The truth about green smoothies

Jack Moran investigates whether your on-trend green smoothie is a health wonder or a health blunder.

From Huffpost blogs and listicles on Buzzfeed to countless Instagram posts, one of the big health trends running rampant seems to be the not-so-humble green smoothie. For the uninitiated, green smoothies are those that have a core ingredient of a leafy green vegetable like spinach or kale. Fans of the green smoothie say that it helps you lose weight, gives you clearer skin and increases your energy levels. But are green smoothies really worth all the hype?

According to UON Nutrition and Dietetics Professor Clare Collins and postdoctoral researcher Dr Kris Pezdirc, green smoothies are so prevalent and appealing because they seem to have easy and fast results, especially in regards to weight loss.

“In our current lifestyle we want things to happen fast,” Professor Collins said, “All of those smoothies promise a whole new you and whole new lifestyle after you just drink one glass.”

Professor Collins also said that for many there is the perception that having a green smoothie ‘cancels out’ the more unhealthy foods eaten during the day although, as she stresses, this is certainly not the case.

Both Professor Collins and Dr Pezdirc agree that there are benefits to the green smoothie trend, particularly as it is an easy way to up your intake of fruits and vegetables in the day which is important for Australians. “Only six per cent of Australians actually reach the five serves of vegetables a day,” Professor Collins said.

Dr Pezdirc recently completed a PhD study that showed how important having the full serves of fruit and vegetables can be. “We gave people a variety of fruit and vegetables and found that if they had their seven serves of fruit and vegetables a day, their skin colour changed and it looked healthier,” she said. This was due to the high levels of beta-carotene found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruit.

Her study also found that those who have high beta-carotene intake from the full seven serves of fruit and vegetables looked more appealing to others. “People that ate more fruit and vegetables looked more attractive based on the colour and tanning of the skin,” she said.

JUICE DIET2 by Paige Cooley
Design by Paige Cooley.

Professor Collins also explained that there are also specific advantages of having your fruits and vegetables in smoothies as compared to a juice. For one, unlike juices, the ingredients retain more of the plant fibre from skins and husks. Also unlike most juices, the ingredients tend to be raw meaning that the body is able to retain more of their nutrients.

Professor Collins and Dr Pezdirc also see some negatives in the green smoothie trend. Foremost is that drinking a green smoothie to lose weight is certainly not a sure-fire method, especially depending on what exactly is put into the smoothie.

“Because the vegetables may not be very tasteful on their own they may add some kind of sweetener,” Dr Pezdirc said. Adding extra fruits in order to counteract the taste of the vegetables can undermine any attempts to lose weight.

Professor Collins also said that the physical differences between drinking a green smoothie and actually eating fruits and vegetables can also be an issue. “In drinking your calories you don’t get the same satisfaction,” she said. Professor Collins explained that chewing food gives the body feedback and that liquids pass through the body at a much faster rate. This means that, depending on your metabolism and typical portion size, you’ll be hungry sooner after your green smoothie.

Since there are both positives and negatives to green smoothies, how can we makes sure we’re using and making them correctly? Ingredients are the key here. More vegetables are good and we should watch how much fruit we’re adding, especially if we’re looking to lose weight. Adding milk can be a good way, especially if it’s calcium-fortified, to boost our calcium intake and promote strong bones. Adding protein powder, according to Professor Collins, is rarely advisable as most Australians actually consume more protein than they need.

So what should we do about green smoothies? Swear by them or throw them in the trash? According to Professor Collins we should really test it out. “People should experiment on themselves and see how they feel,” she said. As everyone’s metabolisms, tastes, diets and preferences are different, testing out green smoothies is the best way of seeing if it’s a worthwhile health trend for you.

Whether you’re a green smoothie fanatic or just a dabbler, how do green smoothies work for you? Is your skin colour better? Are you feeling the effects of that extra fibre? Let us know in a comment here or on Facebook and share your favourite green smoothie recipes.

Feature Image: Paige Cooley.

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