If you’re even the teeniest bit familiar with the Beauty Detox lifestyle, then you know I love smoothies. Smoothies are perhaps the best way to fuel your body with the powerful nutrients it needs from whole plant foods (think of grapefruit seed extract uses) to create vibrant health and glow. Making smoothies part of your diet not only help you get vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients, and fiber, but they also make the foods more easily digestible because they are blended. Blending a smoothie allows you to use the whole fruit or vegetable so you can make the most of their nutrition…including that all-important element of cleansing fiber.
Not All Smoothies Are Created Equal
That doesn’t mean, however, that all smoothies are created equal. Far from it! Many people think that because it’s called a smoothie, it must be healthy. But if you take a pile of junk and stick it all in a trash bag, so you can’t see it all, it’s still a bunch of junk. Even if you call it “smoothie.”
Unfortunately, believing the marketing hype and stopping for a smoothie at the mall can be an extremely unhealthy endeavor unless you use caution. Some smoothies are loaded with sugar, fat, calories and other unhealthy ingredients that can have a negative impact on your health.
Unhealthy Smoothie Ingredients
We all know which ingredients make a smoothie healthy: fruit and veggies. But what about smoothies that contain fruit and/or veggies along with other ingredients. How healthy are they? Let’s take a look at ingredients to avoid in your smoothies.
Many smoothies, especially commercially made smoothies, contain dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream. While this gives the smoothie a creamy base and can help thicken it, dairy is unhealthy for humans. Cows produce milk for their babies, and it is formulated to meet calves’ nutritional needs. When humans consume dairy products, they may have trouble digesting the casein and/or lactose in cows’ milk. One study examined patients with coeliac disease (spelled celiac in North America) and their reaction to cows’ milk. Those study subjects showed a mucosal response to the dairy similar to the levels of response when they ate gluten.
Dairy is also high in fat, and may contain numerous hormones and antibiotics arising from dairy products. Among the worst (and they’re all pretty bad) is estrogen, which is linked to various forms of cancer. According to Harvard University, dairy consumption accounts for 60 to 80 percent of estrogens consumed. Another danger is recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is a growth hormone used in dairy cattle. Milk from cattle given rBGH contain IGF-1, which has been linked to growth of certain types of cancer cells.
So skip the dairy products (including whipped cream, milk, ice cream, and yogurt) in your smoothies. Instead, try unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, or thicken smoothies with a tablespoon of soaked organic chia.
Sugar-sweetened fruit juice and/or sugar
If your smoothie has a fruit juice base, then there’s a good chance it’s been sweetened with sugar. Additionally, fruit juice adds calories without fiber, and contains high levels of fructose, which can tax your liver. Sugar, of course, also causes blood sugar to spike, leading to a release of insulin and potentially increased hunger and cravings.
Instead of using fruit juice as a smoothie base, opt for filtered water with whole fruit or coconut water. You can add a little sweet with some stevia, which doesn’t affect blood sugar and is 100 percent natural.
Many people believe agave is healthy because it contains mostly the fruit sugar, fructose. I’ve discussed agave at length in previous blogs. The problem with agave is its high fructose content. While fructose does, indeed, occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, it only exists in nature in very small amounts that the body can tolerate easily. Adding agave as a sweetener, however, provides the body with extremely high levels of fructose, and the liver is unable to metabolize it efficiently. Among the many effects of fructose over-consumption are weight gain, liver scarring, and poor blood lipid profiles.
Instead of adding agave, opt for a little bit of fruit to add sweetness. If you need more, use stevia or raw coconut nectar, a product low in fructose (around 10%) that contains amino acids and minerals.
Tap water may contain all kinds of contaminants including fluoride, volatile organic compounds, and other chemicals. Each of these comes with its own inherent health risks, and has no place in your healthy smoothies. Instead, opt for pure filtered water.
Peanut butter may contain sugar. Peanuts also contain aflatoxins, a carcinogen produced from molds commonly found in peanuts and cashews. Peanut butter is also high in fat and calories. It is not a beauty food!
If you do want a little bit of nutty flavor, try chia seeds or opt for creating almond butter by processing a tablespoon of raw almonds before adding your remaining smoothie ingredients.
In order to save calories, many people add artificial sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (NutraSweet) to their smoothies. These ingredients increase your body’s chemical load. Likewise, many maintain these chemicals are neurotoxic and can cause a host of health problems. Artificial sweeteners may even cause weight gain! Instead, sweeten with whole fruit or a little stevia.
Genetically modified soy makes up 91 percent of America’s soy crops. GM foods present a number of health dangers including DNA damage and reproductive issues. Soy has also been linked to treatment resistant breast cancer tumors. Instead, skip the soy milk and opt for almond milk or water as a base for your smoothie.
The Worst of Commercial Smoothies
Smoothie kiosks in malls beckon with promises of a healthy pick me up. While many of the chains like Jamba Juice and Smoothie King promise a low-fat treat, they contain many of the ingredients listed above such as dairy, added sugar, and artificial sweetener. Even the smallest can be high in calories and sugar, as well. For example, a small Jamba Juice Acai Super-Antioxidant contains 4 grams of fat, 260 calories and 46 grams of sugar, while a regular Peanut Butter Moo’d contains 480 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 72 grams of sugar.
When ordering a smoothie at your favorite restaurant, ask for a nutrition information flyer and carefully check all ingredients, sugar, and calories before consuming. Likewise, you can make a healthy smoothie at home and take it with you to help you avoid temptation.
The best thing about making your own smoothie is putting your own healthy twist, like adding fresh coconut water or maybe some exotic fruits!