Apple juice. Bee pollen. Agave syrup. Trying to order a healthy smoothie is like trying to put together a LEGO set from a bucket of random pieces: All the parts are bright and shiny, but half of them are just junk.
In fact, the selections at most smoothie shops include plenty of “healthy” add-ons that mostly just add on to your waistline. And with more chains opening every day, you’ll have even more chances to make a mistake. To decode the menu and start melting your belly for real, take a look at these six worst ingredients to add to your smoothie.
Fat-Free Flavored Yogurt
High in protein with a delicious creamy texture, yogurt is the ideal backbone for a smoothie—unless it’s flavored or fat-free. Yogurts with fruit on the bottom or mix-ins like honey can contain up to 29 grams of sugar (that’s the amount in even a “healthy” brand like Fage Honey Greek Yogurt). Stick to full-fat, plain yogurt. A 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the more high-fat dairy products people ate, the lower their risk of diabetes; those who ate a lot of low-fat dairy products had the highest incidence. The researchers speculated that while calcium, protein, vitamin D and other nutrients in dairy are indeed good for us, we need the fat that goes along with them in order to get their protective effects. Skipping the fat may cost you lean muscle: “People with low vitamin D levels have been shown to have decreased strength and greater muscle wasting,” says Ilyse Schapiro, RD.
We took the brand names back to our food lab and compiled this must-have list of the 11 Best and Worst Greek Yogurts for Weight Loss!
You glance at the blender, worried there’s not enough liquid. Don’t be tempted to add some leftover OJ or that can of frozen apple concentrate lurking in the freezer: Fruit juices lack the satiating fiber of fresh fruit, and even half a cup of orange juice adds 13 grams of carbs. It’s even worse at the smoothie chains: The Berry Carrot Dream at Smoothie King, for example, uses orange and apple juices and packs 68 grams of carbs and 58 grams of sugar into a small serving. That’s the sugar equivalent of drinking three Snickers bars!
Use green tea!
Ice Cream or Sherbet
Smoothies that include ice cream, frozen yogurt or sherbet are not fitness drinks. They are desserts. For example: At Smoothie King, a small (20 ounce) Berry Punch sounds like something healthy. But because it contains raspberry sherbet, it packs 84 grams of sugar. That’s nearly twice as much as a McDonald’s Hot Fudge Sundae.
A large scoop of unflavored Greek yogurt and handful of frozen fruit will give you exactly the same flavor and consistency—without several nights’ worth of dessert.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Avocado and nut butter are some of your best allies in the pursuit of a flat stomach, but too much of their good fats can backfire. Be mindful of the portions suggested by recipes. Nutritionists consider one-fifth of an avocado to be one serving. Likewise, one serving of nut butter is just two tablespoons, and more than enough for a savory smoothie.
Use almond butter—but to repeat, just two tablespoons. “Ounce for ounce, almonds are one of the most nutritious nuts,” Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN says. They’re a great source of riboflavin, magnesium and manganese (which, she explains, is great for the prevention of osteoporosis as well as a healthy metabolism), and also provide an impressive amount of vitamin E per serving. You’ll also get flavonoids, compounds that are extremely useful in fighting heart disease and cancer.
You wouldn’t dare add straight granulated sugar to your smoothies (right?), but other healthy-sounding additives don’t act so sweet, either. A tablespoon of all-natural honey will add 17 grams of sugar to your drink, while a similar serving of virtuous-sounding agave nectar will add an unnecessary five grams. And while a serving of coconut oil is an excellent add-in — its good saturated fats are burned as energy, not stored as fat — other variations on that tropical theme are trouble. Coconut nectar, increasingly common at smoothie bars, will add 13 grams of sugar and carbs per tablespoon, and sweetened coconut flakes have an eye-popping 24 grams of fat and 36 grams of sugars per cup.
For sweetness, rely on whole fruit and sugar-free almond milks—and for an eye-opening look at what artificial sweetener and corn syrup can do to you, don’t miss the 5 Amazing Things That Happen to Your Body When you Give Up Soda!
Canned fruit might seem like an easy shortcut, but it’s just a quick route to belly fat. It’s packed with syrup — upwards of 20 grams of sugars a can! — and nasty additives such as artificial flavorings. Even unsweetened fruit in its own juice is a nutritional miss: Peeled fruit is missing crucial fiber, and vitamin content can degrade in the canning process.
If having fresh fruit around the house for your smoothies is impractical, go for frozen—they add a frosty texture, and freezing preserves more nutrients than canning does, because “the frozen ones are picked then immediately (or soon after) frozen,” according to Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Just read the labels on frozen packages to make sure there is no added sodium, sugar, or chemicals.” Dole, which sells the most frozen fruit in America, says that 60% of its frozen fruit ends up in smoothies, with sales on the rise.