Let’s Be Real: Are Smoothies Really Good for You?

When it comes to the latest fitness trends and health crazes, we’ve seen it all. And fruit and veggie juices and smoothies? Well, they were once one of them, too. But over the past few years, juice bars and smoothie stands have become much more commonplace, making any green substance in a cup seemingly synonymous with good nutrition.

But we see the headlines and articles all the time warning us about the dangers hidden within that styrofoam cup, underneath all the so-called servings of vitamins and nutrients, and we can’t help but wonder—can smoothies actually be good for you?

We decided to quit wondering and chatted with Devin Alexander, nutritional guide on NBC’s The Biggest Loser and author of the New York Times bestseller The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook, to find out the real deal on how healthy smoothies actually are.

Bottom line: Is it better to eat fruit or vegetables rather than drinking them in a smoothie?

According to government dietary guidelines, we should all be consuming about two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables every single day. But if we prefer to drink them instead, are we losing out? “The best time to eat veggies or fruit is right off the vine or when just picked. The longer they get from being harvested, the more nutrients they’ve lost,” says Alexander. “Then, when you blend them, they lose more. And if you don’t drink the smoothie after it’s blended, it loses even more. And, some juicers extract vitamins as well. So it can be better to eat them as soon as possible and not blend or juice them.”

But drinking your fruit and vegetables is a whole lot better than not having any at all, right? Alexander agrees, saying, “Juicing greens is still way better than not consuming them. For some people, it’s too tough to cook enough veggies, so relying on juices can actually work out quite well.” So while we should aim to eat our fruit and veggies fresh and whole, smoothies aren’t such a bad backup option.

What are the cons to replacing your fruit and veggies with a smoothie?

While smoothies are a great way to ensure your body gets all the necessary vitamins and nutrients it needs, not all stores make them the same. That said, you should always do your research and scope out what exactly goes into each smoothie on the menu. And just because you’re making them yourself doesn’t mean they’re 100% healthy. “So many smoothies are chock full of sugars,” Alexander says. “I’ve seen people over do it on the fruit at home. It’s too much!”. It’s better to find a recipe using a few simple fruit and veggies to keep the sugar count low.

So what exactly are these hidden sugars and fat in smoothies that we may not know about?

No matter how much research and label reading we do, can there still be hidden ingredients making our smoothie unhealthy that we just don’t notice? According to Alexander, absolutely. “Many fruits are inherently high in sugars,” she says. “So even if you’re not adding extra sugars, like honey, sugar, etc., you don’t want to over do it with more than a serving or two of fruit. A lot have yogurt or frozen yogurt or other super sugary ingredients. And even when protein powder is added, that can be sweetened with sugar at juice bars and ‘bowl’ stops.  Some also have trendy ingredients like cacao nibs and nut butters which can also be great in the right quantities. But to taste a nut butter in a smoothie, it often requires a ton. Those calories and added fat can really add up.”

Are there any healthy smoothie recipes you recommend?

Devin recommends making a recipe from her cookbook for a healthy green juice that can be consumed over a few days:

1 small cucumber, cut into large cubes
3 cups 100% pink grapefruit juice, not from concentrate
1 bag (5 ounces) fresh spinach leaves
8 stalks celery, trimmed and broken into 4 pieces
4 cups parsley leaves (it’s okay if a bit of stem remains)

To the jar of a blender, add the cucumber along with 1/2 cup of the grapefruit juice. Blend on high speed until smooth. Continuing adding enough spinach, celery, and parsley so that the blender is no more than three-fourths full. Blend on high speed until smooth, stopping the blender intermittently to scrape the sides and press the ingredients into the center if necessary. Continue adding and blending until no veggies remain. (Add some of the remaining grapefruit juice at this stage, only if necessary to help the blending process.) Strain the juice, if desired. Stir in the remaining grapefruit juice. Divide the juice among four glasses (no smaller than 12 ounces) or resealable drinking cups. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two days.

Stephanie Limiti is a born and raised New Yorker living out her dreams of palm trees and sunshine in Los Angeles. When she's not zenned out in yoga class, she's reading biographies and volunteering at dog rescue shelter. Follow her on Instagram.