Smoothie Bars: Deception and Misconceptions
The first time I’d experienced a gym with a smoothie bar, I really did think I was in heaven. You mean I can workout, shower, and get this healthy drink on my way out so I don’t feel hungry or have to rush home to cook a meal? Sign me up! According to Global Industry Analysts, Inc, juice and smoothie bars are estimated to become a $10 billion industry by 2015. The problem is the misconception that smoothies are healthy is leading many people to overindulgence. Some of them are cups with more sugar and calories than milkshakes from a drive-thru restaurant. While all smoothies are not created equal, be sure you know what you’re ordering before you waltz into one of these seemingly healthy eating establishments.
Most smoothies start with the fruit. Fruit is sweet. But is it sweet enough? A quick glance at Smoothie King’s website reveals a not-so-healthy admission: “Many of our nutritional smoothies are sweetened with turbinado and honey. By making it skinny and leaving out the turbinado, you’ll save calories and carbs.” Really – there are 100 empty calories in almost every smoothie and I’m supposed to ask it be taken out to “make it skinny”? Okay, but what about calorie counts? A quick glance of their menu of 20 oz. offerings doesn’t include one smoothie that’s less than 200 calories – not even in the kid-size 12 oz serving. Wait, I lied, there’s one called The Gladiator, but its 180-calorie listing doesn’t factor in the two servings of fruit or juice you add to the drink to make it a smoothie. Getting the amount of a day’s worth of sugar in a 20 oz. cup is one thing, but the fact that they have even larger sizes of 32 oz. and 40 oz. is a bit sour.
Two Servings of What?
Hop on over to Jamba Juice and along with your smoothie, you get the option of a “boost.” Nice touch for those looking for protein or more vitamins and minerals than the fruit in the smoothie itself; which brings me to my next point. Other than fruit, what exactly is in the ingredient list of their “Classic” Smoothies? Sherbet or sorbet, like the kind you find in the ice cream aisle. Yes, juice and sherbet or sorbet is in every one of their “Classic” line of smoothies. So you know, sorbet and sherbet is typically fruit, sugar, and water or milk. Opt for the “All Fruit” Smoothies and the sorbet and sherbet are gone, but you’re still looking at “peach juice blend” or “pineapple juice blend” in the ingredients. While I do not know if these "blends" are fresh-squeezed, it’s safe to say that juice is not 'all fruit.'
Make Your Own
Both Jamba Juice and Smoothie King dub one or more of their smoothies as meal substitutes or replacements. So if you think of a smoothie as a snack, not a meal, make your own. Even at home, the calorie count of a smoothie can add up quickly with multiple servings of fruit, so use a measuring cup to control portion size. Half a banana offers the sweetness of sugar and adds that much desired softness. If you add yogurt, go for plain, not flavored, yogurt. Typically, flavored yogurt has added sugar. Adding extract instead, be it vanilla, almond, chocolate, or even coconut, adds flavor without empty calories. Be sure frozen fruit isn’t sweetened to save calories and keep ice cubes on hand if you’re blending fresh fruit to make it chilled. Adding a serving of protein powder is also an option, just be aware of the usual addition of 100+ calories from one serving. If you must add a liquid, and low-fat milk or water isn't desirable, think of unsweetened almond or hazelnut milk or even coconut water as an option.
Whether from a juice bar or a grocery store, your idea of a nutritious smoothie may only be a mirage. If you’re not making them yourself, or really controlling what the employees are putting in them at your favorite smoothie place, think of them as more of a treat rather than a daily nutritious meal. The fact that most won’t have a variety of whole fruit, vegetables, healthy fat and a lean protein is proof that it shouldn’t be replacing too many of your meals.