One of our culture’s current diet trends is the smoothie – seen primarily in the proliferation of fruit smoothie desserts. Almost every fast food restaurant, diet plan and recipe website has options for fruit-filled wonders that come out of a blender. Smoothie restaurants, smoothie recipes, pre-packaged frozen smoothies, smoothie websites – fruit smoothies are everywhere.
For most people, the idea of a smoothie goes no further than that – fruit smoothies as tasty treats. I wanted to take some time today to explore the idea of blended foods a bit more deeply, specifically as it relates to getting enough vegetables in our diet: the green smoothie.
When I started exploring green smoothies as a food choice, I had a few questions: What is a “green” smoothie? What are the health benefits of green smoothies? Are smoothie salads (blended salads) really more healthy than eating them off a plate? Are green smoothies really more convenient than a standard meal? What are the downsides (are there both pro’s and con’s?) of blended foods? How do I get started with green smoothies?
I will start covering these questions here and leave the last two for later posts: the downsides of green smoothies and how to get started with green smoothies (recipes).
What is a “green” smoothie?
A “green” smoothie is a collection of leafy green vegetables and other raw vegetables that has been blended together to produce a creamy mixture which can be consumed by drinking (rather than eating via fork/spoon/chewing). Depending on the recipe, a green smoothie may include vegetables, spices, fruits, seeds, nuts, protein powders, and the list goes on. Some recipes are a form of blended salad, others are blended raw-vegetable soups, others are desserts; some are served warm, others are iced. They are considered to be a form of health drink.
The leafy greens could include spinach, collard greens, kale, swiss chard and others.
Regarding the phrase “green smoothie” itself, our culture has come to the unspoken conclusion (apparently) that the term “smoothie” is only supposed to refer to blended, sweet, fruity treats served cold (usually blended with ice or frozen fruit ingredients). The result is that people who advocate healthy eating, especially people in the raw food movement, felt the need to clarify their vegetable-laden smoothies as “green” smoothies.
What are the health benefits of green smoothies?
Doing some research, there are a number of health benefits that are regularly cited for green smoothies. They include…
Better access to nutrients – chewing fails to break down 70-90% of a plant’s cellulosic walls, meaning that our digestive system cannot access the nutrients trapped inside of those cells (our bodies are not ideally adapted to break down plant matter, like some herbivores can). Blending food helps break down plant materials, releasing the nutrients inside the plant cells which can then be better absorbed by our bodies. Chewing food, especially when we are in a hurry, exposes far fewer nutrients.
Less digestive energy expense – Compared to whole, raw vegetables, our digestive system does not have to work as hard to access the nutrients consumed in a green smoothie. This allows faster nutrient access with less effort, letting our body use that energy elsewhere while providing plenty of nutrition to fuel us.
Increased vegetable intake – We tend to consume far more leafy, green vegetables if we blend them. This means we can consistently consume the recommended daily allowance of veggies, get more nutrients in our diet, and more fiber as well.
Benefits of increased plant fiber – A number of the “good” bacteria in our digestive system benefit from fiber, allowing them to thrive and produce by-products that our body uses, such as vitamin K, vitamin B12, thiamin and riboflavin. The fiber consumed via a green smoothie provides plenty of fuel to keep those good bacteria thriving. The increase in plant fiber also results in better overall bowel function and bowel health during our lifetimes.
Easier to digest – Vegetables consumed as green smoothies are easier to digest, especially for people whose digestive tracts are not used to high roughage diets (such as people with Crohn’s disease).
Weight loss benefit #1, they fill you up – Consumed before meals, a green smoothie can help fill us up on vegetables (and whatever other healthy ingredients you include). During the following meal, we eat less – resulting in lower caloric intake and easier weight loss.
Weight loss benefit #2, they help reduce cravings – Consumed throughout the day, green smoothies can help to provide nutrients and reduce food cravings. Some food cravings are due to a lack of nutrients (our bodies tell us to eat if we are lacking nutrients). Some food cravings are due to habit (our bodies want to eat a mid-day snack if we have always eaten a mid-day snack, for example). Green smoothies consumed during the day can satisfy both our “habitual” cravings and our nutritional cravings as well.
Green smoothies maintain more nutrients than cooking - Cooking a vegetable chemically and physically changes its structure, destroying some of the nutrient value that would otherwise be available. Green smoothies (and yes – plain, raw vegetables as well) avoid this.
Are Green Smoothies Convenient?
Convenience benefit #1, they can be prepared in advance – The ingredients for green smoothies can be prepped days in advance, especially if you are using frozen vegetables as part of your recipe. Measure them out, divide them up, and put individual containers back in the freezer/refrigerator. Later in the week you just need to throw some leafy greens into the blender along with your pre-mixed veggies and spices. You can have a green smoothie within minutes.
Convenience benefit #2, they can be eaten on the run – It is hard to eat a salad while walking down a busy sidewalk, driving, or sitting in a meeting. Consume your green smoothie from a wide-mouth water bottle and you can manage all of that and more.
In summary, a green smoothie is a vegetable-laden health drink that provides both health benefits and convenience benefits (especially when considering the standard diets and the rushed routines of our culture!). In the next few posts we will explore the “Cons” of green smoothies, determine whether the pros outweigh cons, and check out recipes to make our own!
The Downsides of Green Smoothies (coming soon)
How to Get Started with Green Smoothies (coming soon)