Green smoothies can be a fantastic way to boost our health by incorporating a rich variety of wholesome nutrients. They are one of the quickest, easiest, and healthiest meals we can make and incorporate into our diets. Their versatility makes them hard to beat as they can take the place of a whole meal or quick snack, be used for healing or prevention, for weight-loss or muscle-building, and be suitable for children, seniors, and everyone in between. However, just as with any good thing, there are ways we can ruin and take away from their optimal nature. In this article I will share with you 7 things you shouldn’t add to your green smoothie.
My personal journey with green smoothies started back in 2008. At that time I was awakening to my love affair with greens, but found it challenging to know how to incorporate some of them in practical and delicious ways. We definitely didn’t have the abundance of resources that we do today and array of amazing recipes. That was until one spring day in 2008. I can vividly recall to this day going through the check-out line at a local natural health food store when the cashier noticed I was buying kale and asked me what I was going to do with it. I shared that I was just going to steam it, and she asked me if I ever made green smoothies with it, to which I replied, no. At that point, I had never heard of green smoothies. With an excited smile, she handed me a printed recipe card that featured a simple green smoothie recipe. I was both fascinated and a little repelled by the idea of leafy greens in a smoothie but decided to give it a try. That was the day I got hooked onto green smoothies and to this day they are one of my most favorite ways to incorporate greens into my diet.
However, as my personal and professional research into the fields of health and nutrition amplified, I realized that there are many ways to make a green smoothie. Some ingredient and combination choices are much healthier and optimal than others. And while it is always valuable to consume leafy greens, the presence of some ingredients can make a green smoothie downright unhealthy. So if we are going to rely on green smoothies, we cannot do it haphazardly, we need to get it right. Green smoothies, as almost with anything else, can work for or against us. This is why today, after over 7 years of being an avid green smoothie drinker and proponent, I am very passionate about helping people properly understand green smoothies.
Green Smoothie Basics
For most of these past 7 years, green smoothies have been the way I start my day. I have about 14 to 16 ounces or 2 cups of a whole-meal green smoothie, at least 5 out of the 7 days, if not every day, as my breakfast. This is what makes my body, energy, weight, vitality, and health thrive.
The general health benefits of green smoothies include:
They provide an opportunity to get some vital, nutrient-dense greens into another meal of our the day (besides obvious choices like salads, steamed, sautéed, or stir-fried greens), and reap the rewards of more servings of the most powerful foods each day.
They provide a richly alkalizing, not acidifying, meal. (Optimal health requires a roughly, one-quarter acidifying to three-quarters alkalizing food breakdown.)
They provide an excellent opportunity to get more fruit servings per day.
They provide an excellent opportunity to consume a fully raw meal.
They provide an excellent opportunity to consume more fresh produce per day.
They are a rich source of all the right nutrients, including healthy carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber.
They provide maximum surface area for quick, easy, and efficient nutrient absorption.
They benefit all areas of our health, healing, and prevention, both acute and chronic conditions.
They benefit our energy levels, weight loss and weight maintenance, as well as our mental and emotional health.
Green smoothies can be as simple or complex as we may prefer them. We can create many combinations based on leafy greens and additions like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, and numerous beneficial superfoods. I personally like to keep my green smoothies quite simple, as there is a lot of health benefit in focused simplicity. My basic formula includes: lots of leafy greens, 1 to 2 fruits, some omega-3-rich seeds, and water. Based on this simple formula, green smoothies can be adapted to meet everyone’s needs, such as being higher or lower in calories, fat, protein, fiber, etc. The key is to make sure that we do not add ingredients that will lead to various imbalances or harm within our body.
Green Smoothie Problems
To help you make and get the most out of your green smoothies, here is a list of things that we should not do if we want to enjoy the best health and weight benefits.
1. Adding Juice to Green Smoothies
There is definitely a time and place for fresh, homemade vegetable and/or fruit juices. However, conventional, pasteurized juices are not any kind of health food and cannot be considered healthy choices. Besides being a source of calories and sugars, they do not offer our body any benefits. The original, wholesome fruit has been stripped away of most of its vital benefits, including fiber, and any remaining vitamins or phytonutrients are typically destroyed by the processing and pasteurization process. This is why many juices are enriched with synthetic vitamins.
So while juices will make your smoothie sweeter, this should not be needed if you are using whole fruit (fresh or frozen). Whole fruit will make the green smoothie delicious and actually more palatable, once your tastebuds detox from being attuned to the hyper sweetness that is common within the Standard American Diet. What the presence of juice will do on a negative note, is add unnecessary, empty calories to your green smoothie and have spiking effects on your blood sugar. Both of these concerns will work against your weight and blood-glucose regulation, and can lead to more serious problems down the road, including type 2 diabetes.
2. Adding Dairy to Green Smoothies
Dairy is not a health food on its own, and definitely does not help any meal that it is added to. Although more and more people are coming to the urgent realization that dairy should be avoided altogether, some people still consider dairy or some types of it a healthy option. So whether it is cow’s milk or goat’s milk, regular yogurt or Greek yogurt, do not ruin your green smoothie by adding dairy to it.
Modern, processed dairy has many problems associated with it; it is acid-forming, mucus-forming, inflammatory, and allergenic. If not organic, dairy will be prone to containing various drugs, hormones, pesticides, and GMOs. Whether organic or not, the pasteurization process alone renders many nutrients in dairy denatured or unusable. Nutritionally, dairy, especially when not chemically defatted, contains a very high amount of fat of various unhealthy fatty acids. It is also high in unhealthy proteins. One example is a protein called casein, which has been linked to being allergenic and cancer promoting. Dairy is also completely devoid of fiber, and a source of unhealthy cholesterol. Ultimately, cow’s milk was created for baby cows, and the sooner we get off of it, the better for our health and weight. So don’t allow yourself to be seduced by misleading marketing related to products like Greek yogurt or any other dairy product. If you want more protein or creaminess in your green smoothie, there are healthy ways of getting it, like adding raw almonds, without relying on dairy and its slew of problems.
To top it off, fruit and dairy make for some of the worst food combining, and can result in various digestive disturbances, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Depending on the health of your digestive system, it is generally speaking best to consume fruit on its own or with water-rich veggies, like leafy greens.
3. Adding Sugar or Sweeteners to Green Smoothies
Although this point may seem obvious, with the rise and popularity of many natural sweeteners, some green smoothie recipes call for the inclusion of isolated sugar sources like agave nectar or honey. Aside from the fact that isolated sweeteners, no matter how healthy sounding, should be kept to an absolute minimum in our diets for optimal weight and health, there is no need to sweeten our smoothies. The whole fruit used will beautifully and naturally bring out pleasant sweet tones and make our smoothies delicious. Whole fruit comes with all of its fiber and nutrients intact, which complements healthy digestion and utilization. Isolated sugars, however, can unnaturally spike our blood-glucose levels, work against our weight, be inflammatory, and typically have little or no nutritional value.
4. Adding Too Many Calories
As mentioned, green smoothies can be very versatile to suit all people’s needs. Whether you are an active athlete or wish to lose weight, you can customize green smoothies to best suit your needs. And while it is great to include various whole, natural foods into your green smoothie, if we are trying to maintain an optimal weight or lose weight, we must be mindful of what we are adding to our smoothies and how much of it. High calorie items like nuts or nut butters, seeds or seed butters, dairy, avocados, and oils will all be a source of significant calories. For example, if you add an oil to your smoothies, each tablespoon will yield about 120 extra calories. If you add an avocado, it will add about 200 to 300 calories to your smoothie. If you add 1 oz or about a ¼ cup of almonds to your smoothie, it will add about 160 to 200 calories to your smoothie.
Again, please keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with adding some of these items, as they will typically be a welcome source of calories and nutrients, especially if we want to make a whole-meal green smoothie or for active people or those eating a whole-food, plant-based diet that is naturally low in calories. It can become a problem though, if we start adding too much of any of these, or adding several high-calorie ingredients, especially if we are trying to lose weight. Simply be mindful of what your needs are and create your optimal green smoothie accordingly.
5. Adding Protein Powders
Perhaps one of the most common ingredients added to smoothies, including green smoothies, are protein powders. No surprise there perhaps, as in our world today there is no shortage of protein powders of every type, flavor, and color. My first question to people who engage in this is always: why? Why do you feel or think you need a protein powder? We have to recognize that we live in a protein-obsessed society. We also have very faulty views and understandings of protein. Most people have no need and no good reason to be adding protein powder to their smoothie. Just like with carbohydrates and fats, more protein is not better. We do not realize that optimal health is not created via high-protein meals or diets. Additionally, most protein powders on the market today are nutritionally atrocious, full of various sweeteners, GMOs, synthetic, modified, processed, or isolated ingredients, preservatives, colors, and flavors. This is not what creates good health, never mind optimal health, and is frankly a huge waste of our money.
Granted there are higher quality protein powders that focus on having characteristics like being 100% plant-based, organic, natural, etc. However, even the best of these is still a form of processed food; we cannot forget that. Protein powders do not grow on trees, they are made in factories. So while they can play a valuable role if we are traveling or need a convenient nutritional boost when on the go, for daily, home use they are hard to justify. If we are consuming proper green smoothies, the greens alone are loaded with nearly every single vitamin and mineral that we need, including high protein amounts. Let’s then use real, whole foods like fruits, nuts or seeds, or even various superfoods as per our specific needs, to pump up the nutritional density naturally. Hemp seeds alone are nutritional and protein powerhouses!
Ultimately, this does not solve our preoccupation with protein. If we are going to make wise choices about nutrition, protein included, whether we are dealing with green smoothies or any other meal choice, we need to learn the truth about protein and not be blinded by collusion from both the animal food and protein supplement industries. Empower yourself and benefit your health by learning about the 8 myths of plant and animal protein sources, as well as the abundance of protein in plant foods, or take a comprehensive class about protein.
7. Adding Roasted Nuts or Seeds
While raw nuts or seeds are a wonderful addition to our diets, and thus green smoothies, roasted nuts or seeds are not. Even though our society still predominantly focuses on selling roasted versions of these foods, this is in no way ideal for our health. We have to realize that fats, especially unsaturated fatty acids, which nuts and seeds are rich in, are sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen. If these fats become rancid or denatured, we not only lose beneficial health properties, but also gain unfavorable consequences. Processed unsaturated fats, like refined oils or roasted nuts and seeds are inflammatory in nature.
So by all means enjoy adding some nuts or seeds to your green smoothie, which will easily turn it into a whole-meal green smoothie, but be sure to only use raw nuts or seeds, and preferably organic ones as well. Equally so, we can rely on pure, raw nut or seed butters, especially if your blender isn’t powerful enough to pulverize whole nuts or seeds. These options can add valuable calories to your green smoothie, increase the healthy fat and healthy protein compositions, as well as increase the vitamin and mineral compositions further, and add density and creaminess to your green smoothie.
7. Adding Processed, Synthetic, or Artificial Ingredients
Aside from what I talked about above, there are many other processed, synthetic, and artificial ingredients that can end up in our smoothies if we are not mindful of our choices. We have to remember the whole point of why we are drinking green smoothies: to optimize our health and weight, healing, and prevention. Therefore, it makes no sense to be adding any ingredients that compromise these goals in any way.
Although it is not the worst example of processed food, non-dairy milks are one of the most common additions to green smoothies. It is one thing if we are making our own nut milk at home, but quite another if we are buying conventional, processed nut milk. Many people habitually add a non-dairy milk to their green smoothies without considering consciously why they are doing so. It is neither a significant source of calories or nutrients. Water is the only and ideal liquid we need for green smoothies. If we want increased nutrient-density (whether fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals) or increased creaminess, then as mentioned above in number 6, nuts and seeds ideally fulfill this role in the most wholesome of ways. Conventional non-dairy milks are, first and foremost, extremely watered-down versions of the real thing and thus offer very little nutritional value from a wholesomeness perspective. Granted they are fortified with some nutrients, but these are synthetic and in no way equivalent to those found in whole foods. They most commonly contain a sweetener, added flavors, as well as various questionable ingredients. It is a much better investment of our money, and for our health, to go for real nuts or seeds, or their wholesome, pure butter counterparts.
The same needs to be kept in mind about oils, which are processed and extracted parts of the original whole food. While coconut, flax, or hemp oils are generally speaking considered healthy and common green smoothie additions, it is much more valuable to go with their whole food counterparts. Add in flax seeds or hemp seeds instead of their oils. With coconut, even adding in coconut butter provides us with a more wholesome version of the original food and it won’t make your green smoothie oily.
Green Smoothies for Your Health
As mentioned in the introduction, green smoothies can be one of the most amazing ways we can boost the nutrient density of our diet and benefit our health, but they can also work against us if we are not mindful about what we put into them. Be sure to always focus on real, fresh, wholesome, natural plant foods and of course have the leafy greens play the starring role.
To learn more about green smoothies and how to make optimally healthy ones, including recipes, nutritional information, and more, I invite you to explore my interactive green smoothie essentials online course.
Nourish your body with optimal foods and enjoy the benefits of optimal health!