Are Smoothies Healthy? Who Cares?

Slate's Culture Blog
May 9 2014 9:05 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Smoothies

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Photo by Lecic via Shutterstock

Google “are smoothies,” and you’ll get the following autosuggestions:

smoothies

The corporeal effects of blended fruit beverage consumption are apparently a matter of widespread concern. Bon Appétit sums up smoothies’ salubrious veneer and their true diabolical nature:

In theory, smoothies seem like the perfect quick breakfast or healthy snack: a cup or so of fruit and a splash of dairy whizzed in the blender with a little ice and fruit juice. What could be so bad about that? A lot, unfortunately.
Here’s the problem: Too much sugar (sweetened fruit juice, sugary frozen yogurt, dollops of honey, all those bananas) and too much fat (that frozen yogurt again). And if you cut out the dairy to save calories, you’re cheating yourself out of the protein fix that will keep you satisfied until it’s time for your next meal.
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Good God. If Joseph Heller had known about smoothies, surely he would have set Catch-22 in a Jamba Juice instead of an army camp.*

How to escape this wretched dilemma? Bon Appétit suggests that you add coconut water and whey protein. I suggest that you stop caring about how healthy your smoothie is, and instead focus on making it as delicious as possible.

What constitutes a maximally delicious smoothie differs from person to person. If you like nothing better than a mango lassi, you’ll want to disembowel some mangoes. If fresh, sweet strawberries are your thing, get hulling. For me, the best smoothie is a smoothie with peanut butter in it, because peanut butter, as a rule, makes everything better. (The below recipe was inspired by the Peanut Butter Split smoothie sold by the unconscionably expensive yet highly habit-forming New York mini-chain Juice Generation.)

No matter what you put in your smoothie, you’ll want to follow one essential rule: Do not add ice. Instead, freeze your fruit before you blend. Frozen fruit will make your smoothie appropriately thick and cold, but it won’t dilute its flavors, the way ice does (nor will it melt and turn your smoothie into a watery mess). Frozen bananas are particularly crucial to establishing a rich, creamy texture—in fact, vegans and people who fear added sugar swear by blended frozen bananas as an ice cream substitute. A smoothie with frozen bananas in it is as smooth as a ballad by D’Angelo.

Whether you add additional sweeteners depends on how ripe your bananas are, and how naturally sweet your other fruit (if you add other fruit) is. By all means add a drizzle of honey or agave nectar, or a spoonful of sugar, if that’s all you have on hand, but I like to add dates, which, like smoothies, are a treat disguised as a health food.

Banana-Peanut Butter Smoothie
Yield: 1 to 2 servings
Time: 5 minutes, plus time to freeze the bananas

2 frozen bananas
1 cup milk or non-dairy milk
¼ cup creamy natural peanut butter
¼ cup coconut milk
3 pitted dates

Put the bananas, milk, peanut butter, coconut milk, and dates in a blender. Process until smooth. Serve immediately.

Correction, May 12, 2014: This post originally stated that Catch-22 was set in an Air Force camp. The Air Force did not become an independent branch of the United States military until 1947, a few years after Heller's novel took place.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong.