"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On Green Smoothies and Calories

I am totally addicted to green smoothies. We bought a super-duper blender for our anniversary a year and a half ago, and I have used it every. single. day. Sometimes we make fruit ice cream or soup or nut butter or pancake batter, etc.. but mostly I use it for smoothies. I make a gigantic green smoothie every morning. I love them. I crave them. I notice a difference in my energy and even my mood if I miss a day.

So I have noticed lately that a lot of people are really into smoothies. I think it's so awesome. I find myself in conversations about smoothies rather often. People often ask for my recipes. I'm less of a recipe person and more of a toss-it-in-and-see-what-happens person.

I've discovered that food and cooking, eating and nutrition are very personal things. No two people are alike, and everyone seems to have pretty strong opinions on the subject.

But in these conversations I have noticed that not all smoothies are created equal. My somewhat "health nut" mom has greener than green smoothies that most people couldn't choke down. No fun and games, but optimum nutrition.

In contrast, I attended a smoothie demonstration the other night where the lady added an entire bag of frozen fruit, sweetened fruit juice, fruit-flavored yogurt, two bananas and an orange. I was mentally calculating the calories and had to bite my tongue. That little dixie cup of smoothie had more calories than my whole quart of breakfast smoothie. And a fraction of the nutrition.

Calories can be difficult to guess about. I researched yogurt nutrition and calorie counts. Wow. A person could write a rather lengthy book on the subject. 6 ounces of lowfat/nonfat yogurt can range from 70 to a whopping 260 calories. There are other factors to consider such as active cultures/probiotics, fat, artificial sweeteners, additives, etc. Many of the lower calorie sweetened yogurts are loaded with all kinds of nasty chemical sweeteners.

Yogurt is one product I always read the label before buying. I really should just make my own, but, you know...lazy... someday, maybe. I buy the "Nancy's" brand. Plain or vanilla sweetened with agave. It's not too expensive and tastes really good. It has slightly more calories than those with artificial sweeteners, but I think it's well worth it.

Another consideration is adding fruit juice to your smoothies. Juice contains as many or MORE calories than soda pop. Juice has so much sugar, even if it is labeled "unsweetened". Adding 2 cups of grape juice just added over 300 calories to your smoothie! You have some benefit from the grapes, but not nearly as much as if you just tossed in a small handful of fresh ones.

So then the wheels in my head started turning and I googled calorie charts of the foods that go into my smoothies. I'm super curious about the comparisons. I am not a calorie counter. I probably should care a lot more, but I'm of the mindset that if I avoid nasty processed foods and eat as much nutrient dense living foods as possible, I'll probably be just fine. Anyway, I was surprised by the calorie charts so I thought I would share my comparisons.

Here is my typical morning smoothie:

spinach and kale


orange or apple



flax seeds

frozen berries



sometimes I substitute other frozen fruit for the berries or other fruit for the apple/orange, but this is the usual "recipe".

Now here are the amounts and calories for three different smoothies (note: I fill up my 2 quart blender to the top and drink 1 quart of the mixture. I add water to desired consistency. I also add liquid minerals which contain no calories.)

Smoothie #1

optimum nutrition and minimal calories

not super sweet, but palatable

3 cups spinach 30

2 cups packed raw kale 68

1/2 apple 40

1 stock celery 15

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt 35

1 lemon 20

1 peeled orange 60

1 cup mixed berries 60

2 Tbsp. flax seeds 74

1 large carrot 30

Calorie total 432/2 = 216 per quart

Smoothie #2

still quite low in calories

sweeter and more kid friendly, but without added sugar

high nutrition

5 cup spinach 50

1 apple 80

1/2 lowfat vanilla yogurt (Nancy's) 110

1 lemon 20

1 peeled orange 60

1 cup strawberries 40

1/2 cup blueberries 40

1 large carrot 30

1/2 banana 55

2 Tb. Flax seed 75

water 0

Calorie total 560/2 = 280 calories per quart

Smoothie #3

high in calories and sugar

fewer nutritional benefits (though still contains some great ingredients)

Way too sweet for my personal taste

2 cups frozen blueberries 160

2 cups frozen strawberries 80

1 apple 80

1 container sweetened yogurt 200

2 cups grape juice 300

1 cup spinach 10

1 Tbsp Honey 64

1 banana 110

Calorie total: 1004/2 = 502 calorie per quart

(over 500 calories! As many as a McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese.)

Now I know there is WAY more to nutrition than just counting calories. All of these ingredients have nutritious benefits. There are other factors and debatable topics to consider such as and not limited to:

sugar intake/ glycemic index

weight gain/loss/maintenance


protein, added protein, vegetable protein (there is a whole debate on the subject)

fat. Healthy fats, bad fats, Omega 3 -6-9's (again, you could dedicate your life to the subject)

organic vs. non organic

allergies and allergens

dairy (a dirty word to some)

cultured probiotics such as kefir


live enzymes

specific vitamins and minerals

negative effects of chemical additives like artificial sweeteners

the "raw" revolution

I could go on and on.... but I won't

Like I said earlier, diet and nutrition are a very personal thing. The science on much of it is iffy at best. Everyone has an opinion and I think we are all trying to figure it out in one way or another.

So what do you put in your smoothies?


Sharee said...

Thanks for the info Britt! Do you actually throw the entire lemon it? I ask cause you mention peeling the orange but not the lemon. I want to try doing smoothies but all I have is a smoothly maker (I've never used) and no Vitamix so I'm sure I couldn't blend up most of these things! I guess I should just go and try it :/ Maybe someday.

BrittanyLane said...

You can put the whole lemon in, but it's too bitter for me. I usually juice it or cut off the rind. I made them in a smoothie maker for a long time. I just don't recommend using kale, whole citrus, or carrots... unless you like chewing your smoothies. I know some people use a food processor first, then the blender.

Debbie Murdock said...

We do smoothies all the time. I've already broke one smoothie maker and ruined the motor on my blender from overuse. I do the flax, minerals all that stuff. It's nice to know that I'm not the only person using this stuff. I usually put protein powder in mine because I drag if I don't have my protein. My father in law when he was in Nigeria made his own yogurt and he said it wasn't that hard you just need the right stuff to do it.

Mollie said...

I'm going to have to try your recipes out. We've mostly used smoothies to get some green into our kids diets - they are extremely picky, so throwing in a few cups of spinach with their strawberry banana smoothie makes me feel like I'm giving them something healthy. I'm going to have to try one of yours. Do you know where I can find big thick straws to drink them through? Oh, and what are the liquid minerals you add? I have to admit my favorite indulgence smoothie is chocolate banana peanut butter. Loaded with calories. I do throw in some acacia fiber, so that counts for something, right?

carol said...

Wow-Fruit juice and sugary yogurt! Zoinks. I pretty much follow what you make. You emailed them to me last year sometime (thank you again. :)) We make the ones you said your kids like the best. I even got a super blender for my birthday (not a vitamix, but the best our Kohl's coupon had to offer). I love doing them. I feel so much better with them. Last week I made the one you make for yourself. It was a little intense at first, but I added a diet Mountain Dew to it and then it was awesome...what, that's not acceptable? My Grandpa said once, "You know, that Slimfast ain't half bad if you put a scoop of ice cream in it." Wise words. Wise. Words.

Mollie said...

Just tried the middle one, except I used the nonfat greek yogurt from costco, and raspberries and blackberries instead of strawberries, and left out the honey. Oh, and I threw some celery in too. So good. Oh, and I found the smoothie straws! They had them at Walmart - it tipped me off when you said you got yours at Sam's, I figured they have the same parent company. Score! My 3 year old downed it too. We'll be making a lot more of these!

Mollie said...

Never mind, the 2nd one didn't have honey. So I guess I didn't leave it out after all.