As the weather gets warmer (yes, warmer, finally), nothing sounds more refreshing after a great workout with your awesome personal trainer than a cold, sweet, delicious treat in the form of a shake, smoothie, or freshly squeezed juice. Let’s pump the brakes on that idea though, because there is some important information, or misinformation for that matter, that you need to consider before guzzling down that “reward” for a great workout.
Some Clarification, Please
When talking about these three potentially poisonous potions, we need to set some things straight. What exactly is the difference between the three (if any), and what are the big things to be aware of when contemplating the consumption. When comparing a shake to a smoothie, the biggest difference is that the shake typically contains some sort of dairy product (yogurt, milk, ice cream, etc.) and a smoothie is generally more fruit based. That being said, depending on where you are, who you’re talking to, or which junk food establishment disguised as a health food hotbed, the differences may be negligible. A juice is simply that, the liquid derived from the awesome packaging mother nature provided in the first place. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of this blog post. That awesome packaging I’m speaking of contains all of the fiber. Yes, the juice still contains most of the phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins. But when you strip it of the fiber, you’re basically consuming a fortified sports drink.
All sugar and no fiber, regardless of the vitamins and minerals, is a recipe for monstrous swings in blood sugar and the associated health risks that go with that (i.e. diabetes or pre-diabetes). I don’t mean to be hyperbolic here, but I just want to be honest with you and then let you determine if the wolf in sheep’s clothing is still all it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert, I don’t think so). While we’re on the subject, let’s not mistake correlation for causation in regards to freshly squeezed juices. I’m willing to bet that the people that are most likely to purchase a five dollar bottle of assorted fruit and vegetable juices, are also the people most likely to be more health conscious in the first place. Not to mention this subgroup of the general population probably has decent access to thorough healthcare, a stable job, strong social connections, and a cozy bed to obtain a full night’s sleep; all vital aspects of actual wellness, but things that are often overlooked and underweighted when measuring someone’s health and wellbeing. Juices, or “juicing” in general, are far more likely to be correlative instead of causal when it comes to conveyed benefit.
All About the Context
When a client, friend, family member, or stranger asks me a question along the lines of “Is this smoothie good for me?” or “Which kind of protein shake is best?” I’ll always encourage a bit more detailed disclosure. If the person is generally interested in my professional opinion, this is where we actually make some progress. Unfortunately, many times the inquirer is more likely to be looking for someone to agree with them than actually updating their knowledge base on what’s healthy and what’s not. Hopefully they come around, but for those still willing to have a conversation, I’ll usually ask in return some questions regarding context. A great example is the following-
Client- Is this smoothie good for me? It sure sounds healthy, and it says it’s “organic” and “all-natural”.
Me- Good for you compared to what? I’m guessing it’s better than a soft drink, but maybe worse than some berries and a glass of water. What’s in it?
Client- Well, it’s called the Pina Colada Potion from Smoothie Queen, and it contains bananas, coconut juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and turbinado. I got the 20 ounce.
Me- Conservatively, that smoothie probably had about 80-90 grams of sugar, with maybe one or two grams of fiber from the bananas, but that’s a stretch. Compared to a 20 ounce soft drink, which contains about 65 grams of sugar, I’d say that the smoothie was definitely not good for you.
Client- Wow that’s terrible, I had no idea. I was wondering why I was so ravenous at dinner a couple hours later! What should I do next time after my workout?
Me- Just stick to the actual fruit instead of the juice extracted from it. How about an apple with peanut butter (with no sugar added), and a tall glass of water? Here you get plenty of fiber, some healthy fats, a little sweetness, some protein, and it’s cheaper than the smoothie! Side note, turbinado is just a fancy way of saying table sugar.
Client- That sounds good to me, I’m glad we had this conversation because I used to think that smoothies were a tasty and healthy option. My views are officially updated! Yay!
Speaking of Juicing
This section probably won’t garner much admiration from the loyal juicers out there, but before you discount this whole section (or blog post), just hear me out from a scientific standpoint. It won’t be long, but after reading, you can ask yourself if your loyalty to juice is based on sound science or cognitive dissonance. I’ll list the three claims that most people give me when I ask them why they consume juices or go on juicing “cleanses/detoxes” and then give reasoning why the scientific majority agrees differently.
Claim 1– I drink freshly squeezed, cold-pressed (two adjectives I hear a lot, as to somehow suggest that this magically adds back in all of the fiber lost), because I need a “cleanse or detox”.
Reality 1– Nothing on planet Earth “detoxifies” your body better, or more efficiently than your liver. As long as you have a healthy liver, no need to waste your money.
Claim 2– I drink juice because it gives me my servings of fruits and vegetables when I’m too busy.
Reality 2– I’m confident that when the USDA refers to a “serving”, they mean the actual fruit/vegetable, and all of the fiber that comes with it. Side note, are you “busy” or “productive”, and an apple just happens to be a perfect on-the-go snack!
Claim 3– I always feel better after going on a three day juice cleanse.
Reality 3– Perhaps it’s because you’re not consuming whatever junk food and/or alcohol that made you feel less than a human in the first place.
To go along with these realities, I want to address the “placebo” effect. It has been well documented that the placebo effect is a real thing and can sometimes have a positive impact on someone’s health, but I think it is a slippery slope when we falsely attribute better health to “juicing” instead of a potential placebo effect. Again, don’t mistake correlation for causation.
A Place for Shakes and Smoothies
Before I start receiving complaints for being a “Debbie Downer”, which is an unfair condemnation for Debbies everywhere, I need to shed some positive light on the shake and smoothie crowd. I do believe that there is a place for shakes and smoothies, but again it all comes down to context.
When creating your liquid masterpiece there are some things to be mindful of. Firstly, and most importantly, the sugar/fiber ratio needs to be controlled, and a great way to control that is to leave out fruit juices as your emulsifier (what gives it fluidity). Simply use water, black iced coffee (for a kick), or unsweetened almond juice (I refuse to call it milk, almonds don’t have nipples). Secondly, make sure to control your overall quantity, because things can get out of hand in a hurry. What started out as a snack or post-workout treat can quickly progress to an 800 calorie beast if quantity is left unchecked. A great way to control for this is to avoid big blender containers and try to find a mixer that innately restricts your portion size. Lastly, add in some greens. This one is so simple, but so oftenly avoided because of the color. I promise you that a banana, ice cubes, some peanut butter, and unsweetened almond juice, will not take on the flavor of your front yard by simply adding in a handful of kale. Might as well get an extra serving of greens!
In Closing, Don’t Miss the Forest the Trees
Healthy eating habits can include shakes and smoothies, but don’t rely on them to carry you across the finish line of life. Keep it simple and stick to consuming things that no one has succeeded in discounting the value of. This is extremely important, and is worth clarifying. While thousands of diet gurus, billion dollar junk food companies, and heavily lobbied politicians, are busy arguing what EXACTLY is the one BAD thing, and then exploiting your lack of knowledge (or just flat-out confusion for that matter) for profit, keep your focus on all of the GOOD things. Get a majority of your nutrition from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and water, whether in a blender or not.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees, and avoid juicing them too.
Yours in Wellness,
Prevention over Treatment