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Although they share a few characteristics, smoothies and shakes, also known as milkshakes, are not the same because they usually have strikingly different health benefits, ingredients, nutritional qualities, flavors, looks, and tastes.
Moreover, you’ll find there are precise times of the day better suited for smoothies rather than shakes, and vice versa.
Yet, when you can’t tell the difference between a smoothie and a shake, you become unable to get the right kind of drink for your needs.
To clear the smoothie vs shake confusion and help you spot each of them, we put these two kinds of drinks head-to-head and pointed out their differences.
Some of the differences between smoothies and shakes, or milkshakes, are highlighted by their dictionary definitions.
Shortly said, the difference between a smoothie and a shake stands in their ingredients. While smoothies contain mostly fruits and vegetables and have a water base, shakes contain mainly milk and ice cream, which are also their usual liquid bases.
This is not to say that smoothies can’t have milk in them or shakes can’t contain fruits.
Nevertheless, a smoothie that has more milk than fruits and vegetables is no longer a smoothie but a shake. Vice versa, a shake that contains more fruits than milk or ice cream is no longer a shake but a smoothie.
Oxford English Dictionary, one of the most reputable dictionaries in the world, contains the definitions of smoothies and shakes. Find the meanings of the two drinks below.
A smoothie is “a thick, smooth drink made of fruit and/or vegetables mixed with milk, ice cream, yogurt or fruit juice.”
Source: Smoothie definition – Oxford English Dictionary.
Oxford English Dictionary
See the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of a smoothie.
A shake, or milkshake, is “a drink made of milk, and sometimes ice cream, with the added taste of fruit or chocolate, which is mixed or shaken until it is full of bubbles.”
Source: Shake definition – Oxford English Dictionary.
Oxford English Dictionary
As a recap, below is a smoothie vs shake comparison based on their definitions.
Smoothie characteristics based on its definition:
Shake characteristics based on its definition:
The ingredients used to make smoothies and shakes are similar but the quantity of each of them added into the blender makes all the difference.
To understand better, let's compare the methods of preparing smoothies and shakes.
To make either smoothies or shakes, all the equipment you need is a blender, and eventually a knife to cut down the ingredients before adding them in.
Then, whether you want to prepare a smoothie or a shake, you just need to add the ingredients in the blender and mix them together.
To obtain a smoothie, respect the following order of ingredients, keeping the first one as the main component:
If you're looking for a significant boost of calories in your smoothie, add to the mix any of the nuts and nut butters with the highest calories.
And in case you want to prepare smoothies that help you gain weight, learn how to make high-calorie smoothies, which are the best when it comes to increasing body mass.
Do smoothies have milk?
Smoothies can optionally have milk in their composition but it should be present in small amounts and not as a main ingredient.
To get a shake, respect the following order of ingredients, keeping the first one as the main component:
Tip: some examples of high-protein vegetables you can use in your shakes are beans and the sea vegetable spirulina.
Smoothie ingredients summary:
Shake ingredients summary:
Smoothies and shakes can have various nutritional characteristics, depending on the ingredients chosen to make them. You can definitely prepare low-calorie smoothies and shakes, but you can also make them reach an extremely high calorie level.
After all, the high-calorie smoothies and shakes count among the drinks with the most calories.
Smoothies generally, because they are based on fruits and vegetables, have more carbohydrates, sugar, vitamins, and minerals than shakes.
On the other hand, because they are based on milk, ice cream, and yogurt, shakes are richer in fats, saturated fats, and proteins.
As a result of having a more balanced macronutrient ratio, shakes are better than smoothies for general meal replacement. Still, smoothies are better for replacing muscle-building pre-workout meals.
The higher number of proteins found in shakes triggered the rise of the notion of protein shake.
Protein shakes are shakes that contain at least 20 grams of protein.
A protein timing study from the University of Birmingham showed that 20 g of protein is enough to help muscle growth.
American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism
Made at: University of Birmingham
See the study about the timing of protein ingestion.
As a side fact, protein shakes and smoothies are the most efficient weight gain foods for skinny females.
Since they generally have more proteins than smoothies, protein shakes can be a better choice if you are trying to build muscle. On the other hand, smoothies do a better job at energizing yourself because they are filled with carbs.
Smoothie nutrition summary:
Shake nutrition summary:
Since smoothies and shakes have different main ingredients, they have some distinct health benefits and drawbacks.
Keep reading to find out the good and the bad health effects of smoothies and shakes.
Drinking smoothies is a convenient way to add another portion of vegetables or fruits to your diet. As a result, your body will get extra vitamins and minerals.
Even though they don’t contain as many vitamins as smoothies, shakes, given their focus on dairy products like milk and yogurt, have a lot of calcium, a mineral that mainly strengthens your bones.
Another benefit of drinking smoothies is their energizing power. Because they are full of carbs and are easily digestible, smoothies provide an instant spike in blood sugar, increasing your energy level.
Meanwhile, since shakes can have a good number of carbs as well, they can pick you up from a lethargy as well, but shakes outshine smoothies is the protein department.
Milk, yogurt, and ice cream, the main ingredients of shakes, are rich in casein, a protein generally found in dairy products.
Therefore, shakes are more helpful than smoothies for building muscle.
Regarding similar health benefits, both smoothies and shakes can help you gain, maintain, or lose weight, depending on your fitness goals.
If you want to gain or maintain weight, you should focus on high-calorie smoothies and weight gain shakes. They are convenient, full of calories, and delicious.
Yet, don't forget to keep solid foods at the core of your weight gain diet. Here are a few solid weight gain ideas:
On the other hand, the best smoothies and shakes for losing weight are made with low-calorie foods as ingredients. Weight loss smoothies and shakes can help you stay filled without eating too many calories until your next meal of the day.
To get a low-calorie green smoothie, you can pick veggies from the list of low-calorie vegetables.
Smoothies’ health benefits summary:
Shakes’ health benefits summary:
Concerning health risks, smoothies can increase your blood sugar significantly because they are usually rich in carbohydrates. Therefore, especially if you suffer from diabetes, you need to check with your doctor before adding any kind of smoothie to your diet.
The usual high-carb content of smoothies combined with their acidic nature, and the enamel-eroding capabilities of vitamin C make smoothies a tough enemy for your teeth.
Smoothies, according to a Leeds Dental Institute study, are acidic and, therefore, have an erosive effect that can damage your teeth.
International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry
Made at: Leeds Dental Institute
See the study about the effects of smoothies on enamel erosion.
Shakes tend to have fewer carbs than smoothies, but, instead, they contain plenty of saturated fats, which may increase your risk of heart disease.
Saturated fat, according to the American Health Association, increase LDL cholesterol, which leverages the risk of heart disease and stroke.
American Health Association (AHA)
Another downside of drinking smoothies is that, in the process of blending the fruits and the vegetables used to prepare them, you lose some insoluble fiber.
As a result of breaking down the fiber with your blender’s blades, you lose some of the benefits of fiber, like improved bowel health and constipation prevention.
Having a smoothie is not the same as consuming whole fruits. Eating whole fruits and vegetables is generally better than blending them into smoothies because you keep both the soluble and the insoluble fibers intact.
Shakes can also affect gut health. Because they are most often made with dairy products, shakes can trigger an upset stomach, especially in people suffering from lactose intolerance.
Smoothies’ health risks:
Shakes’ health risks:
Smoothies and shakes, because of their different main ingredients, usually have distinct looks and flavors.
In terms of texture, smoothies are thinner than shakes because shakes have creamier foods, like milk, yogurt, and ice cream, as main ingredients. Still, smoothies are thicker than juice because they contain vegetable and fruit pulp,
Regarding taste, smoothies generally have a fruity or vegetable-like flavor. Some of the most popular smoothie flavors are banana, strawberry, and mango. Vegetable-only smoothies are generally less preferred because they are less sweet than fruity smoothies.
Fruity smoothies are naturally sweet. This characteristic usually eliminates the need to use sugary ingredients to sweeten smoothies, which cannot be said for shakes.
On the other hand, shakes often have flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, and coffee, but it’s normal to see shakes with fruity aromas too as long as fruits are secondary ingredients.
Concerning their looks, smoothies tend to have brighter, more vivid colors. On the flip side, shakes are usually less colorful than smoothies.
Smoothie look and taste summary:
Shake look and taste summary:
You can drink smoothies and shakes every day, during any time because they can work both as a snack and as a meal replacement.
Other meal replacement alternatives to smoothies and shakes are high-calorie bars.
When it comes to how often to consume smoothies and shakes, however, you should limit them so you get most of your calories from solid foods. Generally, you don’t want to drink more than 1-2 smoothies or shakes a day.
According to registered dietitian nutritionist Dora Okos-Rigo, you shouldn’t make a habit out of replacing your meals with smoothies and shakes.
Smoothies and shakes are at their peak nutritional quality the moment you are done making them. Therefore, the ideal time to drink smoothies and shakes is straight away.
You can, however, store them in the fridge for later consumption.
The shelf life of homemade smoothies and shakes depends on the ingredients you used in making them. Nevertheless, to ensure freshness you should drink them 24 hours after you’re done preparing them.
The above being said, during some times of the day, it may be better to consume a shake over a smoothie, or vice versa.
Smoothies, since they generally contain more carbs, are usually better than shakes if consumed as a pre-workout energy source.
Carbohydrate ingestion, according to an Auckland University of Technology analysis, improves performance in resistance training, like weightlifting.
Sports Medicine New Zealand
Made at: Auckland University of Technology
See the study about the effects of eating carbs on resistance exercise.
On the other hand, since shakes have more proteins than smoothies, shakes are the better alternative after workouts.
The International Sports Society recommends that you get 0.14–0.23 grams of protein per pound of body weight (0.3–0.5 grams/kg) as fast as possible post-workout.
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Made at: University of Oklahoma
See the International Society of Sports Nutrition's nutrient timing recommendation.
Smoothie timing summary:
Shake timing summary:
If you know the difference between smoothies and shakes, you shouldn’t assume everybody else does. Nowadays, many recipe makers, smoothie bars, restaurants, and fast-food chains confuse the two terms.
Therefore, you need to always make sure that what you’re getting is the drink that you want, whether that is a smoothie or a shake.
When you’re searching for smoothie or shake recipes, look at their ingredients and find out what are the main ones. If fruit or veggies are predominant, you bet that’s a smoothie. If the drink is mostly made of milk, yogurt, or ice cream, it is a shake.
When you buy a smoothie or a shake from a smoothie bar in a restaurant, like Smoothie King or Jamba, or a store, like Wawa, look at the ingredients they use or ask the personnel how are the drinks made.
Here are some questions you can ask in restaurants to find out if a drink is a smoothie or a shake:
Another good idea is to consult the restaurants' official websites for the nutritional information of their smoothies and shakes.
As a health warning, the smoothies and shakes that you order from smoothie bars, restaurants, and stores can have unhealthy amounts of sugar because they often add syrups and other sweeteners.
Ultimately, the healthiest smoothies and shakes are the ones that you make at home.
While smoothies have fruits or vegetables as main ingredients, frappes are shakes, meaning they contain milk, yogurt, or ice cream as core ingredients, that have ice.
Frappes, according to the Merriam-Webster definition of a frappe, are thick milkshakes that contain ice.
Slushies are quite different from shakes and smoothies. While shakes have milk, yogurt, or ice cream as main ingredients, and smoothies are based on fruits or vegetables, slushies are made just of flavored ice, usually fruity.
A slush, or slushy, according to the Merriam-Webster definition of a slushy, is a drink made of flavored ice.
Because juice is the result of squeezing fruits or vegetables out of their fibers, there are many differences between them and a smoothie or a shake.
Smoothies and shake have a better nutritional profile than juices because, during their preparation, the fibers in fruits vegetables are not completely stripped out.
Nevertheless, since smoothies have fruits or vegetables as main ingredients, they are more similar to juice compared to shakes, which are based on milk, yogurt, or ice cream.
To be noted that juice, compared to smoothies and shakes, lacks proteins and fats, and has a high number of carbohydrates.
Because malt is a shake made with malted milk powder, it presents pretty much the same differences versus smoothies as normal shakes do.
Since a smoothie bowl is a smoothie eaten from a bowl with toppings made of nuts, granola, and other add-ins, it differs from a shake pretty much as a normal smoothie differs.
While a fruit shake has fruits as a secondary ingredient, a fruit smoothie has fruits as a main ingredient.
For example, a mango shake should have far fewer mango than a mango smoothie.
Smoothies and shakes, or milkshakes, can make you gain weight by boosting your caloric intake. Therefore, if you drink them, it can be easier for you to stay on a daily caloric surplus, a necessary condition for gaining weight.
Nevertheless, whether you drink smoothies or not, you will lose weight if you are on a daily caloric deficit.
The main difference between smoothies and shakes, also called milkshakes, lies in their ingredient ratio. Simply said, smoothies are mostly made of fruits and vegetables, while shakes mainly of milk, yogurt, or ice cream.
Yet, a smoothie can have milk as an optional ingredient as long as it doesn't exceed the fruits and vegetables in the mix. Vice versa goes for shakes.
In terms of nutritional qualities, smoothies are generally higher in carbs, vitamins, and minerals, while shakes are richer in fats, proteins, and calcium.
Therefore, smoothies are better at energizing yourself, especially before workouts, while shakes will help you build muscle easier, especially if consumed post-workout.
Concerning health risks, smoothies and shakes each come with some risks, like spiking blood sugar or increased risk of heart disease, but they also have plenty of benefits.
Regarding looks and taste, shakes are thicker and less colorful than smoothies, which tend to have fruity or vegetable-like flavors.
Since you know all the differences in the smoothie vs shake debate, the next time you want to get any of these two drinks, you will know exactly what to look for.
Unfold Today has rigorous sourcing principles adhering to the top journalistic standards, so our writers always look for official, experienced, and first-hand sources. Read more about how we keep our content trustworthy and updated by reading our editorial process.
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