Are Protein Shakes and Smoothies Healthy?

11/02/2017 10:07 am ET

Protein drinks can be part of a healthy diet for just about anyone, or they can be a yo-yo dieter’s worst enemy. As a nutrition coach, I have two kinds of clients. Those who like smoothies and shakes and those who don’t. Some people feel like they aren’t eating if they don’t get to chew food. Others see protein smoothies and shakes as a healthy convenience.

The biggest downside to liquid nutrition is that most dieters who use smoothies or shakes to replace meals will gain weight as soon as they return to eating solid food. This is especially true if they replace more than one meal with a protein drink.

Benefits of Protein Shakes and Smoothies

  • Smoothies are a great way to incorporate berries in the diet. Berries are the one fruit shown to benefit brain function.
  • Smoothies can provide more protein than you would eat a meal.
  • Eaten for breakfast a smoothie can stabilize blood sugar for half the day.
  • Smoothies can be blended before a workout and consumed after a workout to support muscle building and recovery.
  • Smoothies are a great way to consume other healthful ingredients like coconut oil. For more information on the truth about coconut oil, read my blog post here.
  • Greens powder can be another key smoothie ingredient. I recently found out how important it is for me. You can read about the power of greens here.

A diet program that depends upon consuming mostly or only shakes as meal replacements is usually a set up for failure.

Downsides of Protein Shakes and Smoothies

  • Eventually participants have to return to eating real food, and typically haven’t learned how to change their eating habits or cope with factors like stress, anxiety and boredom which influence how we eat.
  • Dieters who consume protein drinks eventually experience a reduced appetite which will gradually increase when they resume consuming solid food.
  • Dieters get so sick of drinking shakes and smoothies that they become resistant to using them in a more moderate way as part of a healthy lifestyle - such as just for breakfast or post-workout.

Tips for using Protein Shakes and Smoothies

  • Do use a protein powder that is organic if possible.
  • Don’t use a protein powder with artificial sweetener or other chemicals.
  • Do be aware of whether or not your protein powder contains vitamins and minerals so that you aren’t over supplementing.
  • Do consume good fat and carbs with your protein by adding coconut oil, greens and fruit to the powder when you make your smoothie. A banana in an after workout smoothie will help provide the potassium you need.
  • Don’t use juice, a sweetened beverage or sweetened yogurt in your smoothie.
  • Do use water, Kombucha, unsweetened dairy or non-dairy milk or a combination.

I have a smoothie made with unsweetened protein powder almost every morning for breakfast, usually after a workout. Many of my clients have had success controlling their blood sugar and losing weight using smoothies for breakfast.

I started making my daughter a smoothie for breakfast every morning because she was catching every virus that circulated through her high school. At first, she didn’t believe that that the protein, healthy fat, vitamins from the fruit and greens and good bacteria from kombucha protected her from illness. After a few weeks, she started to notice that her overall health improved.

Clients sometimes tell me that they don’t like drinking a cold smoothie for breakfast on a cold winter morning. I have had clients who add protein powder to their coffee in the morning. The only downside I see to that is that you aren’t getting the advantage of some of the other nutrients that are in a good smoothie. A better alternative would be to try adding unsweetened organic protein powder to a pureed vegetable soup in the blender. It makes a great savory breakfast or lunch.

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