Until recently, if you wanted to have a really truly good-for-you smoothie, your best bet was to blend one at home.
Juice bar concoctions often are loaded with sugar, like the “Protein Punch” blend at a local spot, for example, that has only 9 grams of protein and 112 sugary carbs – hardly a punch of protein.
Fortunately, smoothie shops and juice bars are making it easier than ever to pick up a legitimately nutritious smoothie.
Still, even natural, organic and plant-centric shops offer smoothies that are brimming with sugar. When I ask these shops why, I get the same responses: “It makes them taste good.” “That’s what people want.” And my favorite: “It’s organic sugar.”
Sugar can help a smoothie taste better, but even if the sugar is naturally occurring and/or organic, it adds calories.
So the key is to customize your blend. Nearly every smoothie shop not only allows but encourages it.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Select your base. Low- or no-sugar liquids such as unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk, fresh-pressed vegetable juice (spinach, kale and/or cucumber juice), coconut water, and even coffee or tea. Tip: Don’t assume that these are unsweetened – if you’re not sure, ask. Even house-made organic nut “mylk” often is made with added sugar.
Step 2: Pick your protein. Protein keeps us feeling fuller longer, curbs cravings, supports lean muscle mass and enhances post-workout recovery. Smoothie shop sources of protein often include protein powder (usually with options of whey or plant-based), collagen powder and Greek yogurt.
Step 3: Add veggies and fruits. Add as many veggies as possible, but if you’re watching sugary carbs, limit fruits to one or none. Many smoothie shops now offer spinach, kale and carrots, along with a variety of fruits. Ask whether fruits are fresh or frozen and are prepared with no sugar added. If the answer is yes, you’re good to go. But steer clear of concentrates and juices, since these can add as many sugary calories as a soft drink.
Step 4: Plant-based fats. If your smoothie is to serve as a meal, add a source of fat, preferably plant-based fat. It also will improve the texture and creaminess of your smoothie. Some of my top picks include nut butter, such as almond butter, cashew butter or peanut butter, avocado or coconut oil, and nuts and seeds.
Step 5: Nutrient-rich add-ins. This is where you can get creative with powdered greens, matcha green tea powder, ginger, turmeric or chipotle. Spices, herbs and powdered superfoods are easy ways to add a punch of nutrition.
Here’s a rundown of popular local smoothie shops and juice bars and what they have to offer:
THE GREEN FORK
Kudos to the Green Fork for earning a spot on Conde Nast’s list of top 10 juice bars in the United States.
Molly’s Pick: Patience Smoothie, modified: Green Fork’s Love Juice (kale, cucumber, celery, parsley, lemons and apple) blended with spinach and pineapple, one-quarter avocado and a serving of plant-based protein in place of banana. Per 16-ounce serving: 300 calories, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 190 mg sodium, 37 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams fiber, 14 grams sugar (0 added sugar), 32 grams protein.
Ways to build your own
Low- and no-sugar liquids: Coconut water and nut “milks,” including almond, cashew, macadamia and hemp milk. The Green Fork makes their own nut milks in-house, which means no thickeners, stabilizers or additives.
Beyond sugar: The Green Fork offers stevia as no-calorie, plant-based sweetener. They also offer dates and prunes as natural sweeteners, though these are high in sugar.
Proteins: Pea protein powder, collagen powder, Greek yogurt, hemp seeds, collagen and about 20 different organic powder blends like Pea Protein.
Vegetables: Fresh kale, spinach, collard greens, beet, carrot, cucumber, celery, fennel, tomato and asparagus.
Fruits: Fresh or frozen (no sugar added) mango, apple, lemon, lime, pineapple, grapefruit, orange and watermelon.
Plant-based fats: House-made almond butter, chia seeds and avocado.
Herbs and spices: Ginger, turmeric, garlic, cayenne, parsley, cilantro and mint, cinnamon.
Add ins + extras: Matcha green tea powder, cacao nibs, Fire Cider Vinegar, spirulina, elderberry syrup, lavender oil and rose water.
If you haven’t been into a Smoothie King lately, stop in. They’ve added new options, including unsweetened almond milk and stevia.
Molly’s Pick: Slim-n-Trim™ Veggie Smoothie, modified: Kale, spinach, ginger, mango, protein powder blend and fiber blend, with two key swap-outs of Greek yogurt in place of banana and unsweetened almond milk in place of fruit juice. Per 20-ounce serving: 205 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 18 grams sugar (0 added sugar), 21 grams protein.
How to build your own
Low- and no-sugar liquids: Unsweetened almond milk; unsweetened coconut water.
Beyond sugar: Stevia is available as a natural, no-calorie sweetener option for any smoothie. Smoothie King still has turbinado (raw sugar) in a few smoothies, but they’ve made the transition to dates for most others, with the option to sweeten with stevia instead.
Proteins: Whey protein, plant-based protein, plain Greek yogurt.
Veggies: Frozen kale, spinach and carrots.
Fruits: Blueberries, mango, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, bananas (their strawberries are sugar-sweetened, so I recommend selecting one of the other options).
Plant-based fats: Almonds, peanut butter.
Add-ins + extras: Ginger, matcha green tea powder, cocoa powder.
Make it skinny: Leave out the turbinado (raw sugar), shaving up to 100 calories and 25 grams of carbs and sugar.
MAIN SQUEEZE JUICE BAR
The smoothies at Main Squeeze are blended without ice, so they’re more concentrated with fruits and veggies. While this does make them more nutrient-dense, it also means they’re usually higher in calories than other smoothies.
Fortunately, any smoothie at Main Squeeze can be “elevated.” This means they make it with half of the usual base fruit, adding an equivalent amount of whole, frozen cauliflower. An elevated smoothie also can be made without honey and banana, translating to as much as 50 percent fewer calories, carbs and sugar.
Molly’s Pick: Plant Power, modified: Almond milk, cauliflower, banana, spinach, avocado, almond butter, fully “elevated” and made with just half a banana, avocado in place of maca, and a full serving of plant-based protein (typically just one to two teaspoons of protein is added; request the full serving). Per 24-ounce serving: 400 calories, 18 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 320 mg sodium, 43 grams carbohydrate, 16 grams fiber, 19 grams sugar, 26 grams protein.
How to build your own
Low- and no-sugar liquids: Unsweetened rice milk, unsweetened coconut water and cold-brew espresso. (Note: The almond milk at most Main Squeeze locations is sugar-sweetened, though a few stores offer the unsweetened version upon request).
Beyond sugar: Main Squeeze offers raw, organic sweeteners (honey, agave, maple syrup and medjool dates) but these are still high in sugar; they don’t offer any plant-based, calorie-free sweeteners. Many of the smoothies are naturally sweet enough, however, so you can hold the added sugar without sacrificing taste.
Proteins: Main Squeeze offers organic, plant-based protein powders, including pea protein, hemp protein and brown rice protein.
Veggies: kale, spinach, cauliflower
Fruits (fresh or frozen, no sugar added): strawberry, mango, pineapple, blueberry, pitaya, acai, banana
Plant-based fats: almonds, almond butter, peanut butter, coconut butter, MCT Brain Octane Oil, coconut shreds
Herbs and spices: Cinnamon, cayenne
Add ins + extras: Spirulina, chia seeds, matcha green tea powder, cacao powder, cacao nibs, reishi.
In the 4500 block of Magazine Street, this businesses is surrounded by local shops and artists, giving us the perfect excuse to grab a freshly made juice or smoothie to sip and stroll.
Molly’s Pick: Leaf + Serene, modified: Spinach, cucumber, grapefruit, lemon, lime, cilantro, vanilla and avocado with no honey (saves 30 grams of added sugar) and the addition of a two-scoop serving of plant-based protein. Per 16-ounce serving: 280 calories, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 50 mg sodium, 27 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar (0 added sugar), 28 grams protein.
How to build your own
Low- and no-sugar liquids: House-made unsweetened almond “mylk” and unsweetened coconut “mylk”; coconut water (unsweetened)
Beyond sugar: Raw Republic offers organic sweeteners (date, coconut nectar, maple syrup and honey) but these are still high in sugar. They have stevia available upon request. Most of the smoothies are naturally sweet enough, however, so you can simply hold the sugar.
Proteins: Bulletproof collagen protein, Epic plant-based protein blend.
Veggies: Spinach, romaine, kale, beet, carrot, celery, cucumber.
Fruits: apple, lemon, frozen (no sugar added) blueberries, strawberries, mango, acai, pineapple.
Plant-based fats: avocado, coconut oil, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, cashews, pecans.
Herbs and spices: Ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, cardamom
Add-ins + extras: CBD oil, spirulina, cacao, local bee pollen
Get creative, mixing and matching the colors of the rainbow, from berries to greens to carrots and ginger.
Molly’s Pick: Amazing Greens, modified: A blend of cucumber juice, spinach, kale, lemon juice and chia seeds, with unsweetened almond milk in place of lemonade and peach juice and Greek yogurt in place of banana. Per 16-ounce serving: 255 calories, 16 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat, 195 mg sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar (0 added sugar), 13 grams protein.
How to build your own
Low- and no-sugar liquids: Unsweetened almond milk (definitely ask what liquid is used: their chocolate moo’d dairy base and sweetened soymilk both pack in a hefty dose of added sugar, but both can be replaced with unsweetened almond milk).
Beyond sugar. Honey (which is 100 percent added sugar) is the only sweetener at Jamba Juice.
Proteins: Nonfat Greek yogurt, soy protein, whey protein, collagen protein powder.
Veggies: Kale, spinach, carrots, cucumbers.
Fruits (no sugar added): Bananas, blueberries, mango, peaches, pineapple, strawberries, pitaya, apple, lemon, orange.
Plant-based fats: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pistachios, almond butter, peanut butter.
Herbs and spices: Include ginger, cinnamon.
Add ins + extras: Wheatgrass, matcha green tea powder.
Remember: “Smoothie” doesn’t necessarily mean “nutritious,” so it’s essential to ask questions about ingredients; don’t be afraid to mix and match to make it your own.