If you’ve been following my blog for any time now, you know my love for green smoothies. I was terrified of the electric green mixtures at first, but after my initial sip, I was hooked…not only on the taste (refreshing and somewhat sweet depending on what you add) but also on the way they made me feel: energized, vital. No caffeine needed.
Everything I knew about green smoothies, both from doing my own research and from personal experience, indicated they are healthy. So I kept right on making them, usually 32+ oz a pop! Then the wonderful Lindsay wrote a post about why she decided to stop drinking green smoothies and their counterparts, green juices. The post has since been taken down due to the overwhelming response and disrespect but I’ve summarized her points below.
According to Drs. Esselstyn (author, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease) and Campbell (author, The China Study), Lindsay’s very intelligent and influential mentors (whose expertise I highly value), our food needs to be chewed in order for its’ nutrients to be properly absorbed. The problem with making smoothies is that the blades of the blender tear up the leaves in a way that ruptures cell walls and changes the way our body responds. As for juices, the process removes all of the fiber and is therefore equivalent to drinking sugar straight.
You can imagine what the comment section looked like! I fell into the, “Are you effing kidding me?!” category, but wanted to examine that feeling a little more before contacting Lindsay (privately in a respectful manner since we’re friends). I soon realized that my anger was really just a defense mechanism against a way of life I had come to know and love (and believe to be healthy) being attacked. So I jumped into scientist mode and thought it through some more, leading me to the conclusion that this argument doesn’t really make sense based on the way our bodies digest foods. Let me explain further (emphasis added):
“Mechanical digestion happens in the mouth with the help of the saliva, teeth and tongue. It is the actual break down of food into smaller bits. This makes food easier to digest. […] After the food has been processed in the mouth, it is being swallowed. It passes the esophagus and goes all the way down to the stomach. In the stomach, the churning and grinding of the masticated food continues and this is still part of the mechanical digestion of the food we eat.”
As mechanical digestion occurs, “the chemical content of the food is extracted during the process. This is largely carried out […] by digestive enzymes which are enzymes that break down polymeric macromolecules into their smaller parts, so that they can be absorbed by the body.” Source
Chemical digestion occurs primarily in the intestines, where the chyme (the broken down food from mechanical digestion + the gastric juice it mixed with in the stomach) interacts with a ton of enzymes that break the food’s macromolecules (e.g. proteins) into their smaller parts (e.g. amino acids) so that they can then be absorbed through the walls of the intestines and into the body. The only chemical digestion that occurs in the mouth has to do with breaking down starches (carbs).
Since the primary role of our mouth is mechanical digestion, why should it matter whether I chew my food or the blender/juicer does? The food will still interacting with the enzymes in the mouth. Furthermore, wouldn’t soups made in the blender and other similar fare have the same fate? In this case, I’m going to respectfully say I disagree.
Let’s talk about this fiber thing. The point of juicing (according to proponents) is to remove the fiber from foods so their nutrients can be absorbed by the body more quickly. In short, the same argument used to support juicing is also used against it. Juicing essentially allows you to get more vital nutrients than would be possible through eating (it takes ~1lb of produce to make 1 c of juice) and doesn’t tax your digestive tract. The Drs don’t disagree with this, as is evident once we look at the sugar bomb comments. According to the Drs, one of the reasons smoothies/juices are bad for you is because the sugar hits your system more quickly. In other words, nutrients are getting absorbed faster. Yup, same argument, different point of view.
Whether a smoothie/juice is a sugar bomb, however, is totally dependent on what you are putting into it. If it is chock full of fruit then I totally agree with the Drs and would advise you to avoid it! If you have a choice between fruit juice and fruit, go with the fruit 100% of the time! With fruit, you absolutely want the fiber because it slows the body’s reaction (read: insulin release aka uptake of carbs based on how much sugar is in your bloodstream) to the natural sugars in it . I am by no means saying fruit is bad, just that it is 100% of the time better eaten whole. What about fruit smoothies? I’d still say go with the piece of fruit. Digestion has already begun by the time the smoothie enters your stomach, allowing the sugar to enter your system more quickly and at higher concentrations. Normally, nutrients enter your system slowly but surely (because mechanical digestion is a staggered process, with food moving from one part of the digestive tract to the other in carefully controlled stages) but if the digestion began outside of your body, then say hellllloooo to your sugar high!
As a side note, the idea of not using a ton of fruit is supported by many proponents of juicing/blending, including the faboosh Kris Carr who recommends a 3:1 veggie-to-fruit ratio. <–Did I really just use faboosh? That is what I get for writing while tired! Just go with it. 🙂
Anyone else feel like we’re running in circles?!
So that leaves us with veg-based juices and smoothies. To this I say: drink up!
If the reason smoothies & juices can be so harmful is because the nutrients are absorbed more quickly, then that very reason will lead to positive effects on our bodies so long as the nutrients we’re absorbing include little-to-no sugar. Don’t let your smoothies be sugar OR calorie bombs. Instead load them with greens, other veggies (*starchy veggies such as carrots and beets should be treated as fruit), and more greens! Let other foods such as fruits (preferably as low-GI as you can get), nut butters, protein powders, oils, and seeds (e.g. flax & chia) play minor supporting roles.
I hope I didn’t lose anyone with this long description! I had been contemplating this post but when the e-mails and fbook messages kept rolling in, I knew I needed to address it sooner rather than later.
One final word. I believe that we have to do what feels right in our bodies. I plan on exploring that topic more in a future post but to sum things up I truly feel that different bodies have different needs and no one dietary lifestyle fits all. Shockingly, I do have an idea about what all dietary lifestyles should include more and less of. Like I said, more on that to come.
P.S. If you want to read more about digestion, here are some great user-friendly resources.
- What is Chemical Digestion? LIVESTRONG
- Mechanical Digestion LIVESTRONG
- See how your digestive system works Mayo Clinic
P.P.S. For the ultimate guide to smoothies/juices and staying in the alkaline range (aka avoiding the sugar bomb), you’ll want this bad boy!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist. This is not medical advice but rather my personal opinions based on research I’ve done, content I’ve been taught, and my personal experiences. Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or regimen.