When you're making breakfast at home on a busy morning, choices like a fruit-sweetened smoothie or a veggie-packed juice can be fast, healthy secret weapons. But if you're truly time-crunched and decide to buy one at a juice bar instead, the story changes: Giving up control has a price.
Unfortunately, restaurant smoothies can quickly jump to 500 calories and often contain sky-high amounts of sugar, turning that would-be sensible breakfast into something resembling an indulgent dessert, at least nutritionally. But just like you tell a barista exactly how you prefer your cappuccino, you should chat with your juice bar server to get a sense of what kind — and amounts — of ingredients he or she using so you can tweak your order if necessary.
For help, TODAY turned to Miraval Resort & Spa's on-site nutritionist, Angela Onsgard, R.D. At the popular Tucson resort, Onsgard teaches the Fresh Start Smoothie Workshop, where guests learn exactly what should (and shouldn't!) go into one of these healthy drinks. Bring her handy guidelines with you next time you're hitting the juice bar:
- Ditch the protein powder: Many experts, including Onsgard, have expressed concerns because these supplements are often heavily processed and contain additives but little nutritional value. "You're better off using a base of soy or regular milk, both of which contain calcium and vitamin D," she says.
- Don't go crazy with fruit: Turns out you can have too much of a good thing — though it's a whole food, fruit still contains sugar and calories, so Onsgard suggests limiting yourself to no more than one cup. With leafy greens and other vegetables, though, the sky's the limit. "Feel free to throw in as many as you find palatable," she says.
- Sweeten smartly: In a perfect world, the fiber-rich fruit in your smoothie would provide all the sweetness you need. If you must add something, don't order fruit juice, which is high in fructose and can cause blood sugar to spike. And even though it's getting lots of buzz, Onsgard also warns against agave syrup: "It's processed very similarly to the way high-fructose corn syrup is processed," she says. Instead, ask your server for a light drizzle of honey (ideally raw) which is fructose-free and thought to help boost immunity.
- Balance fats and proteins: "If you don't want to feel hungry an hour later you really need the right ratio of fat and protein, and this becomes even more important when your smoothie is replacing a meal," says Onsgard. A solid base of protein — think one cup of regular cow's milk or unsweetened organic soy milk — is what's going to keep you feeling full and your blood sugar stable. If you opt for low-fat or skim milk because you're watching calories, make sure your smoothie is satiating by adding a source of heart-healthy fat, such as a quarter of an avocado, one tablespoon of nut butter or two tablespoons of seeds, which will also help you get the maximum nutritional benefits from the fruits and vegetables. "It seems counter-intuitive, but Vitamins A, K, E and D are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they need some form of fat to be fully absorbed by the body," says Onsgard. If your smoothie is made with a low-protein liquid like green tea, rice milk, coconut milk or almond milk, Onsgard says that it should contain a half cup of what she calls a "primary protein." This could be soft tofu, yogurt (Greek-style is especially protein-rich) or kefir, depending on what's available.
For the mornings when you do make your own smoothies, try Miraval's Chocolate Frosty, which has oatmeal for extra fiber and a blend of cocoa powder, cinnamon and vanilla that makes it taste like a treat.