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Is That Smoothie Bowl As Healthy As It Seems?

It’s Instagram official: Smoothie bowls are the Breakfast of Summer 2017. These colorful blends can be more satisfying than traditional smoothies because they offer mouthfuls of tasty ingredients like fruit and granola, plus they’re just so pretty to look at! However, as healthy as they appear, not all smoothie bowls are created with balanced nutrition in mind. In fact, depending on what you dump in your blender, you could end up with a calorie bomb that’s more dessert than health food.

“While the ingredients are often considered ‘healthy,’ it’s very easy to have too much of a good thing,” says Lindsey Pine, R.D. “And while many smoothie bowls that we see on social media are beautiful, they are often way too large!” For example: Though Juice Press’s Açai Blueberry Bowl serves up a reasonable 370 calories, it packs a whopping 41 grams (that’s 10 teaspoons!) of sugar and just six grams of protein—not the ideal nutritional balance.

Here are some common mistakes that make for a not-so-healthy smoothie bowl, along with tips for building a better one.

Mistake #1: You Overdo it on the Fruit

No nutritionist is going to argue that fruit on your plate (or in your bowl) is a bad thing—most of us don’t eat enough of it! But that strategy can backfire when you’re dumping fruit into the blender and then also topping your smoothie with it. Although fruits contain antioxidants and other valuable nutrients, they also contain natural sugars—which is why the USDA recommends the average adult stick to about one and a half to two cups per day.

It’s pretty easy to surpass this recommendation when you make a smoothie bowl—especially if you also use fruit juice as your liquid. Plus, when your smoothie bowl is fruit-focused, you miss out on the opportunity to balance fat, protein, and carbohydrates (which makes for a filling and healthy meal), says Emily Kyle, R.D. After all, your body needs fat and protein for a number of functions, and the two macronutrients help keep your blood sugar more stable when you consume carbs.

Mistake #2: You Skip Out on Veggies

If there’s one food group we should be incorporating into as many meals as possible, it’s veggies. “Smoothie bowls are an excellent way to incorporate vegetables into your diet in a way that even the most picky eater is likely to enjoy,” says Kyle. Mild-flavored veggies like spinach, cauliflower, and yellow squash are totally undetectable in a flavorful smoothie bowl and provide a number of important vitamins.

Mistake #3: You Opt For Flavored Yogurt or Sweetened Liquid

When you’re already including naturally sweet fruit in your smoothie bowl, you don’t need extra sugar coming from flavored yogurt. Plus, some flavored yogurt blends don’t provide as much protein as plain Greek yogurt or skyr does, says Pine.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

The liquid you use in your smoothie bowl can also be a sneaky source of extra sugar. Plant-based milks like almond or soy milk can also contain a few grams of hidden sweeteners, says Kyle. Same goes for fruit juice—just another contributor to a sugar-bomb smoothie bowl.

Mistake #4: You Load Up on Granola

Granola, as delightfully crunchy and sweet as it may be, has definitely come under fire for being loaded with sugar—and that goes for both store-bought and homemade varieties. Often, you’re just adding extra sugar and calories to the bowl, says Pine. A tablespoon of chopped nuts or seeds would provide the same crunch factor, plus some protein, she says.

Mistake #5: You Treat Your Bowl Like Dessert

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but a heavy-handed drizzle of chocolate sauce, spoonfuls of chocolate chips, or other undeniably indulgent ingredients end up transforming your smoothie bowl to a sundae. “I’ve seen smoothie bowls with chunks of candy bars,” says Pine. Even in crumbles, a Snickers bar isn’t a health food—no how many Instagram foodies say so.

Mistake #6: You Go Overboard on Toppings and Extras

The more ingredients, the prettier and more satisfying the smoothie bowl, right? When you’ve got avocado, nut butter, walnuts, chia seeds, and coconut flakes on top of your bowl, you’re surely adding some nutritional value, but you’re also adding a ton of extra calories and sugar, says Pine. Choosing a couple of toppings and actually measuring them out (two tablespoons total, tops) is key to avoid overdosing on extras. And if you just can’t go without the banana slices or berries on top of your bowl, set aside a few pieces of the fruit you’re blending into the smoothie itself for your toppings later.

Mistake #7: You’re Getting Honey Involved

You get the picture by now—extra sugar in your smoothie bowl is a no-no if you’re trying to make it a health conscious meal. “Smoothie bowls made with fruit generally don’t need added sweeteners because the fruit provides natural sweetness to the bowl,” says Kyle. If you’re blending a veggie-heavy and low-sugar smoothie and need that hint of sweetness, make sure you don’t get carried away with that drizzle of honey. Use as little as possible!

Blend Up and Spoon Out a Better Smoothie Bowl

Mastering the healthy smoothie bowl is all about limiting sugar and balancing your macros. You want your smoothie bowl to be about 50 percent complex carbs, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent heart-healthy fats, according to Kyle. “A balanced bowl should contain a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some elements of either plant-based or animal-based milks or yogurts.”

Make your next smoothie bowl a healthier one by following Pine’s formula for a balanced blend:

Step 1: Start with veggies. Add either one heaping cup of leafy greens (like spinach or kale) or a half cup of other veggies (like zucchini, cauliflower, or cucumber).

Step 2: Then add one cup (or less) of fruit. If you like your bowls on the sweeter side, use half a banana.

Related: The 5 Fruits With The Most (And Least!) Sugar

Step 3: Boost the protein. Add a half cup of plain Greek or skyr yogurt, three ounces of silken tofu (it blends well, don’t worry!), or a scoop of your favorite protein powder.

Step 4: Add your liquid, starting with a quarter cup of water or milk, (add more if you prefer a thinner texture). For an extra protein bump, you can use cow’s milk or plain kefir (which also contains gut-supporting probiotics), since they pack more protein than plant-based milks.

You can add a tablespoon of nut butter or a third of an avocado for a thicker smoothie, but keep in mind that it counts toward one of your toppings. (We’ll get to that below!)

Step 5: Add superfood powders. Unsweetened cocoa or matcha powder, for example, provide a healthy dose of antioxidants. (You’ll probably need about a tablespoon each.)

Step 6: If you must, add honey. Just keep it to one teaspoon max, says Pine.

Step 7: Topping time! This is the fun part, right? Choose two or three toppings and add a tablespoon max of each. Think nuts, avocado, nut butter, or chia seeds.

Pin this infographic to make a healthier smoothie bowl, every time: 

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