Smoothies – Are they good for you?

smoothies-group

I am a great fan of smoothies—but not all smoothies are created equal. It depends on the ingredients. Today I would like to help you understand the differences between those that are nutritionally good for you, and can aid in healthy weight loss and those that could actually lead to weight gain.

To understand the differences, we need to have a quick look at what happens in our body when we drink a smoothie.

Which smoothies are good for you?

When we consume food (eaten or drunk) our body breaks it down into the nutrients it contains, the chief ones being; carbohydrates, protein and fats. Carbohydrates (which are found in all fruit and vegetables) are the first to be broken down. They are converted into simple sugars, and this is the crucial part of knowing if your smoothie is a good choice or not. As the body converts carbohydrates into sugars, the sugars are quickly absorbed into the blood stream. This can cause blood sugar levels to become too high. If this happens, the body responds by releasing insulin to ‘mop-up’ the excess sugars. Insulin either temporarily stores the sugar in the muscles or liver, or it converts into body fat. As a double-whammy after insulin has done it’s job, blood sugar levels may crash, causing new sugar cravings. It’s so easy to step onto a sugar roller-coaster!

I know that for many people the words “blood sugar levels” and “insulin” instantly bring to mind diabetes and concerns surround this. Whilst these are key factors in managing both forms of diabetes, your body is always in dynamic flow, constantly adjusting and adapting to stay healthy (this is called homeostasis). Blood sugar levels are constantly rising and falling and being adjusted with insulin. For our health and in particular for weight loss, we need to try to maintain a steady blood sugar level which minimises our insulin response. This is done by slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars.

Good smoothies vs bad smoothies

In a nutshell, good smoothies are those that don’t cause blood sugar levels to spike: instead they release their sugars slowly. How does this work?

Remember I said that carbohydrates are the first to be broken down? Well protein and fats take much longer and fibre (found in varying amounts in fruit and vegetables) also slows the process down. By adding protein and good fats to your smoothies, this slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars. This drip-feeds sugar into your bloodstream which minimises the risk of a blood sugar spike and the insulin response being triggered.

smoothie-bottlesMost Innocent Smoothies are made solely from fruit. They don’t have any ‘nasties’ in the way of preservatives, but they are pasteurised which makes it easier for the body to absorb the sugars from the fruit. Pasteurisation also destroys vitamin C. The amount of protein and fats is virtually zero—nothing to slow down the sugar absorption. Drinking a 250 ml of any commercially made smoothie, include those promoting themselves as “1 of your daily fruit portions”, with between 24—34 grams (6–8.5 teaspoons) of sugar is not beneficial to losing weight.

Making a healthy smoothie

As you have now gathered, a healthy smoothie needs to include protein and good fats. Here then are the essential ingredients of a good smoothie.

Between 100–150g of fruit. Add fruit for natural sweetness and also for the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients they contain. Typically at least 100g of this should be a high fibre fruit such as one of the many berries as their sugar content is relatively low whilst their fibre content is high. Some berries are quite tart, so adding half a banana (approx. 40-50 g) adds sweetness and thickness of a smoothie – but also loads up the sugar without much fibre – so stick to just half. By the way 100 g of raspberries contains 5 g of sugar whilst half a banana adds 7 g. As well as the berries, cherries, apples and pears make great smoothies. Pineapple and mango are great too, but have a higher sugar content—so don’t go overboard on these.

Add vegetables and/or greens powders. These boast the nutritional content of your smoothie. Spinach is one of the easiest vegetables to add to a smoothie in that it breaks down easily, it’s packed full of good nutrients and it doesn’t overpower the fruit in flavour. I’m a great fan of using Udo’s Beyond Greens powders because 2 teaspoons provides such a wonderful nutritional boost to your smoothie. Cucumber, celery, young salad leaves, kohlrabi and beetroot also go well. Kale is a super-nutritious vegetable, but you need a powerful blender to ‘smoothie’ it and it has quite a strong flavour.

Add protein. My favourite proteins for smoothies are whey and hemp protein powders. For whey protein make sure it is “isolate” and not concentrate. My favourites are: Solgar Whey to Go Vanilla and Native Hemp Powder. Use one scoop/2 dessert spoons. These can be purchased online from many suppliers such as Bodykind who I use for my superfoods and supplements.

Add a little of good fats. These include flaxseed oil, coconut oil or avocado (fresh or as an oil). Other good seed or nut oils include: almond, walnut, macadamia or pumpkin seed. What most people don’t realise is that good fats lower cholesterol and help the body released stored body fat.

Add liquid. Good choices are: unsweetened (and food additive free) rice, coconut, oat or almond milk. Water is also great! Please avoid cows milk, yoghurt or ice-cream due to the saturated fat and sugar content. Soya milk is also not recommended as soy can mimic oestrogen an may upset your hormonal balance. How much liquid you add depend on how ‘thick’ you like your smoothies. Generally between 150–250 ml. Brands I use and recommend are Rude Health, Ecomil and for their rice milk, Rice Dream.

Optionally add superfoods, spices, citrus zest or herbs. Goji berries (add sweetness, but can remain ‘bitty’ in your smoothie), acai berry powder (can help with weight loss – but is slightly bitter), raw cacao powder (gives a great chocolatey flavour) cinnamon (naturally sweet and helps lower blood sugar levels), ginger (adds a zing). A squeeze of lemon or lime can transform a smoothie, as can the addition of fresh mint or basil leaves. Experiment and find out which ones you like the best. Add one or two of the superfoods or spices: don’t go overboard and add them all.

Which blenders are best

video-blendersIf you are new to making smoothies, or are thinking of upgrading your blender/smoothie maker, watch my little video which may help you consider which is best for you.

I hope this has helped you understand how to make good choices with smoothies. These are my favourites—all quite different from each other:

• Creamy Raspberry Smoothy
• Cherry Punch Smoothie
• Zingy Mint & Mango Smoothie
• Black Forest Gateau Smoothie

I hope this article has been useful – please let me know your thoughts in the comments box below.

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