The Skinny on Smoothies: Use with Caution!

Smoothies can be delicious, refreshing, and convenient. They can deliver protein, fiber, and antioxidants. They can get you to eat a wider variety of vegetables and other superfoods than you might otherwise choose. They could even help you lose weight.

Smoothies are often the choice for people who are dieting or on a health kick, but are they healthy?

Smoothies are sort of healthy, sometimes. They can deliver the benefits listed above, but they have the potential to go very wrong, too. With just one or two wrong decisions about your smoothies, drinking them can be one of the fastest ways to gain weight and spike your blood sugar. 

That is why Lark suggests eating whole foods instead of making smoothies when you can. Here are the red flags of harmful smoothies, ways to keep smoothies from doing damage, and a few recipes to try if you still want to whip up a smoothie every so often.


Smoothie Red Flags

1. Calories

The smallest-sized smoothies from smoothie shops and restaurants tend to have about 200 to 400 calories. A medium or large-sized order can have well over 1,000 calories, which is probably more than half of your daily goal if you are trying to lose weight. Homemade smoothies are not automatically better, though. Concoct a seemingly reasonable blend of banana, peanut butter, vanilla yogurt, honey, and orange juice, and you could also be looking at a mega-meal’s worth of calories.


2. Sugar

Sugar is the biggest source of calories in most smoothies. They can have 50, 100, 200, or even more grams of sugar. In comparison, a can of soda has 35 grams of sugar. 

Most of the sugar in smoothies is natural, since it comes from the fruit or fruit juice. Milk and yogurt are also sources of natural sugars. These natural sugars come in a nutritious package – think about fiber and antioxidant from fruit and calcium and protein from milk and yogurt – but they still affect your blood sugar and weight. 

Added sugars are worse. They include white sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave syrup, and sugars in flavoring syrups. You might add these sugars to your smoothie directly, or get them from ingredients such as ice cream, flavored yogurt, or sweetened almond milk. Some types of added sugar drive up blood sugar more than others, but they all have an impact on your blood sugar levels, they have calories, and they add no essential nutrients to your smoothie.   


3. Gulping

Have you heard the term, “drinking your calories?” It is not a good thing! It refers to getting your calories in liquid form, like in a smoothie, instead of solid form, as in when you eat whole foods.

Drinking your calories is that it is linked to weight gain. One reason is that your brain takes a while to realize that you are full. By that time, you may already have finished your smoothie and gone back for seconds. Another reason is that drinking is not as satisfying as chewing and swallowing when you eat.

Consider a typical green smoothie with some fruit and protein. You can drink it in a few minutes and may not feel that you ate all that much. Now take those same ingredients and put them on a plate. You might have a green salad with carrot and avocado, an apple with peanut butter, and a container of yogurt. That feels like a full meal!


Smart Smoothie Strategies for Weight Loss and Health

Smoothies may not be the best choice all of the time, but they can fit into your healthy weight control diet occasionally. If you want to have smoothies sometimes, these tips can help you make the most of your choice.

1. Make your own.

Briefly put, it is easier to avoid a 1,000-calorie sugar bomb when you, not a stranger, are the one making the smoothie. You get to decide what goes in it and how much, so there are no nasty surprises for your waistline or blood sugar levels.


2. Replace, do not add.

Your smoothie is the meal or snack, not an addition to whatever you were planning to eat anyway. For most people, keeping snack smoothies to around 100 or 200 calories and limiting meal smoothies to 300 to 500 calories each is the right amount for losing weight. 


3. Watch the liquids.

How many perfectly good smoothies have turned into diet disasters with the addition of badly chosen liquids? Juice, juice drinks, sweetened almond and soy milk, and chocolate milk are high in sugar. They can easily double the number of calories in your smoothie when all you were doing was trying to thin it out. Ice, unsweetened nut milk, or a splash of soy milk can give you the consistency you are after without the extra calories.


4. Lower the glycemic index.

Lower-glycemic foods have less of an effect on your blood sugar. That is good news for your weight, health, and energy levels. You can lower the glycemic index by choosing lower-glycemic fruits, and by adding fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

Lower-glycemic fruits include berries, cherries, apples, pears, oranges, peaches, plums, and grapefruits. Pineapples, bananas, mangos, and figs have a higher glycemic index.

Good sources of protein for smoothies include tofu, plain yogurt, and non-fat cottage cheese. Nuts and seeds add protein, fiber, and healthy fats, and avocados provide fiber and healthy fats. You can add tons of fiber with vegetables.


5. Add superfoods.

Possibly the biggest benefit of smoothies is that they give you the chance to add a better variety of superfoods to your diet. Take advantage! Experiment with all kinds of fresh fruit when it is in season, and use unsweetened frozen fruit when it is not in season. Try leafy green vegetables and a rainbow of other vegetables, such as beets, pumpkin, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers. Some of the best sources of antioxidants are fresh herbs and roots, such as fennel bulb and ginger and turmeric root, as well as dried spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Chia seeds and flaxseed are also worth adding.


I Still Want My Smoothies!

Then go for it! Lark is here to support you in your weight loss and health journey. If smoothies are the right choice for you, then have at it! Here are a couple of recipes to get you going.

Creamy Raspberry Mint Smoothie


  • ¾ cup raspberries

  • ½ cucumber, in pieces

  • ½ cup plain yogurt

  • ¼ avocado

  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • A few mint leaves

Blend all ingredients and enjoy!


Peachy Green Smoothie 


  • ¾ cup peaches

  • ½ cup tofu

  • 1 cup spinach

  • 1 tablespoon almond butter

  • ½ cup ice

  • ¼ teaspoon cloves

  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend all ingredients and enjoy!


Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

Scholarship | Game Diplomacy

Gavin Jesse VanHorn


It’s obvious the nation has a mental health crisis on its hands, specifically in schools, but less obvious is the solution. One will often find politicians, police, and reporters with a general, broad sense that something must be done after each school district crisis, but heavy polarization throughout the political spectrum often ends in inaction. Even so, the two popular solutions (less guns [progressives]/more security [conservatives]) only focus on countering school violence after the incentive to be violent is present. This means that while the weed has been cut, the root has not been pulled, and further unpredictable manifestations of a lack of mental health will come about, regardless of these current solutions.

I present a simple answer based in logic. Firstly, if someone is violent or edging towards violence, there must be a cause. Secondly, if they’re willing to act out fatally in school, there is a fair chance that the cause is at least partially imbedded at school. Thirdly, if the cause is at least partially imbedded at school and the manifestation is violence against others, it’s likely that, in some magnitude, that student’s relationships with their peers is leading them towards violence. So here is at least one root cause of adolescent’s mental health problems: relationships with peers. Of course, these are likely negative relationships, so the question is how to improve such things. 

It’s plausible that anger and hatred of others will manifest in small ways before it lets loose into extreme, deadly cases of violence. These might be schoolyard fights, arguments, drama, etc. Often enough, a school district deals with such things through punishment; suspensions and lunch detention are the popular culprits. Obviously, these will do nothing to improve peer relationships; such things are instead meant to disincentivize emotional reaction through fear of punishment. (This is much like the current day prison system, which does little to rehabilitate.) That being said, with around 83% of released inmates being arrested again within 9 years-according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics-it’s unlikely punishment will stop children from acting out either. 

As a policy maker, I would propose that school districts focus their efforts on bringing students together, literally, instead of punishing them after acting out against each other. In psychological theory, the mere-exposure effect is a predictor of people’s relative liking of others; as it turns out, exposure to others increases positivity towards them. Exposure is the primary predictor of friendships; hence, one likely doesn’t have a best friend living across the world. Therefore, when small manifestations of aggression appear, why not sit students down and simply play games. Yes, games. The problem should not be addressed immediately, as built tension may erupt. Such tension must slowly fall before problems can be addressed. 

These games should be cooperative and conceding, so that students learn to come together and rely on each other in miniscule ways before they are forced to tackle the larger issue of fractured relations. Further theory behind these games is based in Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction (GRIT), which is an international diplomacy technique. Using GRIT, one side offers small concessions-perhaps a positive acknowledgment of some sort or even a gift-to the other. From here, concessions grow until diplomacy can be made. For example, GRIT appeared through ping-pong diplomacy between China and the US during the Cold War. When each country’s ping-pong team offered the other a gift, their exchange represented not only appreciation between teams but between countries, allowing for relations to begin improving on a national scale. If ‘game diplomacy’ can work through ping-pong between nations, why can’t something similar work miracles for students too?

I do not propose that ‘game diplomacy’ will solve mental health problems among adolescents, but I do assert that it will improve them. As someone who was forced into states of severe mania and depression thanks to my relationships with peers throughout high school, I can say with certainty that setting differences aside and interacting with them positively would have been much more effective in halting issues and bringing us together than having each person punished for their wrongdoings. Those struggling with mental health, whether or not they have the potential to do serious harm, will certainly be less incentivized to do so among peers they enjoy and appreciate. And as for the healthy, students with bright minds that may simply be going through the peer antagonism that is high school, they too can benefit from the building of bridges among each other through the games. Game diplomacy could be the next step for schools, but its support in the public policy sphere would be necessary. If I were a policy maker, it would be one of the first things I try to implement.

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health