Weight loss smoothies – sounds like just another health and fitness gimmick, right?
Well, truth is, they are a “gimmick” – but one of the few that can (actually) work for making weight loss a simple, effective, and relatively easy process.
Additionally, homemade smoothies are a cheap, quick, and easy way to supplement your diet with fruit and vegetable nutrition, something which most people could use more of, regardless of weight management.
Here’s the pervasive issue though: Most smoothie “information” out there is outright fraudulent.
(…like most health and fitness “information” out there, for that matter…)
What do you mostly see, after all? Slick sales copy laced with nice sounding yet dubious buzz-words like “detoxing,” “fat burning,” or “cleansing.” Not only that, but the legitimate scientific truth about how weight loss works – and there is one that’s decidedly clear at this point – is either incompetently ignored or malevolently misconstrued.
The industry is flawed – I’m sure you know that. Not surprising, thus, that most people who drink “fat burning smoothies” sourced from the latest fad diet book only end up actually losing weight in their wallets.
The purpose of this guide is to:
- Put and end to confusing misinformation surrounding smoothies and set the record straight on how weight loss, and the facilitation of such using smoothies specifically, actually works.
- Fully explain, step by step, how to actually lose weight with homemade smoothies.
Smoothies are one of the exceedingly few “gimmicks” I actually endorse because they can actually work well as part of an easy-as-possible straightforward fitness strategy (that’s the whole point of this blog). However, you have to utilize them in the right way, and even then they’re not the magic bullet that huckster after huckster purports them to be.
If you’re interested in giving them a try, this guide is for you.
Clickable Table of Contents by Section
- Preliminary Section: My Smoothie Weight Loss Results, With Before and After Progress Pictures
- Section 1: How Do Smoothies Actually Cause Weight Loss? (Fat Loss 101)
- Section 2: What Are the Traits of a Good Weight Loss Smoothie?
- Section 3: How to Make a Good Weight Loss Smoothie
- Section 4: How to Effectively Utilize Smoothies to Actually Lose Weight
- Section 5: What Are The Best Low Calorie Healthy Weight Loss Smoothie Recipes?
- Section 6: Great Tasting Fruit & Vegetable Smoothies Require a Great High Quality Blender – What’s The Best Smoothie Blender?
- Section 7: Are There Downsides to Smoothies? (Destroyed Fiber, Nutrients, etc.)
- Concluding Summary
Preliminary Section: My Smoothie Weight Loss Results, With Before and After Progress Pictures
Before we get started… a quick self appeal to authority – I do walk the walk. Here’s proof:
That is what ~50 lbs of fat loss looks like, and a significant part of my overall weight loss strategy that facilitated this transformation was drinking healthy low calorie (quasi) meal replacement smoothies on essentially a daily basis. I bought a high end blender two years ago, and I still love it and use it regularly.
A quick disclaimer, though…
Is what you see above solely the result of smoothies? Honestly, no.
The progress you see above was the result of a sensible diet and training schedule (read: sensible, not spartan). That said, smoothies are one of the few “gimmicks” that can make doing what’s actually required for weight loss significantly easier and more feasible. That is what will be expounded in this guide.
Section 1: How Do Smoothies Actually Cause Weight Loss? (Fat Loss 101)
The weight loss industry is now worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and it’s primary and very lucrative strategy is selling quick-fix golden goose egg shortcuts.
When smoothies and juicing started to really blow up, I don’t know, around 20 years ago or so, it’s not at all surprising that the weight loss snake oil hucksters jumped on the bandwagon and started selling juicing and smoothie products as being akin to magic fat loss pills.
Some examples of the more preposterous claims that have been made over the years:
- Certain plant food compounds melt fat away!
- Detox fat hoarding toxins!
- Could this rogue nutrient help you lose weight!?
- Lose 20 pounds instantly with a green smoothie cleanse!
They make for catchy and alluring golden goose egg sales lines, but they’re blatantly misleading.
You must understand: Smoothies can help people lose weight for one reason, and one reason only:
It’s easier to get fuller off of less calories with smoothies.
The only thing that has been definitively proven to cause weight loss in properly controlled scientific trials is calorie restriction.
If you’re currently maintaining your weight, then you substitute in a volumetric and just as filling vegetable smoothie for a higher calorie meal-item that you were previously eating regularly, you’ll lower your caloric intake into a calorie deficit and start losing weight.
That’s it – there’s no wizardry going on. If you incorporate a large, low calorie smoothie into your diet that fills you up, you’ll naturally be satiated off of fewer calories, which is conducive to losing weight. As is the case with any other viable weight loss strategy, it ultimately boils down to simple in vs out arithmetic over time.
* Further Reading:
Section 2: What Are the Traits of a Good Weight Loss Smoothie?
It’s simple. It must be:
- High in volume and thus very filling.
- Low in calories.
That Chocolate Blast from Jamba Juice might sound healthy and taste delicious, but if you’re gulping down 1000+ calories in liquid form, it probably won’t help you lose weight. Heck, something like that might actually backfire and cause you to inadvertently gain weight.
A smoothie that can be used as an effective weight loss aid will have the following traits, listed in order of importance:
- It’s (ideally) less than 200 calories.
- It’s (ideally) around or greater than ~16 ounces.
- It’s comprised primarily of high volume, low calorie, nutrient dense ingredients – most of the top choices that satisfy those criteria are green vegetables, which is why green smoothies are so popular.
- It’s low(er) in sugar, high(er) in fiber, high(er) in protein, and is viscous – no hard specific rules, but these traits generally imply satiation, meaning it will keep you fuller for longer.
- It tastes decent enough – you know, so you’ll actually drink them consistently.
Section 3: How to Make a Good Weight Loss Smoothie
Here is how I specifically do it:
Step 1: Choose Two Primary Bulk Ingredients (8-12 oz)
I like to use one dense, fibrous ingredient, and then one volumetric watery ingredient to complement it. This will give the smoothie good consistency without shooting the calories through the roof.
Examples of good dense, fibrous ingredient choices:
- Leafy greens of any kind (kale, spinach, lettuce, etc.)
- Roots/Tubers of any kind (carrots, beets, etc.)
Examples of good volumetric watery ingredient choices:
Step 2: Choose A Secondary Ingredient For Flavor (4-6oz)
The stuff that tastes good also tends to be higher in calories, so the idea is to use *just enough* to round out the flavor, for example:
- Handful of berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes etc.)
- Wedge of tropical fruit (pear, pineapple, kiwi, half a banana, etc.)
Step 3: Use “Add-Ons” For Flavor and/or Supplemental Nutrition (~1 oz, sparingly)
This is where most people inadvertently turn their smoothies into landslides of caloric excess if they’re not careful – full fat dairy, nut butters, and protein powders are insidiously dense in calories.
On the other hand, plain old blended up vegetables can admittedly taste pretty dull and thin (or downright nasty).
Here’s a list of my favorite low/no calorie smoothie “add ins”
- Coconut Oil – a small dollop makes a big difference.
- Nut Powder – PB2 powdered peanut butter is one of my favorites, and a fraction of the calories of conventional nut butter.
- Almond Milk
- Dark Chocolate
- Stevia – perfectly fine in moderation
- Ginger Root – only need a small hunk the size of a sugar cube, it’s quite potent.
- Lemon/Lime Juice – a dash of acid brings out flavor and gives a nice citrusy kick.
- Dash of Salt – you did read that right, salt is basically a flavor steroid.
Or, if you’re brave, you can just embrace the nastiness. Consider the Joe Rogan Kale Shake – part celery, part parsley, part lemon, and part garlic. Yup, garlic:
There are perhaps millions of viable smoothie combinations, which is actually part of the fun – you can come up with all kinds of great tasting concoctions with a little imagination and experimentation.
Step 4: Double Check The Calories of Your Choice Recipes
Remember, the reason that smoothies can work for weight loss is that they fill you up with very few calories. If you follow the above steps, your smoothies should hit the ideal range of being 100-200 calories while being 14-16+ ounces in volume. But, it’s a good idea to actually make sure that’s the case.
To do that, simply use a calorie app and plug in your recipe like so:
That’s a screenshot of Cronometer, my favorite calorie diary app. Or, you could just Google the ingredients and use some quick and dirty arithmetic – just make sure you’re in that 100-200 calorie ballpark.
Section 4: How to Effectively Utilize Smoothies to Actually Lose Weight
Though actually quite simple, this is the most important and critical section of this guide.
Here’s the big idea: How can you substitute in a low calorie smoothie for a higher calorie meal-item that you normally eat? The goal is to reduce your running calorie intake by, on average, 15-25%. That’s enough to facilitate 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week, which is the appropriate target range for almost everyone.
* Further Reading:
For example, consider John Doe’s normal daily breakfast:
- Bran Muffin – 400 calories.
- Orange Juice – 200 calories.
- Yogurt/Granola Bowl – 300 calories.
John decides to swap in a homemade green smoothie for part of his daily breakfast:
- (New Substitution) 12 oz green smoothie – 100 calories.
- Yogurt/Granola Bowl – 300 calories.
If John eats this new breakfast every day, and it’s just as filling, the result will be that he’ll naturally consume around 500 less calories per day. If he was maintaining his weight before (caloric maintenance), then it follows that he’ll start losing around a pound per week (a ~3500 weekly calorie deficit) with his new breakfast.
Again, there’s no wizardry happening here. No magic fat burning, cleansing, or detoxing. Just a meaningful dietary change that creates calorie restriction, that if done consistently enough and long enough will to significant weight loss results.
And that’s really the key here – when you visualize this example, you can actually see yourself doing it consistently, as opposed to some total “fitness lifestyle” overhaul that’s neither feasible, sustainable nor even necessary for most average people.
Section 5: What Are The Best Low Calorie Healthy Weight Loss Smoothie Recipes?
There really isn’t any particular “best” recipe because, said again, ad nauseam, there is no such thing as magic “fat burning” individual ingredients or combinations of such – smoothies will only help you shed fad insofar as they help you get fuller off of less calories and facilitate long run calorie restriction, something which must occur for weight loss to ensue, one way or another.
My recommendation is to just follow the general guidelines herein and make combinations that you like.
I typically have 5-10 bulk ingredients on hand that I mix and match to create various combinations I like.
Some examples of my regular concoctions:
Section 6: Great Tasting Fruit & Vegetable Smoothies Require a Great High Quality Blender – What’s The Best Smoothie Blender?
Cheapo $30 dollar blenders might be fine for blending up water and protein powder, but they won’t cut it for making silky smoothies with great consistency out of tougher produce – they’ll merely leave you with more of a watery salad that you have to chew down with each gulp. Gross. Additionally, cheapo blenders will probably break within a year or two with heavy duty daily use. If you’re serious about making great smoothies on the regular, then I strongly recommend you invest in a high quality blender.
There are two flagship brands for high quality blenders: Vitamix and Blendtec. Real smoothie aficionados may argue which is better more passionately than they do sociopolitical issues, but the truth is that either choice is great. The low end models of Vitamix and Blendtec start at around three hundred dollars and change, give or take, while the higher end commercial grade models, believe it or not, can approach four figures. Though, the latter is completely unnecessary unless you’re furnishing a commercial restaurant kitchen.
Both Vitamix and Blendtec sell certified refurbished units too, which can come with a nice discount. A good blender will be, most likely, a once in a lifetime purchase, so I encourage you to shop around and/or wait for the best deal.
The blender I bought, use, and endorse is the Vitamix 5200:
A mid to high tier blender might seem rather expensive, but a quick look at the facts will show you that a high powered Vitamix or Blendtec that’s built to last is actually the best value over the long run:
- They’re built to last for life, each coming with a 7+ year warranty
- Cheapo blenders will break every 1-2 years if you use them hard every day – if you keep replacing them you’ll end up spending more money over the long run.
- You don’t have to chop and prep as much – A Vitamix or Blendtec will pretty much pulverize anything instantly.
- Once you actually drink a smoothie out of a Vitamix or Blendtec, you’ll never be able to go back – the silk like consistency is exceptionally better
- A high end blender is a great kitchen appliance to have in general to make soups, sauces, spreads, ect.
There are other cheaper but still viable options if you’re not ready to spend that kind of money, though. Here’s a chart of the most popular and favorably reviewed blenders by the likes of Cnet, Consumer Reports, etc., sorted by price tier:
Ninja Professional BL660
* Further Reading
Section 7: Are There Downsides to Smoothies? (Destroyed Fiber, Nutrients, etc.)
Commenter Patricia referred me to an excellent short video series (released after this post was first written) by Dr. Michael Greger that takes an evidence based analysis of the common negative concerns of drinking smoothies. He expressed running into the same problem that I ran into, apparently, which is that there just wasn’t much pertinent “blender science” until very recently. Here are the embedded videos, totaling about 15 minutes:
This is in addition to a well written opinion piece by a dietitian that specifically addresses the fiber issue.
- No, a blender cannot destroy vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients, and might actually improve their bioavailability over regular chewing.
- Yes, a blender *might* compromise fiber integrity, but certain fibers actually hold water better after blender while others hold water worse, the digestive effects of which are basically speculative.
- Yes, a blended smoothie *might* cause a bigger blood sugar spike and insulin rebound, but this depends on the ingredients, and is significantly less than the same effect found with straight up juice.
- The blood sugar issue, however, is very contextual. Are you drinking a smoothie after a workout? Are you pairing it with some food? What’s in the smoothie? All these things will influence the blood sugar/insulin response.
- Smoothie “thickness” enhances satiety, which is the main point of this strategy guide, so thicker smoothies are better.
My take: Don’t rely 100% on smoothies for fiber (though I suppose a smoothie is better than nothing) and eat some veggies au naturale by chewing them up. Though, I’m mostly interested in drinking smoothies for micro nutrients and appetite satiety, so the fiber integrity issue is of little concern to me personally, so long as it’s not detrimental in any way.
Weight loss is not rocket science that requires an elusive golden goose egg solution – it’s merely a function of calorie restriction. Smoothies can work well for weight loss because they’re legitimately useful for getting fuller off of fewer calories – that’s it.
Here are the summarizing points of this guide:
- The popular buzzword descriptors surrounding smoothies, like “detox,” “fat burning,” and “cleansing” are BS marketing ploys. Smoothies, or any foods for that matter, are not magical.
- Smoothies, if used correctly, can make systematic calorie restriction – the *only* thing that’s been scientifically proven to cause weight loss – simple and easy to do.
- A good weight loss smoothie will primarily be comprised of high volume, low calorie plant ingredients, and come in at ~100-200 calories while being at least ~14-16 ounces.
- The big idea is to substitute one of these low calorie smoothies in for a higher calorie food you normally eat to reduce your running calorie intake by ~15-25% over time.
- You can make all kinds of recipes that will work within the general guidelines herein
- For high quality smoothies, you’ll need a high quality blender – check out this post for general guidelines on that.
- Most of the purported downsides of smoothies – sugar overload, destroyed fiber, or destroyed nutrients – don’t have scientific veracity.
Overall, the key to successful weight loss is to figure out a systematic approach that, one, actually works, and two, that you’ll actually stick to. In many cases, smoothies can be a strategy that accomplishes both.