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The real skinny on smoothies, plus 3 healthy smoothie recipes.

They’re refreshingly cool, come in fun, fruity flavors, and are served with a straw. What’s not to like about smoothies? They’re so popular that you can now find them at fast food restaurants, grocery stores -- even coffee shops. But while smoothies may sound like a healthy treat, sometimes they’re anything but.

Smoothies are usually made with healthy ingredients like soy milk, fresh or frozen fruit, skim milk, or yogurt. But some also feature plenty of high-fat and/or high-sugar items like ice cream, peanut butter, sweetened syrups, or chocolate. What you can end up with is a drink that has upwards of 600 calories, enough saturated fat to rival a double cheeseburger, and carbohydrate grams in the triple digits -- and that’s just for the small size.

Consider: A 20-ounce serving of Smoothie King’s The Hulk-Strawberry has more calories than a Burger King Double Cheeseburger with a medium order of French fries (it totals 990 calories, 52 grams total fat, 19 grams saturated fat). Dairy Queen’s Tropical Blizzard (with 1,122 calories, 62 grams fat, and 25 grams saturated fat) has more total fat and saturated fat than the same fast-food meal.

If you’re looking for a healthy smoothie, your best bet is usually to keep it simple. The label on Emerald City’s Fruity Supreme Smoothie, for example, shows just four ingredients: banana, strawberry, nonfat milk, and protein. Any smoothie that includes nonfat milk, soy milk, or yogurt will likely contribute a nice dose of protein, along with other goodies like vitamin D, B-12, and/or calcium.

If you’re having a smoothie in place of a meal, look for a smoothie with at least 5 grams of protein and a similar amount of fiber, so it will be more likely to hold off hunger for more than a couple of hours. If your smoothie is a between-meal snack, you’re better off choosing the smallest size possible and keeping the calories below 300.

The Best and Worst Smoothies

And now for my list of the best and worst smoothies, from a nutritional standpoint. To be considered for the list, the item had to be called a “smoothie” or something very similar. The serving sizes range from 10 ounces to 24 ounces, so I ranked them by calories per ounce.

All of the smoothies in the “best” list are free of saturated fat, contain no more than 61 grams of carbohydrate and at least 4 grams of fiber, and have 17 calories or less per ounce.

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