Earlier in the month we helped you beat the heat with smoothie recipes from reliable nutritionists, but the best about these blended bevs is they’re more than just a good way to cool down. They’re also a clever way to get your fruit and vegetable servings, take the edge off hunger, and sate a frozen-dessert craving without the guilt.
But not all smoothies are created equal. We asked Carlene Thomas, RD, to take a discerning look at some of the offerings from our city’s mainstream smoothie outlets: Smoothie King, Robeks, and Jamba Juice.
“The thing about smoothies is we tend to think of them as health food, but they’ve been tempered to fit an American palate,” she explains. “Many are made with tricky ingredients like juice, honey, sherbet, or high-fat dairy options.”
Check out her analysis below—the results may surprise you.
SMOOTHIE KING’S “STAY HEALTHY” SMOOTHIES
“Smoothie King was interesting. The smallest size is 20 ounces, which is huge,” Thomas points out. “And I think how they label their smoothies is a bit misleading—their ‘Snack Right’ options are really high-calorie. The Light & Fluffy for example, is almost 400 calories.”
• Worst—Orange Ka-Bam: It might be an amusing item to order aloud, but this 465-calorie orange-mango-banana-based blend packs 108 grams of sugar and 190 milligrams of sodium.
• Best—Yerba Mate Pomegranate: Yerba mate is a potent herbal tea made from the South American mate plant. This smoothie throws in pomegranate, strawberries, and soy for a 309-calorie energy boost. “Yerba mate is naturally caffeinated, so if you’re not supposed to have caffeine, you should know that. But this smoothie has two kinds of fruit, which I love,” she says.
“First I’d recommend ordering from the ‘Naturally Light’ menu; those smoothies are 130 to 170 calories and are higher in fiber than the regular 12-ounce smoothies,” Thomas says, adding that you should avoid the dessert-like shakes and freezes. But if the health-conscious menu doesn’t suit your fancy, read on.
• Worst—Cardio Cooler: The description says this fruit/sherbet blend is high in protein, fiber, and vitamin C, and it is. But thanks to two different types of sherbet, it’s also 244 calories and 45 grams of sugar in one 12-ounce cup.
• Best—Awesome Açai: This 146-calorie smoothie blends açai purée, raspberries, bananas, raspberry sherbet, and nonfat yogurt for a refreshing and decently nutritious treat. “The purée is the first ingredient, and most of the other ingredients are fruits,” Thomas says. “Açai is often cited as a superfood, but anything made of fruit and vegetables is great—no need to go above and beyond.”
JAMBA JUICE’S CLASSIC SMOOTHIES
• Worst—Strawberry Surf Rider: The smallest size of this treat—16 ounces—packs a hefty 300 calories, with only two grams of fiber and 64 grams of sugar. And with a lemonade and lime sherbet base, it’s oddly mostly lemon-lime flavored, so the name is a bit confusing.
• Best—Strawberries Wild: “These two sound similar, but that’s just marketing. Go the extra mile to see what’s in these smoothies, and educate yourself,” says Thomas. Unlike the Surf Rider, this 250-calorie selection is actually strawberry based, with apple-strawberry juice, nonfat frozen yogurt, strawberries, and bananas.
In addition to paying attention to the ingredients, you should always order the smallest size. Thomas also recommends choosing a healthy smoothie and then improving it with whatever calorie-cutting option the shop has available—Smoothie King has “make it skinny,” Jamba Juice offers “make it light,” and Robeks has “naturally light.”
Finally, don’t overestimate the power of your smoothie, no matter how healthy. “Don’t be fooled by clever marketing—these are not meal replacements,” our expert explains. “If you do have a smoothie, have something to eat, as well.”