I was walking around Boston yesterday, as I do most days, when I noticed something. Smoothie bars are popping up impressively fast in this city. Boston is not the only place. Jamba Juice added 508 new stores just this past fiscal quarter alone. In three months! These smoothie places offer what is perceived as a healthy, nutrient-packed, on-the-go beverage. And, let’s be honest, smoothies usually taste pretty damn good.
But really, smoothies are at the top of my health halo list. Health halos are foods that are perceived as being extremely healthy, even when they aren’t. Fruit? Good. Yogurt? Good. Juice? Eh, nothing I ever recommend but not terrible. But somehow, when you put them all together, bad things can happen.
Issue #1: Blended
I understand that being “blended” is kind of an inherent property of a smoothie but when foods are blended, you can eat/drink more. Would you eat 1 cup of yogurt, a banana, 1 cup of strawberries, 1 cup of orange juice, 1 cup of soymilk, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and ¼ cup of oats all at once? Possibly. However, more likely the volume of all that food would be far too much. When those same ingredients are blended, the volume decreases and you can fit more of it into your stomach. How about eating all those foods in addition to a meal. Smoothies, while they often contain the calories of a meal, are often consumed as a beverage in addition to a meal. A double-whammy you aren’t necessary aware of.
Issue #2: Sugar
Currently public enemy number 1. People will say “but I make smoothies without any added sugar!” That is great, but fruit, juice, yogurt, and milk all have naturally occurring sugars. Let’s look at fruit. What makes the sugar in fruit a non-issue is that it contains fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar immensely. In a smoothie, the fiber is still present but it is pulverized (see issue of “blended” above) so your body doesn’t have to do any work to digest it. It essentially negates the benefits of fiber in fruit. As a result, you get a much quicker and larger blood sugar spike drinking juices and pureed fruits. Bottom line: EAT your fruit. Fruit is extremely healthy and should be eaten daily, but I would avoid predigesting it with a blender.
Issue #3: Carbohydrate Heavy
Carbs are not bad and I’m definitely not anti-carb in the slightest. I am, however anti “carbs eaten alone”. Why? Because carbohydrates quickly impact blood sugar, raising insulin, stimulating fat storage, and then dropping blood sugar making you hungry again. However, protein and fat have the great effect of seriously blunting this response. Your blood sugar stays more stable, meals are more satiating, and everyone is happy. Traditional smoothies are basically all carbohydrates. If you’re drinking a smoothie as a meal, add in protein and fat please. Peanut butter, chia seeds, hemp seeds, protein powder….all excellent blended into a smoothie. If drinking with a meal, I hope you have a balanced plate 🙂
Issue #4: Portion Size
Like most things in America, portion sizes of smoothies are way too big. Period. No one needs a 64 oz smoothie in his or her life. It is excessive in calories, sugar, and price. Look for no more than 8oz as a beverage and 16oz as a meal.
I don’t really get the smoothie thing. I like food way too much to blend it all up. It takes the joy out of eating! Nevertheless, I get that people like a convenient, fast, nutrient-packed option. Like most things, smoothies CAN be healthy if done right. By that, I mean made at home, including healthy fat and protein, and limited in portion size and added sugar.
Have a wonderful Monday 🙂
Just Curious: What is your favorite, healthy smoothie recipe?