Why are smoothies only 1 of 5 a day?

Smoothies have become an increasingly popular way to get more fruits and vegetables into our diets. Packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, smoothies can be a nutritious addition to a healthy diet. However, many people are surprised to learn that a typical smoothie only counts as 1 serving of fruits and vegetables, not 5. This begs the question – why are smoothies only 1 of 5 a day?

What is a smoothie?

A smoothie is a blended drink made from fruits, vegetables, dairy products like yogurt or milk, juice, ice, seeds, nut butters, protein powders, or other ingredients. The ingredients are blended together into a smooth, drinkable consistency. Smoothies provide an easy way to increase fruit and vegetable intake by combining produce into one portable beverage. They come in many flavor combinations and can be customized to suit different tastes and nutritional needs.

Why do smoothies only count as 1 serving?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a standard serving size of fruits and vegetables is:

  • 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup of leafy greens
  • 1 medium fruit
  • 1⁄4 cup dried fruit
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruits/vegetables

When making a smoothie, people tend to add multiple servings worth of produce into one blended drink. However, the USDA specifies that no matter how much produce you add, a blended smoothie only counts as 1 cup equivalent from the fruit or vegetable group.

This is because when produce is blended, it changes the physical form of the fruits and vegetables. Blending ruptures cell walls and releases nutrients, altering the produce on a structural level. Even if you add 2 cups of spinach, 1 banana, 1 cup berries, and 1 cup yogurt to a smoothie, the finished product is still considered 1 blended serving.

Why not count all of the individual ingredients?

There are a few reasons why every ingredient in a smoothie does not get counted as an individual serving:

  • Portion sizes change when ingredients are combined and blended. The finished smoothie volume is not equal to the sum of its parts. Adding 2 cups of spinach to a smoothie does not result in 2 cups of smoothie – some volume is lost during blending. So the final volume of smoothie you consume likely does not match the total cups of produce that went into it.
  • Blending makes it difficult to differentiate individual ingredients. Smoothies create one homogenized final product where constituents become indistinguishable from each other. You cannot discern how much of each component you are eating with each sip.
  • Nutrients change with blending. The physical act of blending breaks down plant cell walls and releases nutrients. This changes the bioavailability of many compounds. So the nutritional value and health benefits of blended produce are not the same as intact produce in its whole form.

Due to these factors, nutrition experts advise counting a blended smoothie as 1 serving of fruits and vegetables, rather than tallying up the individual pre-blended ingredients. This standard provides consistency for counting smoothies in a healthy diet.

How to make a smoothie count as more servings

While smoothies on their own count as 1 of 5 a day based on typical serving sizes, there are ways to tweak your smoothie to make it “count” as more servings:

Use larger smoothie ingredients

Instead of diced fruit or loose leafy greens, use whole produce in your smoothies:

  • Blend in an entire apple, orange, or pear
  • Leave stems attached to strawberries or grapes
  • Use whole leaves of kale, chard, or lettuce

Leaving produce whole or in larger pieces provides visual cues about volume. It also slows blending, preventing excessive breakdown of plant cell walls. This helps preserve the physical integrity and nutritional value of individual ingredients.

Don’t over-blend

Blending too much ruptures produce cell walls and homogenizes ingredients. For a texture allowing you to identify individual components, pulse blend or hand stir after the initial blend. Stop blending when there are still visible fruit and veggie chunks in your smoothie.

Use thicker, slower-blending ingredients

Adding fat sources like avocado, nut butter, chia seeds, flaxseeds, or coconut milk will yield a thicker smoothie. The thickness slows down consumption so you feel fuller with smaller volumes. These fats also promote satiation and boost absorption of fat-soluble nutrients.

Keep servings small

Rather than one large smoothie, portion smoothie ingredients into two 8-12 oz servings. This prevents overconsumption in one sitting and provides two opportunities to count towards your daily produce goals.

Top with extra ingredients

Adding a spoonful of yogurt, granola, chia seeds, or shredded veggies on top of your blended smoothie can contribute additional servings of healthy foods.

How to count smoothies towards 5 a day

While a typical blended smoothie is 1 serving of fruits/vegetables, you can still count smoothies towards your daily 5 a day goal in a few ways:

Include smoothies as 1 serving

Treat your daily smoothie as 1 fruit/vegetable serving and build the rest of your 5 a day around it.

For example:

  • Breakfast: 1 banana berry smoothie
  • Lunch: Mixed greens salad with vegetables and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Dinner: 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts and 1 cup wild rice pilaf with cranberries and almonds
  • Snacks: 1 medium apple with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter

This sample menu includes the smoothie as 1 serving and reaches 5 total servings spread throughout the day.

Add smoothie boosters

Pack extra fruits/vegetables into your smoothie without over-blending:

  • Add a handful of spinach on top after blending
  • Top with fresh/frozen berries
  • Stir in diced mango, pineapple, or melon chunks
  • Mix in vegetable juice like V8 or tomato juice

Adding mix-ins contributes additional servings beyond the blended smoothie base.

Include produce-based snacks

Pair your smoothie with solid fruits, vegetables, or healthy dips for extra produce:

  • Apple slices with nut butter
  • Baby carrots and hummus
  • Celery sticks and guacamole
  • Cucumber rounds with Greek yogurt dip

Snacking on produce in addition to smoothies is an easy way to reach 5 total servings per day.

Maximize nutrition in smoothies

To get the most nutritional bang for your buck when blending smoothies:

  • Use primarily fruits/veggies, not just juice or milk
  • Include leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard
  • Add in omega-3 rich seeds like chia, hemp, or flax
  • Include healthy fats like nut butter or avocado
  • Use yogurt for protein and probiotics
  • Minimize added sugars by using naturally sweet ingredients
  • Blend to desired consistency but don’t over-blend
  • Enjoy immediately after blending for maximum nutrient retention

Making smart smoothie choices allows you to reap their full nutritional rewards. While they only count as 1 serving, smoothies can be a healthy, satisfying, and convenient way to get fruits and veggies in your diet when combined with other daily produce choices.


In summary, smoothies pack in an array of fruits and vegetables but typically only count as 1 of 5 recommended daily servings. Blending produces changes the physical structure and nutrient composition of ingredients. Standard serving sizes also decrease when combined together. To make the most of smoothies’ nutritional value, strategically pair them with other fruit and vegetable choices over the course of your day. With mindful preparation and realistic expectations, smoothies can be a tasty part of a diet rich in varied produce.

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