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Is all the hype about smoothies and juices justified?

Kandy Childress • Jan 23, 2020 at 10:00 PM

Smoothies and juices are all the rage as celebrities and everyday folks flock to purchase expensive blenders and juicers capable of turning whole produce into the nutritional equivalent of liquid gold. The top reasons for drinking these fountain-of-youth concoctions center on weight loss, detox cleansing, and even a genuine desire to conveniently consume the daily recommended amount of fruits and veggies.

Is the health hype associated with smoothies and juices justified? Like the majority of things in life, the answer lies somewhere between yes and no. That’s why it’s important to understand the difference between the two and explore the pros and cons of both —and maybe even consider a third alternative.

The basic difference between smoothies and juices is in the preparation. Smoothies are prepared using blenders, while juicing is done using a juicer. According to Cynthia Sass, author of “Juice or Smoothie: Which One is Healthier?,” smoothies represent a blending of whole foods, enabling all of the nutrients to stay intact. Extra-nutritional ingredients — like Greek yogurt or protein powder — can be added to pump up the protein content. And you can toss in healthy fats — in the form of avocado, chia seeds, or almond butter — to make smoothies a real contender as legit meal replacements or post-workout recovery drinks.

While smoothies have exceptional nutritional merit, they do not represent health nirvana. Sass notes that if you make a smoothie with only produce, you’ll likely consume far more servings of fruits and veggies than you would in a single meal. While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually mean gulping down more calories than you can burn, ultimately leading to weight gain, not weight loss. Also, many smoothie devotees happily drink a smoothie with a meal rather than as a meal, which can add as many as 400-plus calories to a single meal.

Juices are great for folks who struggle to eat their fruits and veggies. If you can go for days bypassing produce, then juicing can serve as a convenient way to fill a serious nutrition gap. Juices are so concentrated, a small portion can provide the nutrient equivalent of several servings of fruits and veggies, making it much easier to take in all the key vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Like smoothies, juices can be problematic. Sass is quick to point out that proper juicing generally extracts nutrients, but leaves the fiber behind. This makes juice less filling than smoothies or whole fruit. By nixing fiber, you also miss out on some important nutrients and gut health benefits. What’s more, when juices are made with fruit or high-sugar veggies (like beets or carrots), you may experience a blood sugar spike, particularly if you don’t consume any food at the same time. And juices that contain more fruits than veggies can pack far more carbohydrates than you might expect — up to 40 grams in a 16-ounce serving.

In Roni Caryn Ragin’s article “Are Smoothies Better for You Than Juices?” published in The New York Times, she suggests that smoothies and juices are not as beneficial as eating whole fruits and vegetables. “Whole fruit takes longer to eat and is more likely to make you feel full.” She cites one study where adults ate either an apple or applesauce, or drank apple juice shortly before a meal. Those who ate applesauce consumed fewer calories at the meal than those who drank juice, but those who ate the apple consumed the fewest calories of all.

Ragin continues by saying both smoothies and juices have a health halo they don’t always deserve, especially if they are store-bought rather than prepared at home. Smoothies and juices can easily turn into high-calorie, sugar-delivery devices if they include sweetened yogurt or juice, sorbet, or frozen yogurt. While many dietitians agree that do-it-yourself smoothies reign supreme over juices, they are quick to point out that neither is a substitute for whole fruits and vegetables.

Kandy Childress can be reached via email at kandy.childress@gmail.com.

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