Hoppin’ On That Smoothie Bandwagon

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I don’t know if I’m just noticing it because I’m in the field, but people seem pretty nuts about smoothies and juicing over the last few years.  As a nutritionist and a cynic, I always thought the whole thing was pretty stupid.  And by whole thing, I mean just the juicing part of the thing.

The Smoothie vs. Juice Debacle

To be clear, the difference between a smoothie and a juice really lies in the type of machinery that you use to make each.  A lot of people will use the term “juice” when they’re really talking about a smoothie, but make no mistake: they are not the same thing. A smoothie is made in a blender-like contraption in which you put whole fruits, vegetables, nut butters, milk, seeds, water — really whatever you want, and hit frappe.  Smoothies are actually a great way to pack in lots of fruits and vegetables in their whole from to make for a very healthy treat.  Of course, you can make these unhealthy by adding sugary yogurts, not including a variety of fruits and vegetables, and not taking the macronutrient content of your smoothie into consideration with what you eat for the rest of the day.  It’s so easy to ruin a good thing.

Juices, on the other hand, are made when you extract the juice of a fruit/vegetable from the fibrous part of the plant.  And therein lies the problem: you’re removing the fiber.  In my experience as a nutritionist, fiber seems to be one of the most forgotten components of the diet.  People seem to wave off recommendations to eat more fiber like they’re trying to shoo away an annoying fly.  But it’s just so important.
Fiber does wonderful things for your digestive tract.  You can’t absorb fiber (if you could, our food supply would be a lot more calorically dense), but all the healthy little bacteria in your intestines love it, and when they digest it, they produce short chain fatty acids that are involved in protecting the colon from cancer.  And who doesn’t love cancer protection? Fiber also helps to reduce cholesterol and lower your risk for heart disease (which is why you’ll see that packages for foods like oats have the American Heart Association seal of approval for Heart Health).  It also helps to reduce belly bloat and increase feelings of satiety (fullness).  Bottom line, eat lots of fiber.
So back to my original point: juices extract the fiber.  In doing so, this creates a lot of waste, which is sad to see because all of that “waste” could be improving your GI and heart health. Additionally, because juices are devoid of fiber, people tend to over-drink them as well.  As I said, fiber helps you to feel full, and without that fiber, many of the body’s normal cues that tell it to stop eating don’t exist.  While juices are packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, they can also be pretty high in calories.
I’ve seen this happen numerous times: people start juicing as an addition to their regular diet.  They make no other changes, and they assume that they are doing something super healthy by juicing, but for some reason, they slowly start to put on weight. I think juices cause people to forget the basics of nutrition.  Fruits and vegetables DO have calories (I know, WHAT?!), and a serving of a whole fruit or vegetable is typically fairly low in calories because fiber and water make up the majority of the volume.  When you juice, though, you’re probably using 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables to make one juice.  Taken together, that adds up to a lot of extra calories.  Tack on all those extra calories to your normal diet, and you’ll start gaining weight.  So, this isn’t to say that juices in and of themselves are evil, because they are actually a really great way to get in A LOT of nutrients, but it’s all in how you use them.  And most people use them incorrectly.  The calorie issue is also present in a smoothie — however, because the smoothies have fiber, you typically can’t drink as much of a smoothie as a juice.  Plus, because they are thick (unlike a juice), it takes more time to drink one, so your stomach and brain have time to realize that you’re eating and send the signal to stop once you’re full.  Lastly, because of the fiber and anything you add to the smoothie (yogurt, nut butters, etc.), the smoothie can be hearty enough to replace a meal, so that you’re not actually adding calories to your day.
Here is a really amazing blog post from a Registered Dietitian about some of the problems with juice fasts/cleanses.  This lady totally speaks my language and she hits on a lot of the issues with the pseudo-science that abounds in popular culture and all over the internet.

30 Day Smoothie Challenge

What I’ve decided to do for May is simply to replace my breakfast with a smoothie everyday.  “How is this a diet?” you ask. It really isn’t, but it is a pretty big trend right now, particularly green smoothies.  With one of these breakfast smoothies, I average 4 servings of fruits/vegetables in a very portable, easy to consume “meal.” I really just want to see if I feel any different by adding this many servings of fruits and vegetables to my diet.

I’m 15 days in to the challenge, and I’ve started to get pretty creative with my smoothie skills.  Here are some of my criteria for this challenge:
-Every smoothie has to have at least one serving of vegetables
-Throughout the week, I have to drink smoothies that contain produce from a variety of different colors. Sometimes this means that all those colors go into one smoothie (i.e. mango, kale, and blueberries all in one). Other times it means that I’ll have a purple smoothie one day, an orange one the next, green on another day…etc. Eat the rainbow!
-Any “base” has to be unsweetened (i.e. unsweetened almond milk, plain coconut water, plain yogurt).  The fruits already have enough fructose to make the smoothies sweet. No need to add more.
-Every smoothie has to have a protein and/or a fat source.  Fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients (Vitamins A, D, E, K, and carotenoids).  Protein just makes it more well rounded, though I’m not too worried about the protein bit because I get enough protein in the rest of my diet. This typically means that I add some kind of nut butter, avocado, plain Greek yogurt, or a little olive oil to each smoothie.

At the end of the month, I’ll share some recipes of my favorite smoothies! And probably some of the failures too…

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