Smoothies have become an increasingly popular way to get a nutritious breakfast or snack on the go. Blending together fruits, vegetables, yogurt, milk, juice, and other ingredients into a cold, thick beverage seems like a great way to pack in servings from multiple food groups. But when it comes to nutrition advice like “drink 8 glasses of water a day” or “make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” it raises the question – does a smoothie actually count as a liquid? Or is it more like a solid food?
The case for smoothies being liquid
There are several reasons why smoothies can be considered a liquid:
- Smoothies have a similar consistency to juices, milkshakes, and other beverages. They are drinkable through a straw.
- The main ingredients in many smoothies are fluids like fruit juice, milk, yogurt drinks, etc. The other ingredients are blended into the liquid base.
- Smoothies are often used to quench thirst and hydrate, which are purposes associated with liquids.
- Nutrition experts generally recommend counting smoothies made with juice or milk towards your daily fluid intake goals. For example, the USDA includes 100% fruit and vegetable juices and milk in their recommended daily cups of water.
So in terms of behavior and nutrition, there’s a good case for smoothies counting as liquid intake.
The case for smoothies being more solid than liquid
On the other hand, there are some important ways in which smoothies differ from typical beverages:
- Smoothies contain produce like fruit and vegetables with fiber and cell structures that give them more bulk and thickness compared to water or clear juices.
- The blender breaks down the produce but doesn’t completely liquefy it into a smooth consistency. There are tiny particles of fiber and pulp left in the smoothie.
- Smoothies are often consumed as a meal replacement rather than just for hydration. They can contain substantial calories, protein, fiber, and nutrients compared to a drink of water.
- From a weight loss perspective, nutritionists recommend counting blended fruits and veggies toward your servings of produce rather than only as a beverage.
So while smoothies have liquid properties, their thickness and use as meal replacements sets them apart from drinks like water, tea, soda, etc.
Factors that determine how liquid-like a smoothie is
Not all smoothies are made the same, so whether it seems more like a liquid or solid depends on what goes into it and how it’s blended. Here are some factors that make a smoothie more liquid:
- High ratio of fluids like fruit juice, plant milks, or yogurt drinks to produce
- Low-fiber produce like oranges or bananas rather than leafy greens
- No added protein powders or nut butters
- Blend to very smooth consistency with few pulp remnants
Factors that make a smoothie more solid:
- Higher ratio of produce to fluids
- Leafy greens, cauliflower, avocado, and other fiber-rich ingredients
- Addition of thickeners like protein powder, nut butter, chia seeds, etc.
- Blending to a thicker, more paste-like texture
So a kale smoothie blended with chia seeds and hemp protein will seem more like a food than a liquid, while a tropical juice blend will seem more like a beverage. But most commercial smoothies fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Nutrition profiles of smoothies compared to beverages
One way to analyze how smoothies compare to liquids is by looking at their nutrition profiles. Here is a comparison of select nutrients in 8oz of common beverages versus an average fruit and vegetable smoothie:
|Beverage (8 fl oz serving)||Calories||Protein (g)||Fiber (g)|
|Average vegetable and fruit smoothie||100-250||5-10||2-5|
Compared to most beverages, smoothies tend to be higher in calories, protein, and fiber while still having a liquid-like consistency you can drink. This reinforces how they straddle the line between food and drink.
Should you count smoothies as part of your daily water intake?
For the average healthy adult, the answer is yes – smoothies can generally be included along with water, juices, milk, etc. when tallying up daily fluid intake. There are a few caveats to this:
- Since smoothies are higher in calories and nutrients than water, they shouldn’t fully replace water. Aim for half your fluid to come from plain water.
- If you are managing a specific medical condition like kidney disease that requires strict liquid monitoring, ask your doctor whether smoothies count towards your fluid goals or not.
- If you are doing a juice cleanse or liquid diet for weight loss, most programs only allow juices and exclude smoothies containing produce fiber and protein powder.
But for general hydration and nutrition, an 8-12oz smoothie can be counted similarly to milk or juice. Just be mindful of portion sizes since drinking massive smoothies can add up in calories.
Should you count smoothies as part of your vegetable and fruit servings?
Again, the answer is generally yes. Since smoothies provide fiber and nutrients from blending whole fruits and veggies, they are nutritionally closer to eating produce than drinking juice.
Here’s how nutritionists recommend counting smoothies toward your daily vegetable and fruit goals:
- Aim for smoothies to make up no more than 1-2 servings of produce out of the recommended 5-9 total servings per day.
- Each serving of produce in a smoothie should be about 1 cup chopped, or around 130g.
- Leafy greens like kale or spinach can be packed into smoothies for extra vegetable servings.
- Focus on whole fruits and veggies rather than juice concentrates for the produce additions.
Counting a 12oz or 20oz blended fruit and veggie mix as 2-3 servings of produce is reasonable as part of a healthy diet. Just don’t rely entirely on smoothies to meet your daily needs.
In summary, smoothies occupy a gray area between solid food and liquid. While smoothies go down like a beverage, they provide more nutrition. Given their blended ingredients and consistency, it’s reasonable to count smoothies as part of your daily fluid and produce intake. Just be mindful of portions and don’t let smoothies completely replace water and whole fruits and veggies.
At the end of the day, it depends on your specific nutritional needs and diet plan. Smoothies can be a healthy part of your routine as long as you’re mindful of ingredients and portions. Discuss with your doctor or dietitian if you have questions about how smoothies fit into your food and hydration goals.