Monday, August 5

Smoothies & Fruit Juice

Currently I'm in a group text message with some of the folks in the Dallas-area that are doing the August Whole30. At first I thought it'd be annoying to have my phone alerting me several times a day, but it's actually proven to be fun! We share thoughts on how we're feeling, how we think the overall journey is going, as well as offer up advice and support for each other. We also share pictures of our meals (which reminds me, I need to take a look at my cellular data usage).

The other night someone -- who will remain nameless -- sent a picture of their breakfast which happened to be a smoothie. This prompted a lot of back-and-forth and got me thinking. So, here we have it: my take on smoothies (with a fruit juice side-note).

Generally, I'm a fan of smoothies. Typically they are healthy, convenient and delicious. But (there's always a 'but') there are some important aspects about them we need to remember.

The first and most obvious involves the ingredients. If it's got frozen yogurt, bananas, mango, honey and some other added sugar, I'd say skip it. The more sugar, the worse it is. Liquefied anything speeds up the delivery mechanism. Some may call me "Paleo-caveman-crazy" for saying this, but think about it: do you believe fruit was ever intended to be pulverized and sipped through a straw? Probably not.

Granted it could be worse; you could squeeze the life out of the fruit and just drink the juice. Fruit juice has always been deemed a healthy beverage, but recent studies suggest limiting its consumption. While fruit juice has its benefits of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, it also has most of its fiber stripped out. The fiber is what helps slow the absorption of the sugar. This is why you’ll hear some medical professionals say “eat your apple, don’t drink your apple.” In my eyes, a glass of orange juice is simply a glass of sugar.

Back to smoothies. The bottom line with most smoothies is that sugar is being dumped onto your liver by way of blended fruit, which stresses the pancreas out beyond belief.

There are instances where a speedy delivery of certain foods may be worth it. Pre or post-workout smoothies can be beneficial to replenish and refuel for subsequent exercise. During my Newport Marathon training I would typically make a smoothie with fruit (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) and grass-fed whey protein. I'd have half of it before the workout, and half after. I chose berries and no bananas due to the sugar content. Berries have more than enough carbohydrate to suffice, and are also more nutrient-dense.

If you're going to have a smoothie, just make your own. For starters, can you say for certain you know the exact ingredients that go into smoothies made at outlets like Smoothie Factory and Smoothie King? A lot of places use additives (sometimes marketed as "boosts") in their smoothies. Turbinado sugar, for instance. Is that really necessary? Fruit is already packed with sugar and they want to add more? C'mon. Furthermore, do you know the details of the main ingredients? Is the yogurt low-fat (thus sugar-infused), or is it full-fat and derived from grass-fed cows? There's a huge difference.

Smoothies, like everything else in life, are all relative. For breakfast, if you have the option of a pasture-raised egg omelet with spinach and tomato or a fruit smoothie, I choose the former. If it's a kale salad with salmon or a mango/banana smoothie for lunch, I again, choose the former. If the goal is to fuel a workout (pre or post), I may opt for the smoothie. If it's McDonald's or a home-made smoothie, I'd probably go smoothie. You get the point.

Yes, smoothies made with fresh fruit provide a ton of micronutrients, but like fruit juice, they also provide a ton of macronutrients in the form of carbohydrate, specifically sugar -- sugar that gets stored as fat if your glycogen tanks are full.

I, for one, will never stop drinking smoothies, but I've also learned when to drink them, how often and in what context. I have two basic smoothie varieties. The first is what I've already described, which is to use them to scale carbohydrates around workouts. The second would be a meal-replacement smoothie for breakfast or lunch which is not workout-specific. These smoothies are much higher in fat and lower in carbohydrate. They keep me satisfied for a long time and minimize the insulin response. I typically only do this when I'm in a rush, or need to take something to-go that I can have later on.

Here's a recipe for a smoothie I have as a meal replacement on occasion when I'm crunched for time. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


  1. Im confused. I thought that the evil sugar that humans are not supposed to consume is extracted raw sugar. Much like raw flour or even cocaine since they take it of their natural form and are used to create something man made like bread. Sugar from fruit, I've heard, is actually fine because it is in the natural form even if it is blended.

    1. Hi Clayton! Thanks for the comment. There are a couple of different points you bring up.

      For starters, sugar = sugar = sugar. Whether it's high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sucrose (table sugar) or fructose (from fruit), it actually all essentially has the same metabolic impact in the body. Have you ever seen Dr. Lustig's lecture "Sugar: The Bitter Truth"? If not, I highly recommend checking it out:

      You are certainly right that taking sugar out of its context (a whole food) is not good. Sugar belongs in fruit, so to make a case against fruit because it has sugar in it doesn't make much sense. The purpose of my post can be boiled down to two points. First, is that sugar should hardly ever (unless you're making a dessert and indulging!) be added to anything. Also, I wanted to caution people to not consume pure fruit-smoothies too often. As I mentioned, by blending the fruit your speeding up the delivery mechanism in your body, as opposed to letting your body (chewing, digesting, etc.) do the work.

      Make sense?

  2. Wow. Interesting article and well explained. Thanks for this. I was wondering - if you add vegetables as well, does that make smoothies any better for you? My kids love them, and quite frankly, I do, too! Would love to know if there is a way to make them not so sugared up!


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