It’s Saturday afternoon at the mall with the family. You end up in a food court and your loved ones go straight for McDonald’s. You resist the temptation to indulge in a burger and opt for a ‘real’ fruit smoothie instead. Think you have made a healthy choice? Think again!
If there is one thing that gets me all worked up into a nutrition frenzy, it’s false advertising. I have been known to yell at the TV and say a few choice words when I see a misleading commercial from one of the fast food giants touting their new ‘healthy’ menu item. Most recently I have been peeved by the commercials by DQ, Burger King and McDonald’s, announcing to the world the existence of their real fruit smoothies. Whenever I see the words ‘real’ and ‘fruit’ together, my spidey senses go nuts. I decided to do some digging and what I found was shocking, bordering on fraud.
Let’s take a look at the nutritional profiles of some these ‘real fruit’ smoothies. All these companies have the quintessential strawberry banana smoothie on their menus, so let’s use that as a comparison. I went on their websites and found the nutritional information for a 14-16 oz (~450 ml) strawberry banana smoothie . Some of them use low-fat yogurt as a base, and some use fruit juice or milk. All of these contain minimal fat (< 3g) so I haven’t included those figures.
Most of these are between 200-300 calories, but they contain a whopping 40-60 grams of sugar! That’s 10-14 teaspoons of sugar. That is bananas (pun intended)! A can of coke has 10 teaspoons of sugar. Most of these smoothies provide less than 3 grams of protein. Bummer! The whole point of drinking a smoothie is for some protein goodness to keep you going like the energizer bunny. The only exception is the Starbucks smoothie that packs in 16g of protein, since they add two scoops of protein powder to all their smoothies.
As a nutritionist, I encourage my clients to focus less on calories and more on the quality and source of those calories. In most of these smoothies, approximately 80% of the calories are coming from sugar, and they provide hardly any fibre, protein or micronutrients. What about the rest? Let’s take a closer look at the list of ingredients.
That’s some scary stuff kids. Polysorbate 80 is a viscous, yellow emulsifier that is used in everything from cosmetics to mouthwash to bind oils with water-based substances. It has been known to cause infertility, blood clots, heart attacks, heart failure and anaphylactic shock . Carrageenan is a food additive that has 18 peer-reviewed studies stating that it causes issues such as gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcerations and colonic polyps . Other ingredients of concern include sugar syrup, corn syrup, dextrose and the list goes on. Folks, that is a lot of sugar.
McDonald’s adds sugar, corn starch and Polydimethylsiloxane (that’s a straight up silicon-based polymer, meaning plastic, that’s used in shampoos, bathroom caulking, lubricating oils and is a key component of silly putty!) to their version of the strawberry banana smoothie. I was unable to find sufficient resources about the side effects of human consumption of Polydimethylsiloxane because it’s mainly used topically, and not meant to be eaten!
The Bottom Line
McDonald’s and Burger King smoothies are NOT made from fruit at all. Instead they are made from ‘juice concentrates’. The only smoothies that actually contain any fruit are the Orange Julius (1 banana plus a whole lot of ‘juice blends’ and ‘fruit mixes’), Jamba Juice (strawberries, banana and an ‘apple-strawberry juice blend’ that doesn’t have a list of ingredients) and Starbucks (1 banana and strawberry puree). If I had to pick one these, I would pick the Starbucks. It has 5 ingredients: 1 banana, whey protein, strawberry puree (I hope they don’t add sugar to this!), milk (non-fat, 2% or soy) and ice. That’s it. The fewer the ingredients, the better. If you see ingredients you can’t pronounce, walk away.
A Better Smoothie
Clearly we cannot trust the food industry and their skewed definition of ‘real’ food. What is a girl to do? Make your own smoothies! I promise you that homemade smoothies beat store-bought ones, any day, and in every way! They are delicious, packed with plant proteins, healthy fats, natural fruit sugars and micronutrients, contain known ingredients, are cost-effective and easy to make.
Classic Strawberry Banana Smoothie: 6-8 strawberries, 1 banana, 1/2 cup greek yogurt, 1/2 cup almond milk, 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds, ice.
Green Smoothie: 1 cup kale, 1/2 cup mango, 1 chilled orange, 1 rib of celery, fresh mint and parsley, ice.
Detox Smoothie: 1 cup blueberries, 1 banana, 1 tsp spirulina, 1/2 avocado, 1/2 cup spinach, 1 cup almond milk, ice.
Let’s put this homemade smoothie up for comparison with it’s fast food counter parts. Here are the nutritional facts for the homemade recipe of the strawberry banana smoothie (created on http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-calculator.asp):
Our homemade version of the Strawberry Banana Smoothie contains 24g of sugar that is from all natural, whole fruits. It balances that fruit sugar with 7.4g of fibre and a ton of nutrients. Imagine starting your day with 151% of your recommended Vitamin C intake! Or 33% of your Calcium intake. Watch out world! This is a potent breakfast, jam-packed with vitamins and minerals. It takes 5 minutes to make a smoothie in the morning if you have the ingredients in your fridge and pantry. A smoothie like this will leave you feeling full until lunch. I guarantee it. So skip the fast food ‘smoothies’ and invest 5 minutes of your time every day to your health. Your body will thank you (and so will I!).
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between juices and smoothies, and which one is better for you, check out this handy infographic. Both have their pros and cons. I prefer smoothies for breakfast or meal replacement as you get all the nutrients and fibre – nothing is wasted. Juices work well when you’re trying to detox and give your digestive system a little break. When considering juicing vs. smoothies it’s best (as always) to listen to what your body needs.
 Nutritional Data
McDonalds Strawberry Banana Smoothie with Yogurt, Medium
DQ Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Small
Burger King Strawberry Banana Smoothie 16 oz
Jamba Juice Strawberries Wild Smoothie 16 oz
Starbucks Strawberry Banana Smoothie with 2% Milk 16 oz
 Side Effects of Polysorbate 80
 Side Effects of Carrageenan