When I opened Facebook this morning, I saw this question from Kayla:
I recently read on a comment you are not a huge fan of green smoothies. Can you please elaborate why?
Why yes, and thanks, Kayla, for the inspiration for this blog post! Green smoothies are having a hey day with all sorts of healthy conscious folks hailing their virtues, but are green smoothies good for you really? Let’s find out…
What’s all the hype about green smoothies?
It’s amazing that so much controversy can be stirred up about liquid vegetables in a glass.
Fans of the green smoothie love the ease and healthy boost that their morning drink provides and celebrate increased energy, weight loss, and overall improved health. Parents love that they can sneak veggies into their children’s diets.
Some green smoothie lovers go hard core with green-on-green combos – mixing kale with the likes of dandelion greens, parsley, collards, or chard. Others toss a handful of spinach in with a fruit and yogurt smoothie, and yet others scoop some green powder into their morning blend.
But not everyone is in love…
Critics of the green smoothie cite the oxalate content of some greens can cause kidney stones and worsen yeast overgrowth (source); goitrogens exacerbating thyroid issues (source); and fiber wreaking havoc for those with leaky gut, irritable bowel, and other digestive issues (source). Many believe that dark greens should mostly be consumed steamed and always with fat for optimal nutrient absorption.
Beyond the yes-or-no on smoothies, folks like to argue about green smoothies vs. green juice and even fruit vs. vegetables (source). You guys, it’s a crazy world out there.
So… What to believe?
Me and green drinks
Every spring I get a hankering for green juice. It seems to come with a vengeance and out of nowhere, but after the several months of eating meaty stews and other wintery foods, my body’s ready for a mini-cleanse.
I head down to my local organic juice bar and order up a pint of juiced greens with a touch of green apple, lemon, and ginger. I may have a half dozen of these over a course of a month or so. I often make a batch or two of Bieler’s broth or this green soup – cooked versions of the green smoothie.
The cravings soon stop. I move on to eating spring and summer foods, and that’s that.
The big difference between green smoothies and green juice is that the latter does not contain fiber. As such, some experts lecture that fiber should not be consumed without stimulating digestion through the act of chewing. (source)
Everybody’s got an opinion. Here’s what I know to be true…
Too many raw veggies will damage digestion
It is well documented (and often debated) that the nutrients of many vegetables are more easily absorbed by the human digestive tract when cooked. (source)
In Chinese medicine, it has been known for centuries that too many raw fruits and veggies will damage the digestion, creating symptoms of gas, bloating, poor absorption, depression, fatigue and more. When the digestion is weakened over time this adversely affects the nervous system, immune system, and adrenals.
Raw vegetables contribute an element of cleansing to the diet – “clearing Heat and Dampness”. So when taken in small amounts and/or seasonally, green smoothies, raw salads, and green juice can play a helpful, medicinal role in the diet. This is assuming that the individual does not already have digestive weakness.
On the flip side, raw vegan, 80% raw, or even daily green smoothies may work great for a time – helping the individual to have better digestion, mental clarity, and even reversal of chronic disease (I love this woman’s story here). For most folks, however, there will be a tipping point where the ‘cleansing’ reaches the end of its benefits, and the raw greens begin to contribute to depletion of health.
You need fat to absorb nutrients
I love the wisdom of traditional French cooking that consistently pairs vegetables with cream, butter, or another saturated fat. Turns out, the French were on to something – vegetables are better assimilated when ingested with good fats.
A recent study of over 1.700 Swedish men indicates that consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, but only when combined with full-fat dairy consumption.
In this study, it was shown that eating salad with full-fat dressing resulted in far better nutrient absorption than eating salad with reduced or non-fat dressings.
Increasing the surface area (via blending or juicing) may help absorption, but you are likely to get maximum usage of the nutrients in the veggies if you include some fat too.
Why I’m not a huge fan of green smoothies
So, despite what you may be expecting, my beef with green smoothies is less from their nutritional downsides, and more with the craze itself – the gun-ho reverence that many people are paying to pureed veggie drinks.
I am not a fan of blindly following a fad because “everyone” says it’s good for you or bad for you.
Green smoothies are not going to forgive all your sins, so if you’re still eating a diet high in processed food, you are only scratching the surface on your way to optimal health. If you have a health condition that will be made worse by consuming large amounts of raw veggies, use caution and consider lightly steaming your greens first. (Bieler’s broth or green soup are a great way to moderate the effects of too much raw.)
If you are drinking green smoothies and juice for their cleansing element, this should be done in moderation (which is a very individual thing). Look for feedback from your body as to when you need less or more.
Finally, for optimal nutritional benefit (absorption), I think that greens and other veggies are best consumed with some saturated fat – so if you’re going to have that green smoothie you many want to throw in a scoop of full fat yogurt or coconut cream. Or serve it with a side of bacon.