Pamela Ellgen
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Smoothies—It's Not Easy Being Green

Green smoothies have gotten a bad rap recently, but is it justified? We have the facts and the recipes to help you decide.
Thu 08 Aug, 2013
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Socrates said he could win any argument in which he could define the terms. You might not think green smoothies require a definition, but before we rush to their defense, here's what we don't mean: a few spinach leaves blended with concentrated fruit juice then pasteurized, bottled, and shipped to your local grocer. We also don't mean the 16-ounce cocktail of sorbet, frozen kiwi, and a pinch of maca that will undo your workout faster than you can say "fat pants."

What Is a Green Smoothie?

When we say green smoothie, we mean a combination of fresh fruit, green vegetables, and herbs blended with water, ice, and a hint of natural sweetener. It might also contain green tea, healthy fats, spices, and other micro-nutrient-dense foods such as spirulina, maca, and chlorella. 

Green Smoothie Controversy

Critics indict green smoothies on several counts: they are too high in sugar, have a high glycemic index, are full of oxalates, and are too, well, smooth. Because smoothies are essentially "pre-chewed" by your blender, they're said to be less healthy.

Sugar Rush?

Several factors mitigate the speed that sugar hits your bloodstream, including fat, protein, and fiber. A smoothie without any of these elements—the aforementioned sorbet sugar bomb, for example—will elevate your blood sugar, increase insulin production, and leave you famished and grouchy shortly thereafter. So, it's fair to criticize smoothies that are really just desserts in disguise.

However, if you're using whole fruits and vegetables in your smoothie, their fiber will slow the entry of sugar into your blood stream. Even better, add in a bit of fat from avocado or hemp protein powder.

Oxalates         

One vocal critic of green smoothies points to their high oxalate content as proof of their potentially "devastating" effects on your health. Dark, leafy greens—spinach in particular—do contain oxalates, which can bind to calcium and cause kidney stones. However, oxalates are found in many other foods and are naturally present in your body. If you are one of the very few people with a condition that requires oxalate restriction or you are concerned about oxalate intake, choose lower-oxalate greens, such as kale, mint, lettuce, basil, and parsley.

Chewing Matters

Thoroughly chewing your food, particularly starches and fats, facilitates a complex digestive process, helps you absorb more nutrients from your food, and increases feelings of satiety. Nevertheless, a blender-blitzed pile of green vegetables and fruit doesn't need chewing to be swallowed, digested, and absorbed easily. That said, don't drink all of your calories. Chewing matters. 

Green Light for Green Smoothies

Ultimately, in a country where over two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, the absolute last thing most of us should be thinking about is restricting our consumption of fresh, leafy greens. Explore the endless combinations of fresh fruit and vegetables for a healthy green smoothie every day. Socrates also said that wonder is the beginning of wisdom. We can drink to that.

 

  • Strawberry Mint Shake
    Strawberry Mint Shake

    1 cup frozen strawberries

    2 large kale leaves, ribs removed

    2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only

    1 cup coconut water

    ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

    1 teaspoon coconut oil

    Agave to taste

    Place all items in a high-speed blender and blend until very smooth.

    197 calories, 38g carbohydrates, 5g fat, 3g protein, 73mg sodium, 21g sugar

  • Green Tea Ginger Cooler

    Green Tea Ginger Cooler

    1 cup brewed green tea, cooled

    ½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

    1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored

    ½ cup fresh cilantro, including stems

    ½ cup baby spinach

    ¼ cup cucumber, peeled, and diced

    1 whole lime, peeled

    ½ cup ice

    Agave to taste

    Place all items in a high-speed blender and blend until very smooth.

    91 calories, 24g carbohydrates, 0g fat, 0g protein, 18mg sodium, 1g sugar

  • Pineapple and Herb Smoothie
    Pineapple and Herb Smoothie

    ½ cup loosely-packed cilantro

    ½ cup loosely-packed

    Italian parsley

    1 cup fresh spinach

    1 whole lime, peeled

    1 whole orange, peeled, and seeded

    ½ cup frozen pineapple

    ½ cup filtered water

    Place all items in a high-speed blender and blend until very smooth, adding water if necessary.

    136 calories, 34g carbohydrates, 0g fat, 3g protein, 48mg sodium, 20g sugar

Smoothie Photos: Pamela Ellgen

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