The menu at your neighborhood smoothie shop can be intimidating.
There are smoothies that claim to bulk you up and smoothies that claim to help you lose weight or boost your immune system. There are fruit smoothies and veggie smoothies.
Some are made with milk and others with soy milk.
Then there’s the size: 16 ounces, 24 ounces or bigger.
Make the right choices and you’ll end up with a nutritious snack such as Jamba Juice’s 170-calorie, 16-ounce Strawberry Nirvana.
Make the wrong choice and you might end up with something like Jamba Juice’s 800-calorie, 24-ounce Peanut Butter Moo’d, the caloric equivalent to a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with medium fries.
“I think a lot of people hear ‘smoothie’ and have the impression that it’s something healthy,” said Brent Carney, the chief clinical dietitian at St. Joseph Medical Center. “And, like a lot of things, it can be healthy. But it can also be unhealthy.”
So as summer approaches and the urge increases to compliment those hot days with a cool smoothie, we talked to three nutrition experts who offered six tips to make sure you pick a smoothie that won’t ruin your waistline.
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Like anything you eat and drink when it comes to smoothies, nutrition experts say you need to know the details about what you are consuming.
“You at least need to know how many calories are in your smoothie to know if it is realistic for you,” said Joe Piscatella, a Gig Harbor-based motivational speaker and author who specializes in healthy living. “They can get to 200 calories pretty easily, but if you love smoothies you can make a trade off someplace else.”
Ventia Hagg, a St. Joseph Hospital dietitian, says smoothies can be high in carbohydrates.
“If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, you really need to pay attention,” Hagg said.
Most smoothie shops have their nutritional information available if you ask, Piscatella said.
Smoothie chains such as Jamba Juice, Orange Julius and Emerald City Smoothie also have their nutritional information online.
At most smoothie shops, your smallest option is 16 ounces.
“That’s pretty typical of Americans,” Carney said. “We assume bigger is better and we end up consuming more that we need.”
Hagg has a solution to help your waistline and your bottom line.
“Get the 16 ounce low-fat fruit smoothie and split it with a friend,” Hagg said. “Most places will split it into two cups for you. Now each of you has a better size: half the calories and you split the cost.”
3. MAKE IT A TREAT, NOT A MEAL
A smoothie might seem like a convenient meal replacement for people on the go, but nutritionists say you should resist the urge.
“Nothing is better than whole foods,” Piscatella said. “It is always better to eat your fruits and vegetable rather than drink them.”
Piscatella says converting fruit to juice robs the fruit of fiber.
“You can put different things in there to add nutrients,” Carney said. “But it’s not going to be the most well-rounded meal. You need to eat to get complex carbs and fiber.”
Of course there’s always an exception. Hagg recently used homemade smoothies for meals when her daughter was recovering from orthodontic work.
“Smoothies can be a part of a healthy diet, but shouldn’t be used on a daily basis,” Hagg said. “They should be a treat.”
4. WATCH THE EXTRAS
Topping your smoothie with 2 inches of whipped cream and sprinkles is an easy way to weaken your healthy treat.
It might seem like a small thing, but a few decisions like this a day can add up.
An extra 500 calories more than your needed amount each day typically means you’ll gain a pound a week, Hagg said.
Some smoothie shops offer extras such as ginseng and guarana that claim to boost your energy or immune system. These extras aren’t necessarily bad, nutritional experts say, but don’t count on them working wonders.
“A lot of these things go in one end, out the other,” Piscatella said.
Carney says a lot of the additives are more about marketing than nutrition.
“But some of the stimulant additives will give you the same jolt you get from your coffee,” Carney said.
5. MAKE YOUR OWN
The best way to know exactly what’s going in your smoothie is to make your own.
“With the right ingredients, smoothies are healthy,” Hagg said.
She suggests using fresh or frozen fruit and light yogurt instead of ice cream or sherbet. She also recommends using 100 percent fruit juice or honey as the sweetener. She says cottage cheese is a good way to add protein to the drink.
She suggests foodfit.com as a good place to get recipes.
“And make them small if you are trying to lose weight,” Hagg said.
6. DON’T GET COCKY
Piscatella says he’s often amused when he sees people washing down pepperoni pizza with a diet cola.
“Diet pop, like smoothies, has a healthy sounding name,” Piscatella said. “But it’s not a magic elixir. It’s not going to make up for that bacon and sausage sandwich you had for breakfast.”
That also means don’t overdo the smoothies. There is the possibility of too much of a good thing.
Piscatella says liquid calories aren’t as filling as calories from food. This could open the door for you to consume too many calories, he said.
“I am of the belief that there is no such thing as a bad food,” Piscatella said. “But they can be eaten in a bad amount.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497
what’s in the drink?
Smoothies might seem like a healthful treat, but those calories can add up fast. Use these numbers to help you make a good choice:
JAMBA JUICE: 24 ounces
Peanut Butter Moo’d: 800 calories
Orange Dream Machine: 490 calories
EMERALD CITY SMOOTHIES: 24 ounces
Nutty Banana: 720 calories
Grape Escape: 480 calories
ORANGE JULIUS: 20 ounces
Blackberry Storm: 680 calories
Berry Lemon Lively: 420 calories TROPICAL SMOOTHIE
1 small banana
1 cup of crushed pineapple
1/2 tray of ice
8 ounces fat-free yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice
Place ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Source: Venetia Hagg, St. Joseph Medical Center registered dietitian