Smoothies may seem like a healthful option, and they can be an excellent way to get fiber and other nutrition from fruits and vegetables. However, the wrong kind of smoothie can be a bad choice for people with diabetes, especially when eating out.
A smoothie can be a good way to consume superfoods, such as spinach and green leaves. However, other ingredients can contain a lot of fat and sugar and increase the risk of sugar spikes and weight gain.
Following a few tips can help a person with diabetes to enjoy smoothies while limiting the adverse effects.
Read on to find out how to make a healthful smoothie, and learn about some of the benefits and risks of making smoothies part of the diet for diabetes.
1. Include healthful fats
There are many sources of healthful fats that can be used in smoothies, such as avocado and chia seeds.
Some fats are good for people with diabetes. Fats play an essential role in the body, and they can help slow down the speed at which sugar enters the blood and leave the person feeling satisfied.
Some healthful sources of fat to add to a morning smoothie include:
- almond or peanut butter
- chia seeds
- raw pecans
- raw walnuts
However, too much fat can lead to weight gain, so it is essential to balance the quantities.
2. Add protein
In a similar way as fat, protein offers many health benefits that are essential for everyone, but especially for people with diabetes.
High-protein content can slow the absorption of food, and this reduces the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream.
Protein can be animal or vegetable-based. Adding high-protein ingredients to a smoothie can offer health benefits.
Suitable smoothies proteins include:
- plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
- hemp and other seeds
- pea protein
- whey protein
- low-fat milk
3. Fill up on fiber
Adding leafy greens like spinach can ensure that a smoothie is nutritious and high in fiber.
Fiber can be soluble or insoluble.
- It is harder for the body to breakdown soluble fiber. This means it takes longer to release its energy, reducing the risk of a glucose spike.
- Insoluble fiber boosts digestive health and reduces the absorption of other foods in the gastrointestinal tract
- Fiber can leave a person feeling fuller and for longer.
These factors can benefit a person with diabetes by reducing the risk of:
- a blood sugar spike
- a buildup of cholesterol
- weight gain as a result of overeating due to not feeling full
In these ways, fiber can lower the chance of various complications related to diabetes and high blood sugar and boost overall health.
High-fiber foods that might work well in a smoothie include:
- most fruits, including raspberries, oranges, nectarines, peaches, and blueberries
- vegetables, including leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
- chia seeds
4. Add flavor without sugar
Many foods already have sugar in them, and some have hidden sugars. Processed or premade foods often contain added sugar.
When choosing ingredients, remember that:
- some canned fruits are preserved in sugar-filled syrups
- honey and maple syrup are also forms of sugar
- ripe fruits contain more sugar than less ripe ones
- milk contains lactose, which is also a sugar
- almond, soy, and other milk alternatives may contain added sugar
These may be suitable in moderation.
Other ways to add flavor include:
- a pinch of spice, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or turmeric
- fruit, which contains a natural source of sugar, as well as fiber
- oats can add a creamy texture
- dates and dried fruit, in moderation
- fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, or coriander
- vanilla, almond, peppermint, or other extracts, but not syrups
- unsweetened cocoa powder
- black coffee
- whole peanut butter
It is best to sweeten smoothies with natural ingredients rather than add sweeteners because researchers still do not know precisely how sweeteners might affect a person with diabetes.
5. Include 3 servings of carbs
When making a smoothie, a person with diabetes must make sure they know how many carbohydrates they are adding.
In general, people with diabetes should look to include 45 grams (g) or less of carbohydrates in a smoothie. It is a good idea to add at least three different types of carbohydrate.
Some examples of 15g servings of carbohydrates that people often add to smoothies include:
- 1 small banana
- 1 cup of melon
- 3/4 cup of blueberries
- 1 cup of plain yogurt
- ½ cup granola
Try adding greens, spinach, or other dark leafy vegetables to the smoothie. These contain fewer carbs per serving and offer healthful, nutritional benefits.
Using measuring cups, spoons and the diabetes exchange list, is a good way to measure how many carbohydrates to put in the smoothie.
A doctor will advise on how many carbs a person should consume each day and at each meal — this will vary between individuals based on their height, weight, activity levels, and medications.
6. Make a meal of it
A smoothie can seem like a drink, but it can contain as many carbs and calories as a full meal.
Account for the carb and calorie content in the smoothie and use it to replace a meal, or just have a very light snack with it.
If it is still tempting to reach for a full breakfast or lunch, opt instead for sparkling water or unsweetened tea or coffee as a drink.
7. Low-GI fruits and vegetables
Vegetable smoothies can be a good option.
The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food item will raise blood sugar.
Generally, a lower-scoring food means that the body will absorb the sugar more slowly than a food with a higher GI. This means that low GI foods are less likely to cause a blood sugar spike.
The lowest GI score would be for water, at 0, and the highest is for glucose, at 103.
All fruits and vegetables have different GI scores because they all contain varying amounts of sugar and fiber.
Here are some examples of foods a person might add to a smoothie, and how they rank on the GI scale:
Low GI foods (55 or less)
- plain yogurt
- carrots, boiled
- porridge, rolled oats
- some types of milk, including soy milk
Medium GI foods (56–69)
- pumpkin, boiled
- sweet potato
- High GI foods (70 and above)
- instant oat porridge
- rice milk
However, just because a food has a low GI score, it does not mean a person can put as much of it as they like in a smoothie.
When making smoothies, it is also worth remembering that:
- While a particular fruit may have a low GI score, it is still necessary to account for the carbohydrate content.
- The GI score of a fruit increases as it ripens.
- Processing, such as juicing, blending, or cooking, increases the score. For example, orange juice has a higher GI score than a whole orange, because the body absorbs the sugar more quickly.
8. Add bulk
A smoothie can feel like a meal, but it is a meal replacement. If a person is still going to need a meal to feel full, they should limit their intake of smoothies.
One source suggests that 150 milliliter (ml) of smoothie per day is sufficient.
Other options include:
- adding water to dilute the solid ingredients
- adding ice bulk
9. Tips for ordering smoothies
When ordering a smoothie away from home, ask about the ingredients and see whether the staff can make one without added sugar. If they cannot do this, it is best to choose another drink.
Some outlets will make the smoothie while a person waits, which allows them to request specific ingredients.
10. Other conditions to consider
People with diabetes may experience other conditions and complications, such as high blood pressure, obesity, celiac disease, and lactose intolerance.
These other conditions may limit what kinds of ingredients a person can put in a smoothie.
Unsweetened almond or soy milk is a good alternative to regular milk for people looking to avoid dairy.
People with lactose intolerance should avoid adding dairy milk or any byproducts of dairy milk, such as yogurt, to a smoothie.
Almond milk or soy milk are good alternatives, and a person can use them instead of dairy milk in most smoothie recipes.
People should choose unsweetened milk alternatives or check the sugar content of a product before purchasing and using it, as some milk alternatives can be high in sugar.
Studies have shown that celiac disease is more common among people with type 1 diabetes than in the general population.
People who have celiac disease must avoid any food that contains gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
Whey protein is one ingredient that may contain gluten, depending on the brand. Whey itself is gluten-free, but some manufacturers add gluten fillers to their products.
Always check the label before buying whey products or try other, plant-derived proteins.
People with excess weight or obesity will need to monitor their calorie level. Emphasizing plant foods and fiber can help.
In general, a smoothie that is suitable for a person with diabetes will probably be suitable for a person who wants to manage their weight.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol
People with high blood pressure and high cholesterol should choose high-fiber, low-fat foods, such as:
- nuts and seeds
- green leaves
- low-fat milk
People with high blood pressure should also avoid foods that contain added salt.
Benefits of smoothies
Smoothies can offer a complete meal, containing enough protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat to keep a person satisfied for some time.
Smoothies that contain fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that the body needs. All of these nutrients can benefit a person’s overall health.
Proper nourishment can improve a person’s cholesterol levels, reduce fat, build muscle, promote healthier nervous and circulatory systems, and improve energy levels.
When ordering or making a smoothie, it is important to remember that a smoothie, while it looks like a drink, can contain at least as many carbs and calories as a meal. People should not eat a full meal as well as a smoothie.
Also, although smoothie ingredients can contain fiber, blending food causes fiber to break down, making it easier for the body to digest.
Fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber foods will be less satisfying and more likely to lead to a blood sugar spike when a person consumes them in a smoothie rather than eating them whole and unprocessed.
People should not consume all their fruit and vegetables in smoothies, but ensure that most of their intake is from whole food.
Follow these links for some recipes for some suitable smoothie recipes:
- Summerberry smoothie
- Green tea and cocoa powder smoothie
- Kale, mint, and yogurt smoothie
Recipe books for smoothies and smoothie makers are available for purchase online.
A smoothie can be a nutritious and tasty way to start the day or to get a fruit or vegetable snack between meals. However, a person with diabetes should check the ingredients to make sure it does not contain any added sugar.
It is best to make smoothies at home to ensure that they contain healthful ingredients.