The Pros and Cons of Green Smoothies

  • Tara Andresen

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Green Smoothies: Is it Better to Drink Your Veggies?

Smoothies. Green smoothies. Are they the best thing since sliced bread, or just another attempt to trick you into buying a blender?

The Hamilton Beach Company started selling blenders in the 1930s. And by the end of the decade, health food stores were already selling freshly blended smoothies. These early smoothies were basically fruit, juice, and ice whizzed up in a blender, sometimes with a bit of ice milk to thicken things up.

By the 1970s, people were adding all sorts of things to their smoothies. Mixing in protein powders and vitamins that gained popularity thanks in part to the New Orleans-based franchise Smoothie King. The craze got so big that the big food companies started selling pre-packaged smoothies in supermarkets.

But with the new millennium came a new take on smoothies. A new take with a new color: green.

The idea was to make at least 40% of the smoothie with raw leafy green vegetables. Ingredients like:

  • spinach
  • kale
  • swiss chard
  • collard greens
  • celery
  • parsley
  • broccoli

You know, all the vitamin-rich veg that everyone’s supposed to eat — but so few actually do.

The health claims surrounding this new breed of smoothies run the gamut of well-wishes for good health. From weight loss to increased stamina, clearer complexion to cancer prevention, green smoothies have been offered up as a treatment to almost any ailment under the sun.

But what can they really do?

In the remainder of this piece, we’ll examine the pros and cons of green smoothies. If you’ve ever been tempted to ditch solid food for a liquid green diet, or even if you’re just looking for a healthier snack option, read on and see what the smoothie can — and can’t — do for you.

The pros of green smoothies

As you might expect, putting a bunch of wholesome, natural, raw ingredients into one convenient package can have a definite upside. So, let’s look at some of the good things about drinking smoothies first.

Convenient and portable

If you’re making your own smoothies at home, it’s simple enough to blend up a whole batch to save for later. This is convenient especially if you have a few people under one roof who want to share that goodness with you. And you can pour it into plastic bottles and take it on the go with you.

Nutritionally dense

Depending on the recipe you follow, you can get a lot of vitamins, minerals, and even protein all into one cup. If you put some thought into it, it’s a much more enjoyable alternative to taking supplements in capsule form.

High fiber

There’s a lot of fiber in a green smoothie, and that’s something your body needs. It can’t be digested, so your guts just push it on through to its final destination. Fiber is an essential part of keeping you regular.

Easy to mask bitter tastes

Some of the vegetables that go into green smoothies taste bitter. There’s no sugar-coating it. But there are some health-conscious solutions to this problem. Look for better tasting veg to mix in with the bitter stuff. When done right, the end product can taste surprisingly good.

Infinite variety

There are literally thousands of green smoothie recipes on the internet and in cookbooks. If you get tired of the same old smoothie, try something new. The smoothie as an art form and is open to spontaneous re-interpretation through inspired improvisation. In other words, once you get the hang of it, you can throw in pretty much anything and still get a tasty treat in the end.

Cut down on food waste

And while you’re throwing in pretty much anything, take a quick inventory of the fruit and veg on hand. Do you have anything you should use up sooner than later? Something that could go bad if left to linger on the counter or in the fridge too long? If so, in it goes. Making green smoothies regularly helps minimize food waste.

Tasty, healthy snacks

Too often, snack food is junk food. But when done right, a green smoothie can be a tasty snack packed with nutrients.

Add some protein and it’s a complete meal

Take the snack you were preparing above, pour a slightly bigger portion, and mix in some protein powder. Suddenly your snack is a nutritionally balanced meal. Though this probably shouldn’t be your go-to meal plan, it sure comes in handy those days when you’re pressed for time.

The cons of green smoothies

Regrettably, there are two sides to every story. And smoothies are no different. There are some drawbacks to consider.

Sometimes, it’s an acquired taste

Try as they might, some people just don’t enjoy green smoothies. There’s no finding that one recipe that will turn things around for them, either. It’s okay if this happens to you. As with any diet, all the potential health benefits in the world aren’t worth it if you can’t enjoy what you eat and drink.

It can get expensive  

Depending on your level of commitment, the cost of buying fresh fruit and veg for green smoothies all the time can really add up. And if you’re buying fresh green smoothies at a juice stand, those costs add up even faster.

Powders might be lacking

An alternative to buying fresh leafy greens all the time is to get a super greens powder. Greens powders make a lot of claims about nutrition as well, but they’re definitely not the same as drinking a smoothie made from fresh greens. The process of converting some vegetables into powder form can strip them of their nutritional value.

No chewing involved

Smoothies take it easy on your jaw. As a result, people who go on juice fasts — some lasting for years — never chew. But research shows that chewing stimulates the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps us process memories and navigate in three dimensions. Common sense dictates that these are things you don’t want to tinker with.

Too much of a good thing

I know, we grow up being told we should eat our vegetables because they’re good for us. But it turns out that sometimes they aren’t. Overdoing it on some raw cruciferous vegetables (collard greens, kale) can decrease your iodine intake which could mess with your thyroid hormone balance.

High-fructose sugar bomb potential

When trying to make green smoothies taste less bitter — see above — it’s easy to overdo it on sweeter-tasting fruits like bananas and strawberries. But these fruits contain fructose, a simple sugar the body easily converts into glucose. This can lead to spiking blood sugar levels. There’s also something called fructose malabsorption which can lead to rather painful gas. So, sweeten your green smoothies as delicately as possible.

Mindfulness takes a holiday

It’s hard to think about what you’re eating when it’s all whizzed together in a cup. Especially if you bought it from someone else and didn’t have a hand in making it.

Cold food tends to be harder to digest

Green smoothies are best served cold. Probably to remind you somewhat of drinking a milkshake. But a healthy milkshake, so that’s okay. However, you digest better when your food is warmer. And, with some of the ingredients, you’d absorb their nutrients better if they were cooked a little to break down the outer layers of cellulose.

The bottom line?

While green smoothies may not be the best thing since sliced bread, they still have their benefits.

You get loads of nutrition in a convenient, portable container that’s high in fiber. It’s easy to add variety into recipes, and it helps you reduce your overall food waste.

However, it’s a bit of an acquired taste that some may never require. Cold, raw food can sometimes be hard to digest. And you have to be very careful that you’re not turning something healthy into yet another sugary snack.

That said, if you’re having troubles eating a healthy, well-balanced diet complete with leafy green vegetables, green smoothies could be the “gateway drug” that helps turn it all around for you. Who could knock that?

As with almost everything, when it comes to green smoothies it’s important to keep that old adage in mind: everything in moderation.

The occasional green smoothie is great. But making them your main source of vitamins and minerals is likely not the most balanced approach to nutrition you could take.

Do you have concerns about your nutrition?

Dr. Tara Andresen is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor (ND) who follows an evidence-based approach to naturopathic medicine. She incorporates the latest scientific research into effective treatment plans for a wide variety of health concerns, including nutrition.

If you have any concerns about your nutrition, or anything else, book an appointment to consult with Dr. Andresen today.