Smoothies have become synonymous with health. Whether you’re bulking up, slimming down, cleansing or just trying to push extra nutrient-density into your day, everyone’s on the band wagon. Once only found in specialty shops and juice bars, now everyone’s getting in on the action, including fast-food chains and supermarkets.
But, are smoothies good for you?
That depends... it’s the same as asking if the salad, soup, sandwich, casserole, dessert or whatever else you’re eating is healthy. What is your definition of health-promoting and how does that meal fit into your overall lifestyle choices?
Here at West Orange Nephrology, we focus on a whole-food, plant-based diet to create a positive shift in our patients’ health outcomes. Let’s see if smoothies have a place in our protocol:
This key nutrient is found only in plant foods and works hard to keep blood sugar stable, promote healthy digestion, remove excess cholesterol and feed lots of “good” bacteria in your gut microbiome. Studies show that most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diet so adding fruits and vegetables to your meals is a great idea. Unfortunately, blending those fruits and veggies into a smoothie does break down the fiber (when was the last time you chewed your smoothie?) but at least it’s still in there. This is the real difference between smoothies and juices, and why our practice discourages drinking calories in the form of juice but encourages using smoothies if it helps you increase your plant foods and fiber for the day.
We love all kinds of fruit… pineapples, grapes, papaya, berries, apples, oranges, mangoes, bananas, melons, you name it. That rainbow of colors signals an abundance of disease fighting nutrition! The danger is that blending also makes all that fruit so much easier to eat (or slurp) and your smoothie can become very calorie dense, very quickly. Be sure to balance the sweetness with plenty of greens, legumes, cruciferous and other vegetables. If you find yourself buying fresh fruits and vegetables but end up throwing them away, try using frozen blends to start.
Anything goes. Really. Our smoothies usually include kale, collards, spinach, celery, cucumber and arugula or watercress (for spice!) but we’ll also add just about anything else that’s lurking in the fridge. Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, peas, carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, cauliflower, beet and mustard greens are all fair game… maybe not mushrooms or onions.
What are we missing… oh yeah, beans! They are fiber powerhouses and boast an awesome variety of vitamins and minerals. Having trouble loving your legumes? Smoothies are a great way to sneak them into your day. Just add a tablespoon or two of precooked, mild tasting beans to your blend – you won’t even notice they’re in there! Try red lentils that cook up quickly or any kind of white beans which tend to have a softer texture. Just be sure they’re not seasoned and rinse before using, if canned.
Whole intact grains will add fiber and bulk, plus act as a thickener. Your smoothie will be much more filling and help carry you through a busy morning, or afternoon. What kind? You can use up leftover cooked, unseasoned grains like brown rice, bulgur or quinoa from last night's dinner. Don’t want to cook? Just pour out a few rolled oats from the canister. It doesn’t take much, and you can try several varieties to find your favorite.
Now for the fun! Spices like ginger, clove, cinnamon and turmeric are loaded with antioxidants and FLAVOR. Seeds like flax, chia and hemp will blend in easily and add some extra protein and fat. Try a squeeze of lemon or lime to perk up your taste-buds or a slice of avocado for creaminess. Even fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro, mint or basil can bring subtle flavor and a healthy boost!
The bottom line… do smoothies have a place in your healthy diet? Absolutely! A plant-filled, nutrient-dense green smoothie is a huge step up from the standard American fare of processed foods, sweets and take-out. Smoothies can be an excellent start to your day, or the perfect late afternoon pick-me-up. Just be sure you know what’s in yours or better yet make it yourself!
Not a smoothie lover? Don’t despair. Use the guidelines above to build your own salad bowl or create a signature dish of beans and greens instead. You’ll be packing in the powerful plant-based nutrition of a smoothie, with an added benefit… you get to chew.