Jamba Juice works to make smoothies more healthful

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When smoothies began appearing on menus at McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks, Jamba Juice began working to differentiate its brand.

Smoothies have gotten a bad reputation lately for being high in sugar and not always made with fruit.

James White, chief executive of Jamba Juice parent Jamba Inc., has been working on the 750-unit smoothie chain’s menu over the past two years to position the brand as a more healthful alternative.

This summer, Jamba Juice launched a “Make It Light” option for its 10 classic smoothies, which cuts calories, sugar and carbohydrates by a third. The “Make It Light” version replaces the nonfat frozen yogurt or sherbet used in classic smoothies with a lower-calorie dairy base sweetened with Splenda.

A 16-oz. classic Banana Berry smoothie, for example, has 270 calories and 57 grams of sugar. The Make It Light version, however, has 170 calories and 32 grams of sugar.

The menu has also been diversified over the past couple of years to include options like All Fruit smoothies; Fruit & Veggie blends that include nutrient-rich vegetables like spinach, kale and beets; fruit-and-yogurt parfaits with no frozen yogurt or sherbet; functional smoothies with additions like probiotics or protein; and fresh-squeezed juices and juice blends.

In May, Jamba created a new Healthy Living Council of nutritionists and dietary experts to help the brand evolve with more healthful offerings, as well as educate consumers and work with schools on healthy living and anti-obesity efforts.

One of those nutrition experts is Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association who has written several books, including “MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better.”

Ward spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the evolution of Jamba Juice’s smoothies.

Smoothies have been criticized by dietitians in recent years. How do you see that reputation changing?

There’s been a big evolution of smoothies, from something regarded as a treat to what Jamba is trying to do, to make it a drink that delivers good nutrition on many levels. The Healthy Living Council is helping the company make even more of a transition — they’ve already made huge strides — but to make it even better and to respond to what people want. Making something with fewer calories is great, but you also need to look at what else is in there, like higher protein content or the vitamins and minerals that are delivered in these drinks. The focus is on what can I get in that cup, and that’s where Jamba is going.

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