NUTRITION 7th February 2018

Are smoothies
actually healthy?

By

Three minute read

If the benchmark is an Oreo milkshake, then yes.

But like most things in health & wellness, nothing is ever straightforward. Nutrition is perplexing, and this may sound like another curveball being thrown your way, but hear me out. That blueberry & kale smoothie may not be as healthy as you think.

Fruit is still sugar

Let’s start here: smoothies are often packed with fruits. And fruit is great, but too much could be a bad thing. Why? Because fruit contains a type of sugar called fructose, which, if over-consumed, can trigger weight gain (see here for my piece on sugar). This happens because your body does not utilize fructose in the same way it uses glucose.

Fructose stays in your liver whilst glucose is pumped into every cell of your body, providing energy throughout the day. But when fructose levels are high, your cells begin to reject glucose, a condition known as insulin resistance. Rejected glucose turns into fat, and the stage has been set for potentially further complications (e.g. diabetes and metabolic disorders).

So just how much sugar is in your smoothie? A typical Starbucks strawberry smoothie contains 40g of sugar. By comparison, a glass of Tropicana orange juice (hardly known for its health benefits) contains 30g. Scary right? Don’t panic though. Just be mindful that fruit is still sugar, and if weight loss is your goal, lay off the smoothies.

We’re all different, so too are our nutritional needs

A pineapple smoothie may be great for me, but leave you with an upset stomach. This is due to differences in our biology. What I like and can easily tolerate, may cause you an allergic reaction.

Likewise, your body’s needs differ over time and according to circumstance. Your diet would look radically different if you trained for an Ironman competition versus taking up Tai Chi.  Or consider the caloric needs of a growing teenage boy compared to a woman in her forties – different.

Though smoothies are marketed as the health drink of choice, always consider your individual needs and biology first.

Winter time is not smoothie time

Smoothies are cold, and that could be a problem in the winter. To understand why ask yourself this: do you ever feel like eating soup in the middle of summer? Thought not. Your body’s core temperature has risen in line with the season; instinctively you don’t crave (or necessarily need) hot food.

In much the same way, smoothies in the winter should be avoided since your body works extra hard to warm them up for digestion. This can lead to a weakened digestive system and suboptimal nutrient uptake.

Smoothies only count for one of your five-a-day

According to national recommendations in the U.K., smoothies can count as no more than one of your five-a-day, regardless of how many fruits and vegetables you put in them. Their liquid nature also means smoothies are less fulfilling than real foods, and do not form the basis of a balanced diet.

The final word

This post is not intended to demonize smoothies, I myself enjoy them now and again. But I want you to think thoughtfully about what you put in your body, rather than accepting something as true. Smoothies are not necessarily as healthy as the claims seem to be, and like all foods, moderation is key.

As always, pushing for health.