This natural sweetener, extracted from agave plants, has a lower glycemic index than honey or refined sugars. But the maple syrup-like substance may not be as healthy as you think. Most agave products used in commercial food chains are highly refined—a sweet sludge far removed from the plant sap’s natural state. And while the nectar gets a good rep for high fructose content (the natural sugar produced by fruits), high levels of fructose leave the body unable to metabolize sugar efficiently, leading to weight gain.
This creamy classic gets a bad rap for its saturated fat and sodium content, however peanut butter without added salt and oil can be good for you. It provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as potassium. Furthermore, the sodium-to-saturated fat ratio is comparable to foods such as olive oil and tofu. According to a Harvard study, “people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts.” Peanut butter becomes unhealthy when portion size grows too large, however. High levels of fat can lead to clogged arteries, an underlying condition in cardiovascular disease. If you’re not careful, a peanut butter-based smoothie can be a nutritional liability. For instance, Jamba Juice’s 30 oz. Peanut Butter Moo’d Power Smoothie will dump 1,170 calories and 169 grams of sugar into your body.
A Harvard study suggests regular consumption of artificial sweeteners can inhibit the ability to taste complex foods, meaning natural sugars from fruits and vegetables won't seem as sweet. By muting your taste receptors, you'll find it harder to be satisfied by whole foods. Furthermore, studies have shown that any sweet taste (artificial or not) causes a release of insulin in the body. When insulin is released, your body stores nutrients. Hence, these "zero-calorie" additions may still make you gain weight.
You can find artificial sweeteners in many smoothies, including Smoothie King's Make it Skinny, Jamba Juice's Make it Light, and Robek's Naturally Light options.
This is the most obvious and most potent way to ensure you get a healthy smoothie. Fruits and vegetables are packed with the vitamins and minerals your body needs for energy, brain fuel, and immunity. The frozen versions are also fine. Many frozen fruits retain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts thanks to flash freezing.
Non-fat Greek yogurt is a creamy, indulgent addition to any smoothie. It’s great for heart health, with zero grams of saturated fat and cholesterol, and has more calcium per serving than milk. Dietitians agree that Greek yogurt has a high satiety index, meaning you’ll feel fuller ounce for ounce. It also packs a lot of protein for anyone looking to maintain or build muscle. Also, the natural probiotics in yogurt help you maintain healthy digestive system.
Venerated as healing elixirs for thousands of years, the health benefits of tea have been demonstrated in numerous studies. Tea can help lower cholesterol, manage diabetes, increase mental alertness, reduce cancer risk, and encourage weight loss. There are four main types of tea: black, white, oolong and green. Green tea, well known for its moderate caffeine content, high antioxidant levels, and encouragement of a healthy metabolism, has become a healthy addition to many smoothies. Keep in mind that green tea powders and refined supplements may not retain the benefits gained from the natural leaf.
A small pinch of herbs and spices can add dazzling flavor to any smoothie. Here are a few of our favorites.
Ginger: Ginger offers joint-relief with its powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can help with throat and nose congestion.
Cloves: Cloves boast one of the highest antioxidant levels of all spices, and contain eugenol—a mild anesthetic that helps toothaches, gum pain, or sore throats, and relieves respiratory ailments.
Cinnamon: Anti-inflammatory compounds and antibiotic properties make this spice a powerful addition to any smoothie.
Basil: This herb has cardiovascular and digestive benefits, can help prevent cancer, and will help you build healthy skin, hair, bones and connective tissues. In addition, basil offers anti-bacterial properties and can help boost your immune system.
Sage: Sage fights inflammation at the cellular level, which helps reduce the hardening of the arteries as we age.
Jamaican Allspice: A smoky mix of cinnamon, juniper and nutmeg flavors makes Jamaican Allspice suitable for any sweet mix. It’s also good for the digestive system and helps moderate blood sugar.
While many people tout protein-rich smoothies as the perfect pre- or post-workout boost, be careful what kind of protein supplement you eat. An article in Consumer Reports showed that harmful contaminants such as arsenic, mercury or lead lurk in many protein powders. The dangerous artificial sweetener aspartame is also more common than you might think. This organic compound has been shown to lead to mental confusion, nausea, insomnia, nerve damage and migraines. The right protein powder, however, contains essential and non-essential amino acids, which help build and preserve muscle, repair cell membranes, build antibodies, and stabilize blood sugar levels. For information on the safest and most dangerous brands, check out this link.
In 1913, the U.S. Department of Agriculture listed soy as an industrial product, rather than a food. So why is soy so popular? Soymilk provides a milk alternative for vegans or anyone on a gluten- or lactose- free diet. It also boasts lower cholesterol levels than milk, while retaining a high protein content. However, there is a dark side to soy. Studies point to significant health risks with regular consumption including a weakened immune system and a higher risk of kidney stones and thyroid disorders. The most common side effect however is altered estrogen levels. The chemical phytoestrogen in soy can block estrogen production in women, and cause overproduction of estrogen in men. If you must stick with soymilk, drink it in moderation and consider other dairy-free options, such as almond milk.
Every smoothie needs a liquid base, but look out for sugar-filled concentrates or natural juices high in sugar. Consider Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie. The smallest size, 20 oz., packs a walloping 730 calories and 107 grams of sugar. Compare that to the daily sugar intake recommended by The American Heart Association: 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men. As an alternative, look for smoothies that use freshly squeezed juice, coconut water, or milk as the liquid base.