Green smoothies are everywhere. My Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter news feed is full of them. I wake up, log into Facebook and see 10 posts in the space of 3 finger scrolls outlining the benefits of green smoothies. Every cafe now offers a green smoothie of some sort on their menu.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against them, I drink them. They are a great way to boost your veggie intake and prevent filling up on less healthful foods.
They aren’t bad for you (unless they start to replace meals), but I just don’t think they are as nutritionally amazing as their reputation (and price tag) has made them out to be.
So let’s have a look at the pros and cons of the popular green drink.
There are just a couple of gripes that I need to get out of the way…
- They are a nutrition trend.They have become a little bit of a status symbol now to show one’s level of commitment to health. It’s almost like you’re not healthy unless you turn up to work having downed your green smoothie before coming in the door. This isn’t to say that anyone who drinks a green smoothie is simply trying to be trendy, but it’s highlighting the fact that just like fashion trends such as high rise jeans, jeggings and tie dyed t-shirts, the nutrition world also follow similar waves of trends. There’s no need to feel guilty if you can’t stand the thought of downing a green smoothie as there are many other ways to maintain a healthy diet. Just like if you don’t like wearing high waisted jeans, you don’t have to.
- It’s almost become a competition as to who owns the most expensive, eco-friendly juice press, blender or smoothie maker. Food and diet should never ever be turned into an elitist activity…ever.
- They are being used to replace meals. They should never substitute a well-rounded, nutritionally complete breakfast, lunch or dinner. Use green smoothies to top up your green veg intake, not to replace a well balanced meal.
- They aren’t a good source of calcium, contrary to the info you see floating around the net. Three handfuls of spinach thrown into your smoothie each morning won’t give you the calcium hit you may be searching for. The oxalates in spinach inhibit the absorption of calcium. So, the calcium (which people incorrectly claim is super high in spinach) won’t get absorbed anyway. Nor will the calcium that you just paid a heap of money to be fortified into your almond, oat or soy milk that you just added to your smoothie. And if you are making your own nut milk which is very low in calcium (because it hasn’t been fortified) then you definitely aren’t boosting your bones.
- They are a liquid meal. Our intestines and stomachs are a muscle, just like our biceps. If we don’t use it, we lose it and if all we put through our intestine and stomach is a liquid which requires no churning or squeezing, we will lose the muscle tone and ability to do this with solid food. This means, it can be difficult to digest foods and become uncomfortable.
- They deliver the sugars too quickly. Our body has a very complex system where our digestion (through enzymes and chewing) breaks down the cell walls of fruit and vegetables to release the lovely natural sugars within the cell. This starts from the mouth, to the stomach and through the intestines. These sugars from the cells of fruit and veg are then transported across the intestinal wall and absorbed into the blood, timed at the perfect speed. The problem with juices and green smoothies is that the blender breaks down the fibrous cell walls that contain the lovely natural sugars. The body does not have to take time and work hard to do this. As a result, the sugars are dumped straight into our intestine and go straight across into our blood at a very fast rate. We then get a dump of the sugars into the blood and our blood sugar levels take a huge rise and insulin is released. They then take a very sharp and drastic fall, and this dip in blood sugar levels can make you feel tired and spaced out and can play havoc on health. Normally, fibre helps to slow this blood sugar spike and the following dip because the body works hard to break the cell walls down and the sugars are slowly released. Unfortunately when you are having juices and green smoothies, the fibre is broken down by the blades and therefore not performing its role – to slow that rate of absorption and therefore prevent a huge blood sugar and insulin spike.
- They are green. The number of friends I have that sip their green smoothie while hating every moment of it is amazing. To me, it’s just not worth the torture. If you don’t like the taste, eat a plate of delicious veges instead.
- Raw foods aren’t necessarily better than cooked. Minerals aren’t damaged by heat – calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, iodine to name a few. Vitamin K, which is found in green leafy vegetables, particularly kale, (often the staple green smoothie ingredient) is not affected by heat either. In fact, studies have found greater amounts of antioxidants in some cooked vegetables than raw vegetables. Cooked steamed carrots in particular contain higher levels of beta carotene (which gets converted in the body to Vitamin A) than raw carrots.
- Some phytochemicals become more bioavailable through the cooking and heating process.
- The green smoothies contain mostly vegetables which means very little protein. Protein builds muscle, bone, new cells and helps to keep you full.
- You can’t live off fruit and vegetables alone. You need good fats and protein
And then there’s the positives:
- They are a great way of increasing your vegetable intake. When only 5% of Australian adults (yes, only 5%) are consuming the recommended 5 serves of vegetables and fruit a day, they are a great way to boost your intake
- They are loaded with fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which assist in overall health and general wellbeing
- They are portable, making them easy to drink for busy people
- Easy to make
- Great way to use up left over bits and pieces from the bottom of the crisper which would normally get thrown in the bin and contribute to our burgeoning food waste issue
- They are easy to involve children in the process of making, and educating about vegetables (but should never replace a meal or snack for children as they are too low in calories for their growing bodies).
- A good option as a snack if you are consuming too many calories for your needs and trying to cut down in order to increase improve your health
The verdict: If you love them, great but don’t feel ‘pressured’ into having green smoothies if they are not your thing. Simple fruit and vegetables are also a fabulous way to stay healthy.
And before anyone gets their knickers in a knot (which often happens) this article is not claiming that anyone who drinks green smoothies is silly, or following a food fad 🙂 It’s simply highlighting the pros and cons.
The Nutrition Guru is a university qualified Nutritionist, keen cook and all round myth buster, renowned for a no -nonsense approach to nutrition. She cares passionately about advocating for a fear-free way of eating while providing credible and up to date nutrition information without the need for food fads.
While you are here, you may wish to take a peek at my article outlining the facts about coconut oil and why I haven’t listened to all it’s hype.