By Brian Berkovitz
The Active Times
We've all been there: It's a busy afternoon at the office and you've only got twenty minutes for lunch. You want something healthy and fast, and then you see it: The smoothie shop. In the realm of good nutrition, smoothies are always a safe bet ... right?
In a mixed-up world of calorie counting and muscle building, of antioxidants and vitamin concoctions, many smoothies mask unwelcome ingredients. We've come up with a list of six deceptive additions, as well as four others that will deliver the health and energy you're looking for.
For instance, did you know many protein powders can harbor harmful toxins, or that one popular milk-alternative could have harmful effects on your body? We'll also address some misconceptions. Is peanut butter good for you? And how do frozen fruits rank against their fresh counterparts?
Based on our research, we recommend you take a careful look at the ingredient lists at your favorite smoothie spots, and never be afraid to ask to see food labels.
Every smoothie needs a liquid base, but look out for sugar-filled concentrates or natural juices high in sugar. Consider Smoothie King's Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie. The smallest size, 20 oz., packs a walloping 730 calories and 107 grams of sugar. Compare that to the daily sugar intake recommended by The American Heart Association: 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men. As an alternative, look for smoothies that use freshly squeezed juice, coconut water or milk as the liquid base.
This is the most obvious and most potent way to ensure you get a healthy smoothie. Fruits and vegetables are packed with the vitamins and minerals your body needs for energy, brain fuel, and immunity. The frozen versions are also fine. Many frozen fruits retain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts thanks to flash freezing.
Non-fat Greek yogurt is a creamy, indulgent addition to any smoothie. It’s great for heart health, with zero grams of saturated fat and cholesterol, and has more calcium per serving than milk. Dietitians agree that Greek yogurt has a high satiety index, meaning you’ll feel fuller ounce for ounce. It also packs a lot of protein for anyone looking to maintain or build muscle. Also, the natural probiotics in yogurt help you maintain healthy digestive system.
Venerated as healing elixirs for thousands of years, the health benefits of tea have been demonstrated in numerous studies. Tea can help lower cholesterol, manage diabetes, increase mental alertness, reduce cancer risk, and encourage weight loss. There are four main types of tea: black, white, oolong and green. Green tea, well known for its moderate caffeine content, high antioxidant levels, and encouragement of a healthy metabolism, has become a healthy addition to many smoothies. Keep in mind that green tea powders and refined supplements may not retain the benefits gained from the natural leaf.
A small pinch of herbs and spices can add dazzling flavor to any smoothie. Here are a few of our favorites.
Ginger: Ginger offers joint-relief with its powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can help with throat and nose congestion.
Cloves: Cloves boast one of the highest antioxidant levels of all spices, and contain eugenol -- a mild anesthetic that helps toothaches, gum pain, or sore throats, and relieves respiratory ailments.
Cinnamon: Anti-inflammatory compounds and antibiotic properties make this spice a powerful addition to any smoothie.
While many people tout protein-rich smoothies as the perfect pre- or post-workout boost, be careful what kind of protein supplement you eat. An article in Consumer Reports showed that harmful contaminants such as arsenic, mercury or lead lurk in many protein powders. The dangerous artificial sweetener aspartame is also more common than you might think. This organic compound has been shown to lead to mental confusion, nausea, insomnia, nerve damage and migraines. The right protein powder, however, contains essential and non-essential amino acids, which help build and preserve muscle, repair cell membranes, build antibodies, and stabilize blood sugar levels. For information on the safest and most dangerous brands, check out this link.
In 1913, the U.S. Department of Agriculture listed soy as an industrial product, rather than a food. So why is soy so popular? Soymilk provides a milk alternative for vegans or anyone on a gluten- or lactose- free diet. It also boasts lower cholesterol levels than milk, while retaining a high protein content. However, there is a dark side to soy. Studies point to significant health risks with regular consumption including a weakened immune system and a higher risk of kidney stones and thyroid disorders. The most common side effect however is altered estrogen levels. The chemical phytoestrogen in soy can block estrogen production in women, and cause overproduction of estrogen in men. If you must stick with soymilk, drink it in moderation and consider other dairy-free options, such as almond milk.
For the complete slideshow of the good and bad of smoothie ingredients, go to TheActiveTimes.com.