What Makes a Smoothie Unhealthy?

What Makes a Smoothie Unhealthy

Photo by pandaposse

The simple answer is the inclusion of unhealthy ingredients. It’s not too difficult to identify an unhealthy diet – it’s one comprised mainly of unhealthy foods. The same goes for smoothies. After reading this blog post I’m confident you’ll be able to discern between healthy and unhealthy smoothies with ease.

First, I will attempt to cover all the things you don’t want in your smoothie, which cause the scale to tip in favor of unhealthy. Then I will list the healthy ingredients, and in doing so show you that creating healthy smoothies is actually pretty easy.

A quick note before moving onto the unhealthies. Most restaurants, chains, venues, and large events serving smoothies generally lean towards the unhealthy. For example, last summer I attended a major league baseball game and got quite excited when I saw a sign for smoothies. Much to my dismay, the so-called smoothie was nothing more than sugary slush.

Unhealthy Smoothie Bases

We’ll start with the liquid base of your smoothieand what you want avoid like the plague.

Sugar laden fruit juices: Most fruit juices sold in super markets are nothing more than flavored sugar water.

Regular milk: Store bought milk (whether skim, 1%, 2%, or whole) comes from cows that are often mistreated, given hormones and antibiotics, and over milked. Chalk and pus have also been detected in the milk.

Tap water: Recent studies have revealed a plethora of undesired substances in regular old tap water. This includes, but is not limited to, trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, lead and arsenicperchlorate (a toxic chemical found in rocket fuel), sucralose, and many other man-made chemicals.

Most bottled water: Most mainstream bottled water is nothing more than glorified tap water. Pepsi even admitted that Aquafina comes from tap water. For the definitive story on bottled water I highly recommend the documentary Tapped.

Unhealthy Smoothie Ingredients

Now onto the list of smoothie ingredients that I wouldn’t add into my blender if you paid me. An exhaustive list isn’t practical, but I’ll hit on the more obvious offenders.

  • Ice cream and sherbet
  • Chocolate syrups and powders – think Nestle
  • Sugar as a sweetener
  • Agave nectar – why
  • Most store bought honey – why
  • Non-organic peanut butters (Jif, Skippy, Smuckers)
  • Cheap protein powders – why
  • Chocolate pudding mix
  • Cool Whip or whip cream
  • Cream soda

At the end of the day, just use a little common sense in determining what not to add to your smoothie.

How To Make Your Smoothie Nice and Healthy

Now that you know what not to add to your smoothies, let’s get to what you can toss in the blender to make the healthiest smoothies ever! Instead of using the word organic over and over, I’ll mention here that using organic ingredients is always in your best interest. I realize this isn’t always possible and don’t beat yourself up over it. At the very least try to avoid the “Dirty Dozen“.

Healthy Smoothie Bases

Fresh juice: There’s nothing better than using fresh juice, whether from a juicer or squeezed.

Raw milk, almond and coconut milk: If you’re not lactose intolerant, raw milk is a great option. Almond milk and coconut milk (and water from young/Thai coconuts) are great to use too. I didn’t include soy milk because there’s evidence soy isn’t the health food it’s been marketed as, see here and here for reasons why you should avoid soy.

Good water: This includes water run through a good filter, legitimate bottled water (Spring Mountain, Starfire), distilled, purified, and the best option spring water. To locate spring water where you live, check out Find a Spring.

Tea: Using a healthy or medicinal tea can really improve the nutrition of your smoothie. In some circles “elixir” is the term used to designate these drinks.

Fermented beverages: Kefir (milk and water), kombucha, and Hindu lemonade. These are all extremely healthy options, especially when homemade.

Healthy Smoothie Ingredients

There may be some things on the list below that you’re not familiar with, don’t worry, in future recipes and posts I’ll explain why each ingredient is good for your health and a welcome addition to your smoothie.

  • Fresh and frozen fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh sprouts
  • Yogurt (organic, Greek, homemade)
  • High quality protein powders
  • High quality superfood green powders
  • Superfoods (cacao, maca, aloe vera, goji berries, spirulina, etc)
  • Herbs and spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne, mint, etc)
  • Local and/or organic honey
  • Stevia
  • Hemp seeds and hemp protein
  • Raw nuts and nut butters
  • Various coconut products (shreds, flakes, raw meat, oil, butter)
  • Flax seeds and oil
  • Chia seeds and chia seed gel
  • Oatmeal
  • Gelatin
  • High quality salt (Celtic sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, Redmond salt, etc)
  • Medicinal mushroom powders
  • Chinese herbs
  • Mineral supplements
  • Colostrum
  • Pine Pollen

As you can see there’s quite a few ingredients available to make healthy smoothies. The number of different concoctions and recipes is endless. Once you get the basics of smoothie making down, you can experiment and come up with your own favorite recipes.

I hope you found this information both informative and actionable. After all this talk of smoothies, I’m off to the kitchen to create my next masterpiece.

Please leave a comment below as I’d love to hear what you think of my “good” and “bad” list of smoothie ingredients

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47 Responses to What Makes a Smoothie Unhealthy?

  1. Lori #

    Great info! ESP the healthy stuff!

    • Ryan #

      Thanks, Lori! There really is no shortage of healthy option to blend into your smoothies.

    • fiona #

      Thanks so much I just started having smoothies n u just told me how im making them is healthy so thank u

  2. Smoothies #

    Really you can include so many different healthy, nutritious foods in a smoothie. Thank you for posting these recipes!

    • Ryan #

      You’re quite welcome for the recipes, posting them is my pleasure. The number of healthy things you can add into your smoothies is practically endless…which certainly keeps things interesting if you ask me :)

  3. kate #

    What about organic yogurt? I’ve also considered it as a healthy addition, especially as it adds protein, calcium, etc. What do you think?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Kate, absolutely, organic or homemade yogurt is definitely a healthy ingredient. Leaving that off the list was an oversight on my part. I just added it above. Cheers! Ryan

  4. Erica #

    Omg… I was super excited about recently starting my green smoothies, and then I found your website. You have so much great healthy information here! I will be trying several of your recipes. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!! :)

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hey Erica,

      Awesome to hear you’ve jumped on the green smoothie train :) I hope you enjoy all of my recipes.

      Best,
      Ryan

  5. Louis #

    Good info but this is sort of demoralizing. It’s expensive to buy the neccessary ingredients for a smoothie to be considered healthy, i’ve been using fat free milk. Since I started drinking fruit smoothies I have more energy and lost a bit of weight as well. So how can they be so unhealthy the way I am doing it yet i feel great.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Louis,

      Like with anything in life you have to do the best you can. Many of the healthy ingredients are expensive, while others aren’t so much.

      More energy and weight loss from consuming smoothies is great! I don’t know that your smoothies are terrible unhealthy, although fat free milk isn’t the best option. The benefits you derive from smoothies are relative to your body and current level of health. Try replacing a few unhealthy ingredients with a couple healthy ones and see if your results are that much better.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  6. Great article. I just wanted to add one thing, you answer your question incorrectly at the top of the article. The simple answer is the exclusion of unhealthy ingredients. I think you mean the inclusion of unhealthy ingredients. Thanks…keep up the good work.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hey Jerry, thanks for pointing out that mistake, just got it updated. Cheers!

  7. Jane #

    Wow…thanks for the info on Agave nectar! Was going to use it as my sweetner, but not any longer!!

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Glad I was able to prevent you from using agave nectar, Jane. I wouldn’t want my worst enemies to consume it ;)

  8. Glendar #

    You mentioned high quality protein powders, and green powders. Will you please give suggestions as to which ones are healthy.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hey Glendar,

      I’m referring to the products I’ve personally researched and used myself with success. You can find them on the Resources page under Protein Powders and Green Superfood Powders:

      http://www.healthysmoothiehq.com/resources

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  9. Wynelle #

    Hi Ryan,

    Thank you for the valuable info. I have seen so many different opinions about what foods are healthy for smoothies and which foods are not! For example one smoothie expert says bananas should be avoided like the plague, but apple seeds are okay in balanced quantities. (number of seeds per ratio to the apples used) while another says avoid using the seeds completely. Another guru says to rotate our greens (which makes sense), while my seeds championing guy also says to use the pith that surrounds citrus fruits as it is chock full of nutrients! He is a “food for healing” nutritionist. If you are interested in his web site please let me know. Smoothie making is science within itself! But I am so excited to be a part of it! I love your blog! Keep up the good work Ryan!

    • Jane #

      Hi Wynelle,
      I’m curious….can you please tell us why one smoothie expert you know says to avoid bananas like the plague? I use them quite often for flavor, and I’d really like to know if I’m shooting myself in the foot with them!

      • Wynelle #

        Hi Jane,

        You can google Jeff Primack to go on his website for his food healing protocols, also to see his food healing teaching videos on You Tube if you are interested in his philosophy. His main complaint about bananas is that they cause the body to retain unhealthy fats I believe. I rotate them in my smoothies, as I believe just as the soil remains healthy when crops are rotated, so do our bodies benefit when we rotate our foods. As Ryan states in his blog, there are several food sources to use as the base in smoothies! I do agree though that bananas really blend well in smoothies! Balance and moderation is my goal. We should be able to enjoy all of natures bounty if we maintain a healthy balance in our usage. Thank you Ryan for letting me comment to Jane!
        Regards.

        • Ryan Carmody #

          Hi Wynelle,

          Thanks for the kind words about my site and for adding valuable information to the smoothie discussion. I actually listened to a podcast featuring Jeff Primack about a year ago on One Radio Network (awesome site BTW). If I’m not mistaken he also advocated blending avocado pits if you have a powerful enough blender. Some of Jeff’s ideas are a bit unorthodox, but he might be onto something.

          Regarding bananas, and all food in my opinion, balance and moderation are indeed key. Also pay attention to your body, and if you suspect a food isn’t right for you or you’re consuming too much of it, odds are you need to back off.

          Avocados and chia seed gel are my favorite smoothie thickeners, but I still use bananas occasionally.

          Best,
          Ryan

  10. Karen #

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for all the wonderful information you pass on, oh and of course the smoothies info as well. lol
    Have just started using a product called – No-Cal to replace sugar in my diet. Can you tell me if this is a healthy alternative instead of other sweeteners. I have tried Stevia and can’t stand the aftertaste.
    Thanks again

    Karen

  11. Karen #

    Hi Ryan,

    It looks like an Australian site. The link for it is:
    http://www.naturesgoodness.com.au

    Your opinion would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    Karen

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Karen,

      To my surprise this actually looks pretty good. I’d have to try it myself before recommending, but I don’t see any issues with it. “It is made from Erythritol, a sugar alcohol which occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. Erythritol is made naturally from sugar.”

      Best,
      Ryan

  12. Karen #

    Thanks Ryan,

    It sure tastes better to me than Stevia. Thank you for your help

    Cheers

    Karen

  13. Daisy Lou #

    Hi there, very interesting stuff. I love homemade smoothies – my favourite is mango (about 80%), banana, lemon/lime juice and a little root ginger ……… yum yum :-p

    • Ryan Carmody #

      That sounds delicious, Daisy Lou. There are a few similar recipes on my site.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  14. Tracy #

    Hi I’ve been told fruit smoothies have too much sugar in them is this true..

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Tracy,

      Yes, fruit smoothies can have too much sugar. By sticking to berries and avocado you can easily avoid this pitfall. An all fruit smoothie containing a banana, pineapple, mango, and orange juice is an example of what I call a sugar bomb. Incorporating some sweet fruit isn’t a problem, but don’t go overboard.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  15. Rey #

    It is the fruit Smoothies that seem to keep my family interested incorporating the Smoothies into everyday life. WE usually have fruit Smoothies once a day. They usually consist of a fruit, a juice, a veggy and sometimes additions like coconut oil or stevia, lemon or lime juice, herbs like mint.

    Examples
    strawberries, natural fruit juice, spinach

    Pineapple, pineapple juice, spinach, coconut oil

    These sound like the sugar bombs that you are describing. However, the Smoothies are helping to ensure that we consume the recommended number of fruits and veggies.

    We usually have this in the morning.

    Would you recommend against our Smoothies.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Rey,

      The two recipes you provided aren’t bad at all. Although most natural fruit juice is loaded with sugar as is pineapple juice. Can you substitute with water? At the end of the day it’s much more important that you and your family are consuming healthy smoothies, even if a little high in sugar, than nothing at all.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

      • Rey #

        Thanks for the info Ryan. In addition to, or in place of the juice, I sometimes use almond milk as well. So a typical smoothie may consist of a fruit, fruit juice and almond milk mixture, a green like spinach. I also forgot to mention that we do use ice. After blending, we add ice and blend a bit more to get a pretty thick texture.

        As an example, today’s smoothie will be: frozen cherries, a frozen lemon wedge, spinach, mixture of white-grape cherry juice and almond milk and ice.

        The frozen smoothies aren’t very large, we use the Nutribullet mid-sized cup.

        • Ryan Carmody #

          You’re on the right track, Rey. Almond milk is a good option. Your smoothie for today sounds great. The only suggestion I have is to get a little more healthy fat in there via coconut oil or avocado.

          Cheers,
          Ryan

  16. Vicki #

    Hi Ryan. I have been researching green smoothie information for the last couple of months. I have never left a comment on any website I have visited. I have just been kind of taking it all in, but I had to leave a comment for you. Your responsiveness has left quite an impression on me. I don’t think I have visited any websites so far where the “guru” has responded to all of the questions/comments. It is greatly appreciated. I want to ask you what your opinion is regarding the combination of foods in a smoothie. There is a particular “guru” (initials S.B.) who claims that the green smoothie should be limited to using only greens, fruit and a little spring water. This was a little disappointing for me because I was feeling pretty good about all of the superfood boosts I have been adding to my smoothies: maca, goji berries, hemp seed, flax seed, nuts, etc. He claims that some ingredients may cancel out others. What is your take on this?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Vicki,

      Thanks for the kind words. Referring to me as a “guru” might be a stretch ;)

      Food combining is a tricky one. If you search Google you’ll encounter many opinions and food combining charts. IMO, there’s no hard and fast rules. We’re unique individuals with unique nutritional needs and unique digestive systems. My advice is to pay attention to your body. If you suspect combining certain foods is an issue, remove ingredients one by one until you identify the culprit.

      I routinely throw everything but the kitchen sink into my smoothies and have yet to experience any digestive issues. As far as ingredients cancelling out others, I think the opposite is true, they increase bio-availability and effectiveness of each other. For example, avocado has been shown to improve absorption of lycopene and beta-carotene from other foods. You have my permission to add all of those wonderful superfoods to your smoothies :)

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  17. Sandra #

    Hi there, your web page has been very helpful, I have just started making smoothies and have one for my lunch daily and was concerned if the ones I am making are healthy as so many people say mine can be unhealthy, so many articles on websites saying don’t use this and others say do, can be confusing, for eg I use bananas, blueberries, strawberry, Greek yogurt and almond milk or water, I also put in a tsp of flaxseed oil, would be grateful for your response, I will download your recipes. Thank you

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Sandra,

      Nice to hear you’ve recently hopped on board the healthy smoothie train :) The ingredients you listed are all good and will result in healthy smoothies alright. Minor critique, opt for full-fat Greek yogurt, and add a little avocado or coconut oil for healthy fat.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  18. Sandra #

    Thank you Ryan, looking forward to trying out your recipes

    Regards

  19. Chris #

    I had this morning – natural yogurt, frozen blueberries, 1 lemon, 1 banana, spinach, 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, coconut oil, ginger, oats and evian water! Is that too much for 1 smoothie? I also heard fruit smoothies can be bad why is that?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Chris,

      That smoothie sounds perfect! Definitely not too many ingredients. Smoothies that contain nothing but sugary fruit can be problematic because of their high sugar content. I like to call them “sugar bombs”. Your recipe doesn’t fit that bill.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  20. Dyna #

    What are juice blends? Are the smoothies at Juice It Up! and Jamba Juice considered healthy? Are certain ones healthy?

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Dyna,

      I’d have to inspect every smoothie, but for the most part the smoothies at places like Juice It Up and Jamba Juice are not very healthy due to their high sugar content. If they have smoothies with organic ingredients that aren’t too high in sugary fruit and sweeteners then they’re probably ok, but never as good as making yourself.

      Cheers,
      Ryan

  21. francene ferguson #

    i agree with what you’ve said about healthy and unhealthy smoothies. anything that’s going to promote healthy eating, i’ll try.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Me too, Francene, I’ll try just about anything once if it’s going to improve my health.

  22. Jeline Saunders #

    Hi Ryan,

    I have been drinking homemade smoothies for every two years and have almost everyone in my family (and friends) drinking one a day including my 90 year mother who has dementia and my father who is 98 (my sister says they will live forever drinking these smoothies).

    I, too, include everything but the kitchen sink – 2 tablespoons of matchstick carrots, 4 prunes, half banana, mixed frozen berries, 2 tablespoons of frozen mango, 3 tablespoons of frozen kale (kale does not have an after taste as does spinach), one teaspoon of honey, brewed green tea, half diced apple with peeling left on, and 2 tablespoons of greek yogurt.

    Believe me this smoothie is excellent for elimination and we are almost addicted to it. Cannot go more than one day without it. Two days and you are in trouble. We have struggled when we travel and cannot make this smoothie.

    Enjoy your website.

    • Ryan Carmody #

      Hi Jeline,

      Your comment brought a huge smile to my face :) We can live forever drinking healthy smoothies every day!

      Your recipe sounds delicious and is certainly ultra healthy. I’ll have to give it a blend.

      I just got back from a week long vacation and dearly missed my smoothies. A travel blender is in my future.

      Best,
      Ryan

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