Last updated: March 17. 2014 9:06AM - 2365 Views
By Kathy Hansen

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At my gym, the elliptical machine I usually choose is right in front of the smoothie bar. As I work out, I watch the staff making and distributing all kinds of “healthy” shakes to the other gym members. There are energy shakes, protein shakes, weight-loss shakes and something called a toxin removal shake advertised on the signage.

As I trudged through my workout yesterday, it got me to pondering a few things — What is really in the shakes? How many calories do they contain? Are they really beneficial? And the ultimate question: Are the people drinking them really working out hard enough to need them in the first place?

Gyms, restaurants and grocery stores are full of smoothie choices. Everyone from Starbucks to McDonalds offers a smoothie on the menu. The marketing concept is that the smoothie is healthier and lower calorie than drinking a soda. This is not always the case. Some smoothies have twice as many calories and just as much sugar as a soda drink. Let’s look at the health claims and nutritional content of an online menu item from a Smoothie King franchise:

— Pure Recharge Mango: To enhance focus and promote healthy weight management; 210 calories, 0g fat, 52g carbohydrates, 120 mg sodium, 2 mg fiber.

The majority of the smoothies on their menu range in calories from 210 to nearly 400.

In a September interview in The Guardian, Dr. Barry Popkin, an obesity researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke of the pitfalls of smoothies. According to Popkin, smoothies represent a new risk to our health because of the amount of sugar the “apparently healthy” drinks contain.

“It’s kind of the next step in the evolution of the battle. And it’s a really big part of it because in every country they’ve been replacing soft drinks with fruit juice and smoothies as the new healthy beverage,” said Popkin.

The problem with drinking a smoothie is that they, for the most part, are not as filling as eating a meal. It is very common to drink a 300-calorie smoothie and be hungry again very soon. That results in overeating. Also most gym members are not working out at hard enough or long enough to necessitate the extra calories found in a smoothie.

If you are bound and determined to keep or add smoothies in your diet, you are better off to make your own at home than to buy them. Here is a short list of what to keep in your smoothie and what to leave out:

Smoothie Bases:

— Do’s: Soy or almond milk, purified water, tea.

— Don’ts: Whole milk, store-bought fruit juices.

Smoothie Ingredients:

— Do’s: Fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt, organic honey, nut butters (with no sugar), chia seeds, oatmeal and high quality protein powders.

— Don’ts: Ice cream, peanut butter (store brands), chocolate powders, cheap protein powders.

If you stick to making your smoothies at home, you will avoid adding a ton of extra calories and sugar to your diet. Also, remember that a smoothie should replace a meal, not be a snack — or you might end up gaining extra pounds you will have to work off in the gym.

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