Are Green Smoothies Good or Bad for You?
I remember coming home from a full day of dance training, muscles exhausted and mind fatigued, but not tired enough to lie down and nap. I really wanted to feel replenished and turned to fruit after fruit after fruit … but none ever really hit the spot.
I consulted a macrobiotic counselor, who suggested I was too taking in too many yang foods, on top of training—which is also yang—and that I needed to eat more balanced meals.
He got me to toss the bagels, coffee, and meat in exchange for kale, carrots, brown rice, and tofu. It felt great for a while. My skin cleared up and my body and mind felt better overall, but I was still having intense sugar and fruit cravings after class, even when I wasn’t hungry.
I complained about this to a shiatsu massage therapist who had been working on me for a while, and he suggested I take a shot of freshly squeezed orange juice after class everyday. That did the trick!
I realized that living a balanced life is not always possible, but that it is possible to make choices to live life in a way that’s as balanced as possible.
Today there are so many more suggestions about healthy breakfasts and post-workout recovery snacks than there used to be. Back then, diet books typically listed oatmeal or eggs for breakfast. But today, pick up a diet book and you may find yourself enjoying quinoa, ginger, and goji berries, or green smoothies.
Had I known about green smoothies or coconut water back then, I would certainly have benefited from them greatly because, although orange juice brought me back to a more balanced state, it is quite high in sugar and made it difficult to keep my weight down.
The Green Smoothie: A History
Victoria Boutenko is a raw food expert and nutrition writer. She wrote “Green for Life,” and started to champion eating large amounts of greens after she read about the strong resistance chimpanzees exhibited against diseases that scientists tried to infect them with for medical research.
Boutenko suggested looking at the chimpanzees’ diet to understand why their immune system was so strong, rather than try to infect them with disease and then try to fight it with experimental drugs. As a result, she found out that chimps live on huge quantities of greens.
With our human teeth, we aren’t built to break down the quantity of greens that chimps eat, so Boutenko used a powerful blender to break them down and added fruit to make the concotion enjoyable. Thus the green smoothie was born.
Since then, many chefs, bloggers, and foodies have created their own versions of health smoothies. The drink has gotten so popular that you’ll find it highlighted in best-selling diet books such as “The Beauty Detox” by Kimberly Snyder, and on TV on Dr. Oz, Oprah, and even Fox News.
Google whether green smoothies are good for you, and you’ll likely find contradicting information and heated debates.
Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD states on his website that we should avoid smoothies due to the processing.
“Avoid smoothies,” he writes. “The fiber is so finely pureed that its helpful properties are destroyed. The sugar is stripped from the fruit, bypasses salivary digestion, and results in a surge of glucose, and the accompanying fructose contributes to inflammation and hypertension.”
There is a conflicting argument by Joel Fuhrman, MD in his book “Eat for Health, Vol. 1.” According to Fuhrman, “The only way we can break down these walls and release the most nutrients possible from the cells into the blood is by thoroughly chewing fruits and vegetables.”
“However, when we chew a salad, we often don’t do an efficient job of crushing every cell; about 70-90 percent of the cells are not broken open. As a result, most of the valuable nutrients contained within those cells never enter our bloodstream and are lost.”
He goes onto to suggest we make green smoothies or “blended salads” as a way to “pump up your consumption of greens.”
So one doctor is telling us that breaking down the integrity of the foods’ cell walls is bad for us, while the other says it is good for us. Contradictions are typical in the world of nutritional science, partly because it is a relatively new science, but also because people interpret the research differently. Food is also so tied to our culture that it is difficult for people to separate their feelings and opinions from the truth.
But perhaps there is no absolute truth—because we’re all different. We have different constitutions, conditions, and environments.
Why Green Smoothies May Not Be Good for You
According to traditional Chinese medicine, raw produce are cooling in nature, and if you chronically feel cold or often get colds, or just had a baby, you may want to lay off a high intake of raw foods. Instead, eat the greens cooked, enjoy more soups (pureed carrot or broccoli soups are good), and warming ingredients, such as garlic and ginger.
If you have problems with diabetes, hypoglycemia, or high blood sugar levels, and are super sensitive to sugar, make sure to follow recipes that are lower in high-glycemic fruits, such as bananas, and higher in protein and fats (such as flax seeds and a good quality protein powder) for your green smoothies, if you choose to drink them.
If you have had problems with kidney stones, be careful with green smoothies, especially if they are made with spinach or swiss chard because those two types of greens are very high in oxalates, which can cause stones to form.
“The omega-3 fatty acids and cod liver oil are also very effective in preventing oxalate deposition,” according to William Shaw, PhD in his article “The Role of Oxalates in Autism and Chronic Disorders.” So if drinking green smoothies makes you feel good but you are concerned about ingesting too much oxalic acid, you may try mixing in some cod liver oil.
Who Are Green Smoothies Good for?
If you are extremely active (like I was when I was dancing full-time), having a green smoothie mixed with coconut water may help nourish your body, replace enzymes lost when sweating, and cut your cravings.
If you do not absorb your nutrients well and need to hydrate and nourish yourself with high doses of anti-oxidants, then green smoothies may be the perfect food for you. Drink it slowly, at room temperature, and try chewing your smoothie.
If you chronically crave sweets because of low energy or emotional tribulations, green smoothies made on the sweeter side may help you stave off a binge, especially if you add in some nuts such as cashews, a banana, and some blueberries. It will taste sweet, creamy, and wonderfully nourishing.
Tysan Lerner is a certified health coach and personal trainer. She helps women attain their body and beauty goals without starving themselves or spending hours at the gym. Her website is www.lavendermamas.com.
Inspired to make your own smoothie with the goodness of green veggies and fruits? Heather Umlah offers a couple of recipes below. A teacher, chef, and graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, her focus is on holistic, whole-foods based nutrition.
Green Beauty Smoothie
5 romaine leaves
3 kale leaves
½ seedless cucumber
1 cup purified water
1 green apple
1 inch peeled ginger
(optional) 1 scoop plain/vanilla protein powder
Place all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Blueberry Detox Smoothie
1 cup liquid (cold detox, dandelion, or other tea)
½ cup blueberries
2 Tbsp chia seed
2 tsp bee pollen, optional
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
4 kale leaves
1 kiwi, peeled
1 cup water
Blend chia seeds, coconut oil first. Add the blueberries, other fruit, cucumber, and supplements. Blend just until mixed through. You can also add fresh papaya, mango, spinach, flax seeds and/or unsweetened rice milk.
Simple Morning 1-1-1 Smoothie
1 cup blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries
1 cup almond or rice or soy milk
1 pinch of salt
1 scoop protein powder
Blend all until smooth.