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Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 02:49 PM

Take charge of your smoothie! Out, out sweet sugar

By Nicole Tsong
Special to The Seattle Times

WHEN I'M on a no-sugar jag, I am strict. No honey! No brown rice syrup! Definitely no agave!

If you have ever had a meal with me during one of these phases, my deepest apologies.

Except to the smoothie maker at the smoothie-place-that-shall-not-be-named. All I wanted was a fruit smoothie. Fruit. That's it.

But every smoothie on the menu had something. Sweetened almond milk. Sweetened peanut butter. Honey. Can't a girl get a smoothie with fruit?

I considered telling her what to blend, then decided it was not worth the effort.

Leave it to us. We as a culture have somehow turned smoothies — a drink most people think of as healthy — into dessert.

Sure, some smoothies have greens or fruit or yogurt. Some of them also have sorbet, ice cream and other additives loaded with sugar.

"We want to be careful that the term smoothie isn't a synonym for milkshake," says nutritionist Cynthia Lair.

Smoothies sound healthy, but like most foods these days, if you truly want to pick up a healthy one, you need to read labels or ingredients, and perhaps even assertively (but nicely) question the smoothie maker to find out more.

You have more control at home in the smoothie-making process, but it's still easy to get tripped up by ingredients that sound good but aren't really.

Still, there are ways to make your smoothie healthy, whether it's out and about or in your blender at home.

Lair, author of "Feeding the Young Athlete" and director of Bastyr University's culinary curriculum, has a few recommendations:

• Avoid added sugar, she says. Ice cream and sorbet are obvious sugar culprits, but sugar also frequently sneaks into smoothies via yogurt. Flavored and low-fat yogurts often have added sugar, Lair says.

• Sweeten your smoothie with fruit. If fruit is in season and high quality, it will have plenty of sugar. Bananas, dates and fresh or canned unsweetened pineapple also add plenty of natural sweetness to a smoothie. Besides offering a sweet hit, they are whole foods with fiber, Lair says.

• Add good protein. Lair dislikes protein powders. They're not really food, she says, they are supplements. Instead, choose good, whole proteins like nut butters, unsweetened yogurt or milk.

• Limit the juice. Juice doesn't have the fiber and other nutrients of whole fruit blended into a smoothie.

Bottom line: The healthiest smoothies are whole fruit with no added sugar and good protein. If you feel compelled to throw in greens, more power to you.

If you are picking up a smoothie, don't be shy about asking what is in your smoothie. I have asked to see the almond milk carton or the entire list of ingredients at smoothie shops. I have even not ordered smoothies because once I looked at the ingredient list, I saw they weren't good, whole foods.

But looking at ingredients is part of healthy eating.

Smoothies, Lair insists, "can be made healthfully for people who feel they don't have time to sit down and eat."

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com.


ROD MAR / THE SEATTLE TIMES
If healthy is what you want in a smoothie, then ditch the add-ins and load up on the true goodies that offer nutrition and fiber as well as natural sweetness.




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