Are smoothies keeping you from your weight loss goals?

Why smoothies and juicing may not be as healthy as you think.

“I eat healthy. I don’t understand why I can’t lose the weight.” This is so often how conversations start when I meet with a client to conduct our initial  health history consultation.  You’ve probably figured out at this point that nothing is black and white in the land of nutrition.  What works for one person, may not work for another. Losing weight is hard. It is confusing. It can really suck.   So when I ask for an idea of what my client is eating daily, many say they start the day with a smoothie or some fresh juice. That doesn’t sound so bad.  It has vitamins, right? It does. But many smoothies aren’t as good for you as you might think.

Before I tell you why smoothies and juicing can be a sugar trap, and therefore a fake health food, I want to start with a few caveats. If you aren’t eating many fruits and vegetables, and the only way you can possibly stomach them is to blend them beyond recognition—well, smoothies certainly have some nutritional value and benefits, and something is better than nothing. Second, not all smoothies are created equal.  There are ways to make your morning drink more healthful.  And lastly, I think it is a fantastic way to get vegetable and fruits into the mouths of children who would otherwise turn their noses up at that kale salad you so graciously prepared.

Okay, I got that off my chest, so let’s get down to nitty-gritty of why smoothies and juicing may actually be preventing you from reaching your weight loss goals.

 

Smoothies are chalked full of sugar.

One smoothie—even a green one—can contain more sugar than a soda. Let’s break it down. Say you are watching what you eat. You wake up and throw these “healthful” ingredients into your blender to make this green smoothie:

 

1 banana (14g)

½ cup orange juice (11g)

1 cup spinach (>1g)

½ cup strawberries (4g)

½ cup vanilla yogurt (23g)

 

Your sugar total for this is 52 grams. To give you some perspective, one 12-ounce soda has 33 grams of soda.

But it’s natural, lady!  It is natural, and fruit has many fabulous qualities, but too much of even the natural stuff will send your blood-sugar levels sky-high. Here is a brief overview of what happens when your blood sugar spikes if you want the science behind it. If you don’t, let’s just say it increases insulin and too much insulin causes you to store fat.

According to the World Health Organization, we should be eating less than 25g of sugar a day. Why blow it all on a morning smoothie?

 

Smoothies eliminate an important step in the digestive process—chewing!

As omnivores, we humans were gifted some exceptionally awesome teeth. They aren’t just for flashy smiles either. Chewing is actually a very beneficial component in the digestive process.  It is extremely important and so often overlooked. Chewing releases digestive enzymes in your mouth prior to entering your digestive tract, which obviously helps you digest your food.  Chewing also requires some effort on our part.  I know, this isn’t the America way.  But the truth of the matter is, the act of chewing causes us to slow our eating pace, and in turn, feel fuller with less food.  And did you know that chewing food is actually good for the bones holding your teeth in place?  Can that count as your daily workout?  Nah.  But keeping our teeth is a good thing.

 

Visualizing how much we eat helps satiate

When we blend our food, we are unable to comprehend just how much we consumed. Think about that smoothie I described earlier. Would you typically eat a banana, strawberries, orange juice, a yogurt and some spinach? Probably not. You’d most likely feel quite satisfied with a fraction of that.

 

Juicing strips the food of fiber

Fiber is good, people. It helps keep us regular, which is important. It also slows the absorption of glucose and keeps your liver from freaking out when you consume a large dose of sugar. I know I said I wouldn’t get all sciency, but I just can’t help it. Hear me out: the absorption of too much sugar too quickly causes your pancreas to produce a bunch of insulin. That goes into your blood stream and the extra insulin gets converted into triglycerides in your liver, and that right there is when your body stores that overproduction as fat in your tissue. Fiber also makes you feel full, so you eat less. Juices obviously lack fiber, but even smoothies have compromised insoluble fiber when they are pulverized by the blades of the blender.  Some say the blending process ruptures the cell walls and that nutrients are more readily available as a result, but this benefit seems negligible, particularly if your goal is weight loss.

 

Many store-bought smoothies are owned by soda makers

Gawd, I hate big box companies and their evil marketing geniuses. Don’t let them fool you again.  Just don’t!  Here is the deal. We all know now that soda is bad for us, right? Right! So they got clever and decided to make a “healthy alternative.” Naked Juice is a subsidiary of Pepsico, Inc. Odwalla is owned by the Coca-Cola Compnay. Let’s not forget that they still have the same mission—to get you sugar-addicted.

I can’t help but laugh a little here.  This is just too good.  TOO GOOD! Okay, here it goes.  Just for fun (yes, this is my idea of fun), I went to Naked Juice’s site for nutritional info and was drawn to the Sea Greens veggie shake.  Sounds super healthful.  Like it might even taste like crap, but you should drink it anyway kind of healthful.  But with the slogan, “One taste and you’re hooked,” I had to check it out.  47 grams of sugar in this 15.2 ounce drink, and only 3 grams of protein. Sure, there is some spirulina and dulse in it, but the only other vegetable is 1/3 stalk celery. Ha. No wonder people get hooked.  This is like crack in a bottle, and it is just so cleverly marketed.   Drink this, and you are sure to be hungry ten minutes later.

I can’t stop there. Let’s not forget that our big-name juice companies like Jamba Juice have smoothies with upwards 100 grams of sugar.  Check out this “healthy” green smoothie from Jamba Juice.  54 grams of stinking sugar.

Ahhhhh.  Just ahhhhhh.

 

Drinking your food doesn’t keep you full as long

Liquid calories are much less satiating than solid ones. In fact, they may cause us to eat even more when the day is said and done.  Check out this study from Purdue University.

 

 

If you want a smoothie there are a few ways to make it more nutritionally dense and get your macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein).

  • Add some protein through unsweetened Greek yogurt, a scoop of almond butter, or protein powder.
  • Don’t fear fat. It will help you stay full longer and fuels our brains. Coconut milk, avocado, or flax oil is a great way to add some healthy fat to your smoothie.
  • Make your smoothie with mostly vegetables.  Leafy greens work great–think baby kale or spinach.  You could even throw in some carrots, pumpkin or butternut squash.
  • Using an app like MyFitnessPal can be really handy to give you a true sense of how calorie-dense and sugar-filled your smoothie of choice is.  I don’t like food tracking all the time–it isn’t sustainable–but it can be a helpful when you first start making dietary changes.  You’d be surprised at where sugar hides and the many names it is labeled under.

 

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