When I was in high school (back in the ‘90s…ahem) grabbing a smoothie or a fruit juice was the healthy craze. I remember leaving swim practice or the gym and feeling so healthy when I picked up my blended ‘fruits’. Flash forward 20 years and we are still crazy about smoothies and juices. Although our brands, equipment and ability to make juice at home has become more advanced, our understanding of the health benefits (and disadvantages) may not have progressed.
The goal of this blog is to let you know that not all juices or smoothies are created equally. After reading this, I hope you feel more confident when spending $5-$10 on a specialty drink.
There are many benefits of fresh juice:
• It can be tasty and refreshing
• Include vegetables and fruits when they are otherwise hard to fit in daily
• Provide a break for your digestive tract, especially when it is healing
• Increase the absorbency of nutrients from fruits and veggies
Juices have great advantages and are jam-packed with nutrients, but they can also be jam-packed with sugar. Yes, it is sugar from fruit, but too much of a good thing can still be too much.
Fructose is the sugar in fruit (it is also an overly manufactured sugar in processed items – high fructose corn syrup. More on that later). As humans were evolving, fruit was not as accessible as it is in our modern world. Our bodies aren’t designed to have an abundance of it. In addition, fructose is actually processed in a different way than other sugars. We process it through the liver. When consuming large fruit juices and smoothies, the organ can become overwhelmed and convert the sugar to liver fat instead, causing such problems as insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes or heart disease.
Fructose naturally comes in a package that also contains fiber. Fiber helps slow the digestion and absorption of sugar, therefore managing the ‘sugar load’. In addition to helping regulate blood sugar levels, fiber is important for regularity, managing cholesterol, lowering risk of heart disease, among other benefits. When we juice our fruits, we are getting concentrated fructose without the benefits of the fiber, because we are literally stripping the fiber out. Think about it this way: have you ever juiced apples or oranges for a full glass of juice? How many pieces of fruit did it take to fill your glass… a lot right? Would you be able to eat that same amount of fruit in its whole form? I haven’t yet had someone answer yes. The reason is that your body registers the nutrients, calories, and fiber, and in turn sends you signals that you have had enough, you are full, and can stop now. When drinking fruit juice, in the absence of the fiber, you bypass those signaling mechanisms and processes.
Cons of juices:
• Fruits and vegetables are stripped of fiber
• Too much sugar
• Increased propensity for sugar cravings
• It’s expensive
• More food waste
Now vegetable juice is a bit of a different story. Many of us don’t get the number of vegetables that we need to consume each day. Vegetable juice helps us to obtain important vitamins and minerals that are vital to our health. There is a disadvantage though; you are still losing the fiber in the juicing process. Remember what we discussed about fiber above? It’s just as important coming from vegetables. You don’t have to ditch your juice. I love a green juice from time to time, but I recommend you also concentrate on chewing your green, red, purple, and orange veggies.
How to Choose a Juice:
• Choose low-glycemic vegetable juice or ‘green juice’. These vegetable juices have a smaller portion of fruit, no more than ½ to 1 piece of small fruit. Make sure to drink it soon after you buy it and even sooner after you open it. Juice loses its integrity quickly.
Juices I love (local to North County San Diego):
• Beaming Café: Balanced Green, Elevate, Pure Green
• Choice Juicery: Truly Madly Green, Choice Greens
• Nektar: The Greenie
I recently had a client come to me that was not losing a single pound with exercise and his ‘healthy diet’. First, we reviewed his dietary intake; he was happy to tell me that he orders a medium kale smoothie every day. I asked the name of the smoothie and where he gets it. We looked at the nutrition information together online. He was shocked; the smoothie has 67 grams of sugar! The American Heart Association recommends no more than 38 grams of sugar a day for males and 25 grams a day for females. So this client was blowing all his hard work out of the water with his ‘healthy’ snack. He replaced the smoothie with low-sugar, balanced and filling snacks. And surprise, surprise- he started losing weight pound by pound! This smoothie wasn’t the only culprit, but a significant contributor, along with other misleading ‘healthy foods’.
Again, not all smoothies are created equal. I make a smoothie for breakfast about 4 days a week. I aim to make smoothies that have plenty of fiber, fat, healthy carbs, a serving of fruit and about 2 servings of vegetables. Choosing a balanced smoothie is the key! The benefit of a smoothie over a juice is that you keep the fiber, you have less waste and less clean up.
Ingredients to avoid in smoothies:
• Flavored yogurt
• Too many servings of fruit, especially high-glycemic fruits
• Dates (don’t use more than 1)
• Sugars or ‘Sweeteners’ (ex: agave, syrup, molasses, cane sugar, etc.)
Let’s discuss the ingredients in your smoothie. First, is it a meal replacement or a snack? If it’s a snack, you want to make sure it doesn’t have as many calories as a meal, but it should still be balanced. When making a smoothie as a meal, it’s even more important that it’s balanced, and this is a great opportunity to include more healthy goodies.
• Balance your smoothies with protein, a healthy fat, a little fruit and at least one serving of vegetables.
• Choose your liquid. The lower the sugar content, the better. Personally, I prefer unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk. Whatever fluid you use, check the sugar content!
• Include a protein. When I start my smoothies, I ask myself… ‘Self, what will be your source of protein?’ For protein, I usually use Designs for Health PaleoMeal or pea protein powder.
->Tip: you don’t always have to use the whole scoop. Sometimes I want to save my calories for other goodies, or the smoothie is just a small snack. Protein powders typically have about 100+ calories in one scoop, so you can save calories by using only half.
• You can add healthy fat. A healthy fat will keep you satisfied longer and will help balance your blood sugar. As far as fat in my smoothie, I like to add a teaspoon or two of coconut oil, flaxseeds or ¼ avocado. When I want texture in my smoothie, I will throw in some almonds or cashews, which also add to the protein count.
• Choose low-glycemic fruits such as berries: blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. If I want a banana flavor, I add ½ a banana. Since bananas are a large fruit, 1 whole banana can have 15+ grams of sugar. If using a high sugar or tropical fruit, use a smaller portion. Remember: you don’t always have to include fruit!
• Veggies! I like to add spinach to my smoothies. Why? Because the taste is subtle and you can pack a lot in. Other veggies you can add: kale, chard, beets, zucchini, and tomatoes. Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes are tempting too, just remember that starchy vegetables are metabolized like a simple carb. ½ cup is a serving size.