On Green Juices & Smoothies

Pumpkin Kale Green Monstah - greenmonstermovement.com

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.

Next!

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.

Yoga/beauty/greens,

Kait xo

P.S.  If you want to read more about digestion, here are some great user-friendly resources.

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.

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6 thoughts on “On Green Juices & Smoothies

  1. oOOOO this is so interesting! I definitely see both sides, but don’t know enough to have my own opinion. Your thoughts were really great to read, though. So, I just bought a new Vitamix (Since mine broke) and I want to start using it for juice. I never used my old one for juice, but looking at the new recipe book that came with the new blender had me really excited to try my hand at using it as a juicer! I like the idea of replacing my coffee crutch with juice.. even if just a few days a week. Maybe wean myself off slowly? 😉 Does not help that Marshall just got me a mini French press for the office, haha. Anyway, when you juice w/ the Vitamix, it is the whole food, not eliminating the fibers. What are your thoughts on that? Better/worse than using a juicer? Would be really interested to hear your thoughts! Thanks for always informing me, you are full of great information!! xo

    • Thanks! I totally got this mid-pity party (detox effects UGH) and it made my afternoon. 🙂

      I had weaned myself off coffee a while ago and was just doing tea so my transition to green smoothies was a little easier. But definitely wean! I’d suggest starting with Ang’s basic green monster (greenmonstermovement.com). I’ll be posting my new fave combo on Thursday when I do my Project: Food Budget post but it’s definitely more green and less fruity. Tehe

      IMO, smoothies are better (and more budget-friendly, so I may be biased!) but I do think both have their advantages. Unless the Vita has a crazy attachment that removes the pulp, then you wouldn’t really be juicing but actually blending and therefore keeping all the fiber. That being said, I still think maintaining Kris’ ratio of 3 veggies: 1 fruit serving is optimal to prevent spikes in blood sugar.

      Another thing to consider (which I didn’t explore here but may in a future post) is that just as all the nutrients get absorbed more quickly, so does all the other stuff. So while my focus is primarily on vitamins and minerals, fats, carbs, etc will also be getting absorbed more quickly and, likely, stored rather than used up. If you use something like kale in a smoothie, you’re absorbing the following (for 1 cup):

      33 cal, og fat, 7 g carbs (1 fiber), 2g protein, 206% vit A, 134% vit C, 9% calcium, and 6% iron.

      I medium banana, on the other hand, hits you with the following:

      105 cal, 0 fat, 27 g carbs (3 fiber, 14 sugar), 1 g protein, 2% vit A, 17% vit C, 1% calcium, and 2% iron.

      I think its pretty obvious which one is better in terms of getting only what you want.

      Lastly, I think the inclusion of any greens into your diet is a positive one. If drinking smoothies means you lower your coffee intake and up your veggie intake: I’d say that’s a win! Just be mindful of what you’re putting into it because its easy to get heavy handed with fruit/nut butters/etc and before you know it you’re sucking back 600cal in a matter of minutes!

      xo

      PS my fave dessert smoothie is HH’s Green Goddess (http://happyherbivore.com/2011/08/green-smoothies/) I get very very heavy-handed with the cocoa powder.

      • I already drink green protein shakes almost daily, using spinach or kale, one fruit, almond milk, ice, and protein powder.. so the switch to fruit and vegetable blends without the protein powder shouldn’t be too tough. after my colonic yesterday, I have been looking into food combining and WOW, there is a lot out there on that, and maybe it is what i need. Who knows, I am a total experiment haha. Anyway, thanks for the reply and I will keep the 3:1 ratio in mind when I make blended juice this week! Oh and we finally watched fat sick and nearly dead last night. Good stuff! XOXO

    • I hate how it doesn’t let you reply past 4 levels. Argh.

      Anyway…I didn’t know you drank smoothies daily already so sorry for my blathering! Kris talks about food combining in CSD and I’ve been trying to (loosely) follow the basic rules. Not sure if I’ve seen a change yet but its only been a couple of days and I don’t have long-standing digestive issues.

      Also, HOW WAS THE COLONIC?! I expect a blog post b/c I am terrified to do one but really want to. And I’m so glad that I can say that to you without judgement. 😉

  2. oh Lordie, I’ve been wanting to dig out my blender for weeks and try some green smoothies!

    I’m not a big juicing fan, as you said, especially for fruit and even for other sweeter veggies like carrots. I don’t know enough about juicing greens, but I’m learning. It does make sense if it’s a real green veggie, but to me, it seems like wasting.

    When I see some of those juicers and the amount of food that needs to be inserted for just a small glass, it’s yikes, so much.

    For me, I think smoothies would be the best.

    Oh and I can’t believe some people can be so abusive with their comments, enough for her to have to pull the whole post down. Wow, but it doesn’t surprise me. People are animals sometimes!

    • There are actually a ton of ways to use the pulp (cooking/baking/composting) plus Kris recommends putting the food through twice to get the most. It takes ~1lb of food to make a cup of juice. Just think of all those delicious nutrients you are getting!!!!

      Like I said to Janetha – smoothies are the best bet for me right now. We’ll see what happens next…I’ve given up trying to guess (in a good way)!

      And yea…they got bad. She and I are friends so we had a nice intelligent side conversation about it but it caused a HUGE stir. Right now she needs to focus on the fact that her 3rd cookbook deadline is in the not-so-distant future rather than on defending her views based on her mentor’s recommendations. People can be awful… 😦

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