Are Smoothies Good For You?
There is a lot of controversy surrounding smoothies. Experts are on both sides of the table, some saying yes smoothies are good for you and some saying no, they are bad for you. So how do you know which expert is right? Are smoothies good for you or are they just another junk food in disguise?
This post is about the pros and cons of smoothies and how to make good tasting, good for you smoothies while avoiding or minimizing the negatives of this delicious way to get your daily servings of fruits and veggies.
To find out what blender is best suited to your smoothie making needs, read my blender review pages:
What is a smoothie anyway?
A smoothie is a thick, blended drink made from ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, water or other liquid, ice, and/or sweeteners.
Did you spot the obvious “bad” ingredient? Yes, “sweetener” is the obvious one, not that all sweeteners are bad, but what else could be considered not so good?
What Makes Smoothies “Good” For You?
Let’s start with what makes smoothies good for you. Well, there aren’t many ingredients.
Water and ice are good, as long as they are not contaminated. Doctors and other professionals tell you to drink plenty of water during the day.
Instead of water, you can substitute a dairy-free alternative such as soy or almond milk, natural or flavored yogurt, low-fat coconut milk or coconut water, all good for you.
Vegetables are a good source of:
- Potassium – potassium can help maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Fiber – dietary fiber from vegetables has a positive effect on blood cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of heart failure.
- Folate (folic acid) – folate (folic acid) helps the body form healthy red blood cells.
- Vitamins A, E, and C.
To summarize, eating a diet rich in vegetables reduces the risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
What Makes Smoothies “Bad” For You?
Only two more ingredients left, sweeteners and fruit.
Let’s take the easy one first. The “bad” side of smoothies has two categories, natural sugars, and artificial sweeteners.
There are three types of sugar:
- Sucrose (A combination of Fructose and Glucose) – table sugar is sucrose.
- Honey – contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products. A slow rise in blood sugar is preferable to a sharp spike, especially for diabetics. Honey is relatively high in calories (21 calories per teaspoon) in comparison to other sweeteners.
- Agave nectar – doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as honey, but it contains approximately the same amount of calories. Agave, however, is sweeter than sugar, so you may be able to use less to get similar sweetness.
- High-fructose corn syrup – contains fructose and glucose. Many products like soda, cereal, and yogurt contain corn syrup because it’s cheaper than sucrose and has a longer shelf life.
- Stevia leaf extract – comes from the stevia plant. Also called rebiana, it is a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. Stevia has zero calories and is sweeter than sugar so you can use less to get the same sweetness.
- Acesulfame potassium (Sweet One)
- Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
- Neotame – is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar. The same company that makes aspartame also makes neotame.
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Sugar alcohols (Sorbitol, Xylitol, Mannitol)
All of the above natural or artificial sweeteners are not “bad” for you in the sense that they are unhealthy or cause cancer or other diseases or have dangerous side effects. However, the amount of sugar in our diets has constantly increased over time. This increase has led to a rise in obesity and diabetes in our society. Sugar is addictive and the more you consume the more you desire. Hence the popularity of highly sweetened products in the marketplace.
The solution is to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet.
That brings us to the final ingredient in smoothies, fruit. So why have I placed it in the “bad” category? No, it is not that fruit contains sugar. The high sugar content in fruit is balanced by the fact that fruit also contains large amounts of important nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals and various antioxidants and phytonutrients. The majority of studies suggest that eating plenty of fruit benefits your health rather than harms it.
However, there are several problems with fruit:
One is that people think that if an apple or orange is good for you, then if you don’t have an apple or orange handy, why not throw some commercially prepared fruit juice into your smoothie? The reason is that fruit juice, without the pulp, is just sweetened water. You might as well just add a couple of spoonfuls of table sugar into your otherwise healthy smoothie.
Whole Fruit vs Fruit Juice
Another problem is that drinking liquified fruit from a blender, even with all of its fiber included, is quicker than eating the fruit. This puts the sugar into your system faster and will thus raise blood sugar levels faster. The energy is burnt off faster so you get tired sooner.
Chewing and digesting raw fruit leads to eating less. Your body has time to send the fullness signal to the brain to stop you eating more. With raw fruit digesting in your tummy the feeling of fullness lasts longer than if you drink fruit in liquid form.
Also, consuming large amounts of fruit can add a lot of calories to your diet. If you are trying to drink smoothies as part of a reduced-calorie diet, use more vegetables and fewer fruits to keep the calorie count lower.
Conclusion – Should I Drink Smoothies Or Not?
By all means, make and drink those delicious smoothies. However, here are some tips to keep them as healthy as possible:
- Use water, milk, almond milk, soy milk, natural or flavored yogurt, low-fat coconut milk or coconut water as the base liquid – don’t use fruit juice!
- Use vegetables as the primary ingredient – green, yellow, orange or red is your choice but the fresher the better. Out of season, it is fine to use dried or frozen but remember that every step in processing raw products loses a bit of the nutritional value.
- Make a variety of smoothies, there are plenty of choices and each different ingredient adds a different nutrient, vitamin, anti-oxidant, mineral, etc. Also, with variety, you will never get tired of making and enjoying smoothies.
- Add raw fruit as the sweetener, not the primary ingredient. Avoid using sugar or sugar substitutes and remember, fruit juice is just high calorie, sweetened water so don’t use fruit juice!
- Avoid commercially made smoothies. They are high in calories and are often made with artificial ingredients to increase shelf life. Make your own.
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