4 Tips for Making Healthy Smoothies

Plus, tasty recipes from CR's test kitchen to get you started

When you shop through retailer links on our site, we may earn affiliate commissions. 100% of the fees we collect are used to support our nonprofit mission. Learn more.

Healthy smoothies GettyImages-707445023

There's a lot to love about smoothies. They're tasty, portable, and they're a good way to help you sneak some fruit and vegetables into your diet. But they aren't necessarily good for you. In fact, they often have more calories and sugars than a serving of ice cream.

With the right approach, though, making a nutritious smoothie doesn’t have to be a challenge. Give these four tips—and our healthy recipes—a whirl.

1. Blend It Yourself

Smoothies from chains or the supermarket may be convenient, but they can be packed with excess calories, fat, and sugars. For example, a small Jamba Juice Strawberry Surf Rider has 320 calories and a whopping 70 grams (about 17 teaspoons) of sugars. Some of those grams come from the natural sugars in the peaches and strawberries of course, but it’s also sweetened with lemonade and sherbet, which are full of added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugars per day and men no more than 36 (9 teaspoons).

More on Healthy Drinks

You might also be surprised to find that some store-bought smoothies can be high in sodium. A small chocolate The Shredder at Smoothie King, for example, has 550 mg. “That's nearly a quarter of the maximum amount of sodium [2,300 mg] you should have in a day,” says Amy Keating R.D., a Consumer Reports' nutritionist.

If you're looking for a blender that does a good job with smoothies, consider these CR recommended models.

2. Load up on the Veggies

Many of us have trouble incorporating a variety of vegetables into our daily diet, but if you sneak them into smoothies, it can help up your intake. “When you use a blender, as compared with some juicers, you’re getting all of the vegetable’s fiber, which in addition to having many healthy benefits, helps you feel full,” says Keating.

Some good pairings include: Beets and strawberries, kale and pineapple, spinach and blueberries, and carrots and oranges.

3. Skip the Extras

Bee pollen, creatinine, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), green tea powder, guarana, vitamin C, protein powder—these are just a few of the extras found in so-called healthy smoothies available at smoothie shops, gyms, and supermarkets. You’ll often see some kind of claim attached to these extras—more energy, muscle builder, immune system booster, burn fat faster, to name a few.

The problem isn’t just that these claims have little, if any, good evidence behind them, some of the ingredients can be harmful if consumed in excess. For example, guarana naturally contains caffeine. Up to 400 mg of caffeine—the amount in two to four 8-ounce cups of coffee—per day can be part of a healthy diet for most adults, but chances are you won’t know how much caffeine guarana adds to your smoothie, and you may easily exceed
600 mg, the amount the Food and Drug Administration says is too much in a day.

What about extra vitamins and minerals? You can skip those too. “The vast majority of people can meet their nutrient needs with food alone. But high doses of some vitamins and minerals can have negative effects and when you start adding them to foods, you risk overdoing it,” says Keating. For example, Naked Plus with Vitamin C smoothie packs 1,270 percent of your daily vitamin C needs in one 15-ounce serving. According to the National Institutes of Health, too much vitamin C can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and other intestinal problems.

4. Add Creaminess the Healthy Way

You can get that smooth texture by adding apples, avocado, bananas, low-fat yogurt, nut butters, or silken tofu. "Pulverized oats also make for a thicker smoothie and add some whole grains to your drink," Keating says. Frozen fruit also adds that satisfying thickness.

In addition to avocado and nut butter, chia seeds or ground flax seeds can add some healthy fat. These seeds are good sources of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and also contain decent amounts of fiber, protein, and vitamins.

Healthy Smoothie Recipes to Try

These smoothie recipes from CR's test kitchen are packed with flavor—not added sugars or sodium.

Lean Green Dream
In a small cup, mix one tablespoon chia seeds and 1⁄4 cup unsweetened almond milk. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow the chia seeds to soften. Place 2 cups chopped kale, stems and center ribs removed, 3⁄4 cup fresh pineapple, 1⁄2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, and the almond milk/chia mixture. Blend until smooth. Makes 1 serving.

Per serving: 220 calories, 7 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 29 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 17 g sugars, 17 g protein, 150 mg sodium.

In a blender, add 1⁄4 cup oats and blend until powdery. Add 1½ cups frozen mixed berries, 1⁄2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt, 1⁄4 cup orange juice, and 1 teaspoon orange zest. Blend until smooth. Makes 1 serving.

Per serving: 280 calories, 3.5g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 53 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 26 g sugars, 17 g protein, 40 mg sodium.

Tropical Temptation
In a blender, add 1 cup frozen tropical fruit mix (pineapple, mango, and papaya), one 6-ounce container non-fat plain Greek yogurt, and 1⁄2 cup unsweetened almond-coconut milk blend. Blend until smooth. Makes 1 serving.

Per serving: 210 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 30 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 24 g sugars, 19 g protein, 130 mg sodium.

How to Make the Perfect Smoothie at Home

Think that store-bought smoothie is healthy? On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, host Jack Rico learns how to whip up a more nutritious beverage right at home.

Don't Fear the Fat

A common mistake many people make when trying to lose weight is to avoid all fats. Consumer Reports' food expert, Trisha Calvo, explains to 'Consumer 101' TV show host, Jack Rico, why you need a healthy dose of the right kind of fat in your diet.