Updated: Jul 23
Smoothies are a convenient, adaptable, and healthy snack. In this article, we explain why they’re a good tool to improve diet quality, and give you a smoothie blueprint that you can use to make a range of tasty smoothies.
Pretty much everyone can agree that fruit is good for you. Despite knowing this, people don’t tend to eat much of it. In the National Adult Nutrition Survey, Irish adults reported eating just over one serving of fruit per day, on average (1). This is problematic: in 2017, a diet low in fruits was estimated to contribute to 2 million deaths worldwide (2).
Figure 1. The number of global deaths attributable to diet in 2017. A diet low in fruits is estimated to cause the third-most deaths of all food components (2).
That’s where smoothies may be useful. Smoothies offer a means to get a lot of fruit into your diet in a convenient fashion. They’re also super adaptable—like a Swiss Army Knife—and can be customised to suit your personal taste. Don’t like strawberries? Try blueberries. Don’t like berries at all? Try banana or pineapple. And so on…
Not only that, but they can be a vehicle to add other foods into your diet that you may not usually eat, or that you don’t like the taste of. The sweetness from the fruit can hide the taste from other, less tasty (but healthy) foods.
To make a good smoothie, you need a blender (and hopefully a half-decent one). This obviously requires an up-front cost, but if you have the means to purchase a good one (I use a Ninja), I would recommend you do so. Next you’ll require fruit (no duh). I like to use frozen berries as they’re usually cheaper than fresh berries and when blended with water or your milk of choice, you’re left with a cold-and-fresh beverage to enjoy. That’s as simple as it can be; however, there’s so much more you can add to pack an extra (healthy) punch, e.g.,
Fresh fruit (e.g., ripe bananas, oranges, pineapples)
Dried fruit (e.g., dates)
Seeds (e.g., chia, sunflower, pumpkin, flax seeds), including ground/powdered versions
Nut butters (e.g., peanut, almond)
Protein powders (e.g., whey, soy, plant protein blends)
Green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale)—frozen versions work great
Source: Insanely Good Recipes
As you can see, you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to building a smoothie. Pretty much all of the foods listed above provide important nutrients for both health and athletic performance/recovery. In addition, eating high amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts may offer protection from a number of chronic diseases (3,4,5).
If you’re thinking, but smoothies will spike my blood sugar levels, don’t worry. Aside from the fact that blood sugar spikes are not necessarily a bad thing, a recent study found that blended fruit actually led to lower blood sugar levels compared to whole fruit (Figure 1) (6). The authors noted that this may only be true when blending seeded fruit, like berries, as when the seeds are blended they release fibre, polyphenols, fats, and protein that may reduce the rate that food leaves the stomach, as well as reducing the rate at which blood sugar is absorbed in the intestine (6).
Figure 1. Blended fruit (broken line) led to a lower blood glucose response compared to whole fruit (unbroken line) in the following hour after eating (6).
Smoothies offer a pragmatic way to improve the quality of your diet. They can be customised to suit your individual preferences, be that higher or lower calorie, or a certain flavour, etc. They can also be used to sneak other healthy foods into your diet (e.g., kale) without changing the taste. For these reasons, they get the Training121 seal of approval.
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Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH
Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121
Founder of Just Health — Instagram: @just.health.info
Health Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice. For health advice, speak to a physician or other qualified health-care professional, and for nutrition advice, speak to a qualified nutrition professional (e.g., registered dietitian). The use of information on this site is solely at your own risk.
(1) National Adult Nutrition Survey. Summary Report on Food and Nutrient intakes, Physical Measurements, Physical Activity Patterns and Food Choice Motives. Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance. 2013. Available at: https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/46a7ad27/files/uploaded/The%20National%20Adult%20Nutrition%20Survey%20Summary%20Report%20March%202011.pdf
(2) GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2019;393(10184):1958-72. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2819%2930041-8
(3) Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Int J Epidemiol. 2017;46(3):1029-56. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5837313/pdf/dyw319.pdf
(4) Zong G, Gao A, Hu FB, Sun Q. Whole Grain Intake and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2016;133(24):2370-80. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4910651/pdf/nihms785786.pdf
(5) Afshin A, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, Mozaffarian D. Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(1):278-88. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4144102/pdf/ajcn1001278.pdf
(6) Crummett LT, Grosso RJ. Postprandial Glycemic Response to Whole Fruit versus Blended Fruit in Healthy, Young Adults. Nutrients. 2022;14(21):4565. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9657402/pdf/nutrients-14-04565.pdf
Glucose: All carbohydrates are broken down into this simple sugar molecule. It is the only sugar molecule that can be used to create energy (ATP) in the human body.
Polyphenols: These are a class of compounds found in plant foods that act as antioxidants and may have health benefits.