Here's what you should order (or make) instead. 

By Lauren Wicks
Updated: January 10, 2019
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Stopping at your favorite smoothie chain may seem like a healthier choice than a fast-food drive-thru, but is it? Most of these smoothie shops boast fresh, healthy smoothies, but the ingredients and nutrition facts of many menu items say otherwise. Here, we break down what to look out for and what to order instead.

They’re not using real fruit.

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Most smoothie chains don’t advertise that they use whole, blended fruit in their smoothies, but the average consumer probably wouldn’t expect something labeled as a “fresh fruit smoothie” to be made with fruit syrups, purees, and juices from concentrate instead. Some smoothie chains even use fruit sherbert in place of actual fruit but don’t list it on their in-store menu. If they do tout using whole fruit in their smoothies, it’s often only one ingredient (such as bananas).

Jamba Juice recently came under fire for its use of these processed fruit products, as a major health-advocacy group filled a class-action lawsuit against the company for deceptive marketing schemes. The Center for Science in the Public Interest claims Jamba Juice is tricking its consumers by advertising “whole fruit and vegetable smoothies,” when in reality, many of them aren’t made with any whole produce at all.  

Checking a smoothie chain’s website for a list of ingredients, rather than scanning an in-store menu, is the best way to determine if your favorite smoothie is actually made with real, whole fruit or should just be considered dessert instead.

There’s a ton of added sugar.

Kelsey Hansen

Besides all the sugar-laden syrups, purees, and juices used by many chains, additional sugar is also on the ingredient list. Sugar is typically one of the first ingredients listed for many smoothies, and it is often referred to as Turbinado. Turbinado is considered a more natural form of brown sugar, but is still sugar nonetheless. The popular Orange Julius chain even has an “Orange Julius Sweetener” added to many of their menu items, and it’s made with high fructose corn syrup.

You can usually ask for your smoothie without added sugar or Turbinado, but it really shouldn’t be there in the first place if the company boasts serving healthy smoothies. The yogurt used by many smoothie chains is also often a secret sugar-bomb, and it is worth asking if there’s a plain or lower-sugar option.

Watch out for the added dairy.

Anastasia Smanyuk

Most people blend their fruit smoothies with some milk-based product at home, but many smoothie chains use much less nutritious forms of milk in their smoothies. Besides the previously mentioned high-sugar yogurt products used, frozen yogurt and sherbert are popular ingredients, and Smoothie King even uses ice cream in some menu items.

The first ingredient listed for a strawberry flavor of The Hulk, a Smoothie King menu item listed under “Fitness Blends,” is butter pecan ice cream, and additional sweeteners are still added here, with turbinado sugar listed as the fourth ingredient. An unsuspecting consumer might order this “Fitness Blend” smoothie, thinking it’s healthy, when really they would be better off ordering a strawberry milkshake from Chick-Fil-A as an occasional treat.

If possible, ask for your smoothie to be blended with milk and frozen bananas, or plain yogurt rather than frozen yogurt, for a healthier option that’s still just as creamy.

What to Order Instead

We searched the menus and nutrition facts to find the healthiest options and worst offenders on the menus of five popular smoothie chains. Here are our picks:

Orange Julius

What to Order: Triple Berry Light (160 Calories; 38g Sugar for a Small)

While none of the chain’s smoothies are impressive by our health standards, ordering a “Light” version of one of their fruit smoothies is the healthiest option at Orange Julius. This flavor doesn’t have the additional sweeteners, but it’s worth noting it’s not made with real fruit.

What to Avoid: The Julius Original line

These blended drinks have tons of additives and over double the calories of the light fruit smoothies. You’d honestly be better off having a scoop of ice cream as a treat.

Jamba Juice

What to Order: Kale-Ribbean Breeze (320 Calories; 48g Sugar for a Small)

The Whole-Food Nutrition and Fruit & Veggie lines of smoothies are the healthiest items on Jamba Juice’s menu. While a sugary juice blend is the first ingredient in this smoothie, the rest of the ingredients—such as kale, mango, nonfat greek yogurt, and chia seeds—are wholesome.

What to Avoid: Strawberry Surf Rider

While you can probably guess the “Creamy Treats” line and flavors like “Cookies & Creme” don’t stack up nutritionally, this smoothie is a sneaky sugar bomb. It is made with both lemonade and sherbet, packing 70 grams of sugar in a small.

Smoothie King

What to Order: The Activator Strawberry Banana (270 Calories, 32g Sugar for a Small) Strawberries, bananas, coconut water, and a protein blend are the only ingredients listed in this smoothie, making it an impressively healthy option. It is also lower in sugar than many other fast-food smoothie options.

What to Avoid: ALL of The Hulk smoothies should be avoided.

Some of these flavors have over 100 grams of sugar and over 600 calories for a small size. Even if you are looking to bulk up or gain weight, eating whole foods is a much healthier way to go.

Interested in making your own smoothies at home?

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

What to Order: Detox Island Green (180 Calories; 29g Sugar for a Small)

Ask for this smoothie without added sugar, with dates, or with extra banana for a more nutritious sweetener. While we aren’t able to determine how much whole fruit is used in Tropical Smoothie’s menu items, this is definitely the healthiest option.

What to Avoid: Bahama Mama (500 Calories: 110g Sugar for a Small)

This item may look like your ordinary fruit smoothie, but for some reason, white chocolate is one of the ingredients. This smoothie has more than triple the recommended daily limit for sugar intake. Yikes.

Planet Smoothie

What to Order: Nutty Brazilian (350 Calories; 23g Sugar for a Small)

With three ingredients—acai, bananas, and peanut butter—this is a healthy option to order, and it packs in some protein to keep you full. There are even seven grams of fiber in this smoothie, which is better than most fast-food options. Most items from their “Protein” line also stack up well for those looking for a post-workout meal.

What to Avoid: The “Planet Favorites” line.

These smoothies do stack up better than most chains when it comes to sugar content, however, they are all made with either sherbet and frozen yogurt and should be seen as a treat.

The Bottom Line

Photo: Rachel Johnson

We're not telling you to ditch your smoothie habit—especially if you would choose fast food or nothing to eat otherwise. However, we are encouraging you to do some investigating on your favorite menu items and find the healthiest option for yourself.

You will also save calories, sugar, and money by making your own smoothies at home. You can add smoothie prep into your weekly meal prep session or whip up the Ultimate Healthy Breakfast Smoothie whenever you want to boost your nutrition for the day.

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