking down the plant cell walls and exposing the natural sugars within. This effectively turns the sugars into ‘free sugars’, the type we are advised to cut back on.
Free sugars may lead to dental decay, provide excess calories and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. For these reasons it’s best to enjoy your smoothie with other food, ideally at mealtimes, and to limit the number of glasses you consume. Smoothies and juices only count as one of your five-a-day, regardless of the number of different fruit or vegetables used or the number of glasses you drink.
Should children drink smoothies?
Water and milk are the best drinks for children, but kids' smoothies are an option and offer an opportunity for you to include foods that your child might otherwise not eat. They’re also useful for children who have a poor appetite, as well as teenagers who are always on-the-go. Unlike juices, smoothies retain the whole fruit, including the fibre, but don’t forget they are a source of ‘free’ sugars, which should make up no more than 5% of our energy (calorie) intake.
Another thing to consider is that because we drink smoothies rather than eat them, we do tend to consume them rather quickly. This means the sugars they contain may flood the bloodstream and, because no chewing is involved, the body doesn’t get the same messages that help us regulate how much we eat.
For these reasons, what you use to make your child’s smoothie is important – ideally choose a combo of vegetables, dairy and some fruit. This will ensure your smoothie contributes vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre. As adults we often add protein powders and other supplements to our own smoothies; these should never be added to a child’s smoothie.
It’s important to remember that whole fruit and vegetables should always be offered, as part of a balanced diet – this is especially important for young children who are learning to eat and are forming their own food preferences.
Is there a difference between homemade and shop-bought?
Many shop-bought smoothies include cheaper, more processed ingredients such as fruit purées and juices. These purées concentrate sugars whilst removing many of the nutritional benefits of the natural whole fruit such as the fibre, phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Some shop-bought smoothies are also sold in sizes larger than the recommended 150ml portion size and have added nutrients such as B vitamins as well as vitamins C and E.
Homemade smoothies, on the other hand, contain all of the fibre and will be naturally vitamin-rich because they’re freshly made and ideally consumed straight away.
Should you use fresh or frozen fruit?
Studies suggest that certain nutrients, including vitamin C, are comparable and occasionally higher in fruit (and vegetables) that have been frozen at harvest, compared to their fresh equivalent. Although, beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, may reduce on freezing. That said, it will depend on the fruit or vegetable in question.
Overall, whether you choose fresh or frozen produce for your smoothie, it doesn’t really matter. Both count towards your five-a-day and, if by using frozen produce, you’re increasing your child’s daily intake, then that has to be a good thing. Frozen produce may also help keep weekly food bills down, allows you to enjoy out of season crops and are a useful stand-by when you can’t get to the shops.
What is a correct portion size?
The guidance for the majority of us is to limit our daily intake of smoothies and juices to one glass of 150ml. This contributes a maximum of one of our five-a-day.
For a child, a smoothie portion will depend on their age and activity levels. A useful tip is to only use the amount of food a child would eat if the food was offered to them whole, rather than blended.
Which fruit is best for smoothies?
Using a combination of fruit and veggies will help keep the sugar content of your homemade smoothie down. Lower sugar fruits include berries, fruits with stones such as peaches, apricots and plums, as well as citrus fruits, kiwi and avocado. These may be combined with vegetables including leafy greens like spinach and kale, as well as celery, cucumber and beetroot.
How often should you drink smoothies?
Smoothies may form part of a balanced diet, but be sure to focus on lower sugar fruits, emphasising fresh or frozen produce. Include one or more sources of protein like yogurt, kefir or milk, as well as healthy fats from nuts, seeds or avocado. Both adults and children should consume smoothies no more than one portion per day.
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This article was published on 23rd April 2020 by registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a postgraduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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