Smoothies have become an increasingly popular healthy breakfast or snack option over the years. They provide a convenient way to pack in servings of fruits, vegetables, protein, fiber and other nutrients into a portable, drinkable form. However, there are various ways to prepare smoothies, including the main liquid used as the base. The two most common choices are either water or milk. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages when used for smoothie-making. This article will compare and contrast using water versus milk as the liquid base in smoothies. Factors such as nutritional value, taste, texture, calories, benefits for different goals, variety, cost and more will be explored.
The choice of using water or milk as the base liquid for smoothies can significantly impact their nutritional profile. Here is a comparison:
Using water as the base liquid does not add any additional macronutrients to the smoothie recipe. However, it also does not dilute the nutritional value. All the protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals would come directly from the other added ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, protein powders, etc. Therefore, water-based smoothies allow the nutrients from these whole food ingredients to shine. You can customize the nutrition by choosing which ingredients to include without the added nutritional variables that milk would bring.
On the other hand, using milk as the base liquid for smoothies provides additional protein and nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, phosphorus and potassium. The exact nutritional values would depend on which type of milk you choose, for example:
- Whole milk: 8 grams protein, 150 calories, 8 grams fat per 1 cup
- 2% milk: 8 grams protein, 120 calories, 5 grams fat per 1 cup
- Skim milk: 8 grams protein, 90 calories, 0 grams fat per 1 cup
- Soy milk: 7 grams protein, 100 calories, 4 grams fat per 1 cup
- Almond milk: 1 gram protein, 30 calories, 2.5 grams fat per 1 cup
So milk-based smoothies, especially if made with dairy milk, offer extra protein and nutrients which can provide health benefits. However, they also add more calories into the mix which may or may not be desirable depending on your goals.
When it comes to taste, either water-based or milk-based smoothies can be delicious. However, they will impart slightly different flavor profiles.
Using water as the base for smoothies allows the flavors of the fruits and other ingredients to really shine through. The palate is not altered or diluted by milk. Instead, the fresh tastes of the fruits and any added sweeteners come through vibrantly. Water has no flavor characteristics of its own so it showcases the tastes of the other smoothie ingredients.
Milk adds a creamy, rich, sweet dimension to the flavor of smoothies. It provides a velvety mouthfeel and masks any bitterness or tartness from ingredients like leafy greens. Milk brings its own mellow dairy flavor which can complement fruits nicely in smoothies. However, it also partly covers up the fresh fruity flavors. So milk-based smoothies tend to taste sweeter and creamier while water-based smoothies allow more bright, pure fruit taste to come through.
The texture of smoothies is also affected by the use of water versus milk as the liquid base.
Water has a thin, free-flowing consistency so water-based smoothies tend to be lighter and less dense. They are almost juice-like in texture. The smoothie ingredients blend together well with water but the result can be somewhat thin. However, some people prefer this thinner, more drinkable texture.
Milk has a naturally thicker, creamier texture than water. So milk-based smoothies come out with a luxuriously creamy, frothy and rich consistency. The milk gives them more body and opacity. This can be really satisfying and milk helps emulsify all the ingredients into a smooth, velvety blend. However, some people find milk-based smoothies overly thick or filling.
So in terms of texture, water-based smoothies tend to be lighter and thinner while milk-based versions have more body and creamy richness.
Calories and Satiety
The number of calories and how filling a smoothie will be also depends on whether it is made with water or milk.
Using water as the base keeps smoothies lower in calories since water has zero calories. Even when loaded up with high calorie fruits and mix-ins, a water-based smoothie will have a lower calorie count than if made with milk. The calorie count comes just from the calories inherent in the solid ingredients.
Water also provides no satiety or fullness factor. So water-based smoothies may not keep you feeling as satisfied and full as milk-based versions. You may feel hungry sooner after drinking a watery smoothie.
Milk contains calories so it increases the overall calorie count of smoothies. Different types of milk have varying calorie levels, but they generally range from 30-150 calories per cup. So a milk-based smoothie will be higher in calories than a water-based one even when using the same ingredients.
However, the protein, fat and carbohydrates in milk help provide satiety and fullness. Nutritionists recommend eating foods with protein, fat and carbs to keep hunger at bay. So milk-based smoothies are more likely to keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer compared to water-based smoothies.
If you are counting calories, water is the better choice for keeping smoothies lean. But if you want more fullness, milk provides greater satiety.
Benefits for Different Goals
Here are some of the potential benefits of using either water or milk in smoothies for different health and fitness goals:
- Water – Fewer calories, allows ingredients like high fiber fruits and protein powder to shine.
- Milk – More satiating and filling.
Muscle Gain or Post Workout
- Water – Allows you to control protein and nutrient sources.
- Milk – Provides additional protein, calories and nutrients.
- Water – Keeps smoothies hydrating.
- Milk – Can be hydrating but higher protein content is less hydrating.
- Water – Allows whole ingredients to provide nutrition.
- Milk – Provides extra calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and more.
Low Calorie or Diet
- Water – No additional calories.
- Milk – Adds 30-150 calories per cup depending on type.
So in terms of benefits for different goals, water is better for keeping calories and hydration up, while milk provides more protein, nutrients and satiety.
Both water and milk open up a lot of possibilities when making smoothies.
Water can be combined with any fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other smoothie ingredients to create an endless array of options. You aren’t limited by what pairs well with the flavor of milk. Feel free to get creative with water-based smoothies.
Milk also allows for a wide variety of smoothie blends. Dairy milk pairs particularly well with vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, banana, berries and many other flavors. Non-dairy milk like almond milk also blends smoothly with fruits and nut butters. So milk certainly does not limit the diversity of smoothies you can whip up.
Overall both liquid bases provide flexibility in terms of unique combinations and recipes you can dream up.
In terms of cost, water is the clear winner since it comes free from your tap at home. Milk costs money to purchase so that is an added expense when making milk-based smoothies. However, milk purchased in larger quantities usually comes out to less than $0.50 per cup so it can still keep smoothie costs low. But water definitely saves you a little money compared to using milk.
So should you choose water or milk as the base for your smoothies? Either liquid can produce a delicious, nutritious smoothie. Milk provides protein, nutrients and satiety while water keeps calories lower and allows ingredient flavors to shine. For the healthiest nutrient-dense smoothie with whole ingredients, water may be the best bet. But milk offers benefits if you are looking for more protein and fullness. Overall the optimal choice comes down to your personal preferences and goals. Both water and milk have their pros and cons for smoothie-making. You can experiment with using each as your base liquid to discover which blends up best for your tastes and needs.