Smoothies and Juices and Carbs, Oh My!
Straight up transparency for you here: I pull a lot of inspiration for Wellness Wednesday from my Facebook newsfeed.
Social media is great because it's an access point for us all. We can ask questions, and we can get answers. Heck, the internet has the WHOLE OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE available. At your fingertips.
You can, right now, go take classes for free from Harvard. Learn another language. Casually read about quantum physics. Go revisit algebra, calculus, and trig. (I mean, you won't get a degree to prove you did it. But... sometimes we get a little caught up in degrees and proving our worth. That's a different tangent/rabbit hole that I won't fall down right now.)
Stay focused, Britt.
Today I want to talk about something I saw on Facebook that made me shake my fist in anger.
Not, like, in anger at the woman who wrote the post, but at the system that has caused so much food confusion that we have become a society scared of even fruits and vegetables.
This cool lady wanted to start drinking more juices and smoothies, so according to her brief post, she went to the store to get some premade juices and smoothies. Busy lady. Doesn't have a lot of time for squeezing juices and blending vegetables.
Now, I have absolutely no idea what brand of juices/smoothies she was looking at, so let's just assume that she was checking out some Naked smoothies.
She took a look at the nutrition info and was like, "nope, no way. Too many carbs."
This is where she began perusing the internet, deciding instead to make her own juices and smoothies at home. In her words, she wants to cook more at home for herself, but she doesn't even have time to eat with the workload she has in her day job (that's a whole 'nother rabbit hole I won't descend into right now—but let me just interject to say, if you feel you don't have time to eat, pause. I swear you do. You deserve time to eat. No matter how busy your day, you are worthy of time to yourself to nourish your body, mind, and soul. Otherwise, with no food, you will eventually flatline and then be of no use to anyone!)
Back to her brief post and the comments below, she wasn't finding any recipes for smoothies and juices that she liked because they were all too high carb.
That's when I began fist shaking.
Again, not at her. Her belief that carbs are bad is a direct result of food marketing and propaganda.
Carbohydrates are biological molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The hydrogen-oxygen atom ratio is usually 2:1. Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen (sound familiar? H20 is water, yo!) Of course, water isn't a carb, because carbohydrates also have carbon (and not carbonated water... dad joke, I know)!
Guys, carbs aren't bad. Carbohydrates are found all up in our food, from "healthy" foods to "unhealthy" foods. We need carbohydrates. They are a source of glucose which is like gasoline for us—glucose becomes energy, and that energy is what the body then uses so it may go about all of the functions you are so very accustomed to your body doing for ya.
Carbohydrate sources include a wide spectrum from the likes of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans to white bread, pastries, soda, and other processed foods.
The food confusion here comes out of the belief that all carbs are to be blacklisted. It's a lot like what happened with low-fat and no-fat diets in the 90s. Fat got a bad rep, too.
If we choose to focus on eating whole foods, mostly plant-based, and a wide array of colors, you're more than likely going to be a-ok. Carbohydrates aren't the enemy here.
So back to juices and smoothies, which are made up of mostly carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables), I like to follow some guidelines when curating a smoothie recipe:
- Obviously, it needs to be delicious. This is item number one because it is of utmost importance to want to savor the food you eat.
- A ratio of 2:1 when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Two parts vegetable to one part fruit. (Often my dark leafy greens are included as one of those two parts)
- High-quality fat for sustained energy! (Typically an avocado because I love me a creamy smoothie, and this adds the potassium and thickness a banana would without adding too many sugars. I'll get into sugar a bit more later, but don't be scared of fruit sugar! Just be aware of how much fruit sugar you're eating in comparison to vegetables, capiche?)
- Additional fiber—I usually add flaxseed or chia seeds to my smoothie to up the fiber content, though I've been known to add rolled oats, too. Listen, these rules are guidelines, and whatever is going to make your smoothie fit into number 1 and number 2 the best is more than likely excellent.
So, back to where this all started: what is the better choice between a juice and a smoothie?
Me? I own a juicer and a blender, and I adore the space I have for both in my life (though my juicer gets far less exercise than my Vitamix).
I have very strong opinions about juicing that have come out of my own personal experience, and I would like to devote some time to share those opinions with you.
Opinion No. One | The amazing feeling you experience when you first start juicing could be a result of cutting processed foods out of your diet and not so much a result of the juices themselves.
I vividly recall my first juice cleanse. I felt AMAZING. It was like unicorns and rainbows and sunshine had taken up residence inside my soul.
At the time, I wasn't eating a whole foods diet. Although I was gluten, dairy, and meat-free, I was eating a whole lot of processed foods. So when I did that first juice cleanse, my body got about six days of 100% whole, from the earth foods. Two days before the cleanse I ate only raw fruit and vegetables, and one day after the cleanse I did the same (standard recommended protocol re: juicing). As this way of eating was not my norm, the flood of whole food goodness into my cells induced feelings of euphoria. Rainbows. Unicorns. Etc.
Maybe it isn't the juice that's the difference. Maybe it's what's within the juices. The spinach. The kale. The ginger. The green apples. The parsley. The lemons. The cashews.
This is why I'm a bigger fan of whole foods "cleanses." Why not flood our bodies with more goodness in the form of whole, plant-based foods rather than restrict ourselves to days of only liquids?
Which leads me to my next opinion…
Opinion No. Two | Juicing can be a gateway to disordered eating patterns.
Juice cleanses are also tied to weight loss. They are marketed as the perfect solution to lose weight before a wedding or to get ready for bikini season.
All I see here are red flags.
A large part of my own disordered eating story stems from my first juice cleanse (see above). I felt amazing. I was feeding my body so many nutrients that, according to the juice cleanse website, I wouldn't be hungry! And I wasn't.
Shortly after this first juice cleanse, I began replacing one to two meals a day with a juice.
JUICES SHOULDN'T REPLACE MEALS.
Juices, especially green juices, are a fabulous addition to a balanced diet. For example, have a green juice in lieu of an afternoon coffee,
Instead of morning orange juice? Green juice! Sure. Why not?
But we MUST eat food.
A juice cleanse can so easily act as a gateway to restrictive eating patterns, and no amount of weight loss is worth starving for.
Juicing can be a wonderful thing. A cleanse can jump-start an intention to eat more whole foods. Being aware of our intentions when we juice is key.
Opinion No. Three | There's a place for juices AND a place for smoothies.
One of the criticisms of juicing is that, when we juice, we are breaking up the perfect combo of sugars and fibers inherent in fruits and vegetables, and therefore our juices are too high in sugar. In these arguments, it is often stated that smoothies are better because then we're getting the entire fruit and vegetable—the fiber is intact to slow the absorption of sugar.
However, a fresh juice is a far better choice than a Coke. A home juiced beverage is superior to Hawaiian Punch. Carrot juice trumps Tang every time.
I'm all about good, better, and best. We can choose to make good choices often, better choices when possible, and the best choices when available.
Maybe we want to go easy on the straight pineapple juice, but a kale, spinach, green apple, lemon, and ginger green juice is sure a great way to get all those nutrients and enzymes right into the bloodstream (without being "hindered" by the fiber).
Op. No. Four | Isn't my liver made for cleansing? Like… that's it's essential function. To cleanse my body…
How will a juice cleanse or ANY cleanse… cleanse?
Yes. The human body is AMAZING. I'm not really sure how mine has survived some of the things I've put it through, but it HAS.
Humans survive on a straight diet of junk food every single day.
The human body is built to clean itself out. To stay balanced. To rid itself of toxins (or poisons). Homeostasis is its default preferred setting (which your body is always striving to maintain).
However, that doesn't mean it won't operate better when we feed it the fuel it needs, desires, and thrives on. Maybe your liver is struggling a bit. Maybe you have other things going on with your body that means it's not operating at 100%. Treating it with a little more care and putting Supreme gas in rather than regular unleaded or diesel? Why not?
You know those little scrubbers from the Scrubbing Bubbles ads? They dance around the commercial bathroom, scrub a dub dubbing the tub and the sink and the toilet. They're pretty great.
But they don't ACTUALLY come spraying out of the bottle of Scrubbing Bubbles when you bring one home to clean your bathroom.
That's similar to the metaphor we sometimes hear about the function of juices. The enzymes and nutrients we get from a green juice aren't going to jump into our bloodstream and scrub a dub away toxins, but by feeding ourselves high-quality fuel, we are allowing our bodies to rest a little.
Our bodies won't have to work so hard to clean out the less than desirable processed ingredients when we're feeding them a more loving diet of whole, plant-based foods.
Which brings me back to my previous point: maybe we don't need a straight liquid cleanse diet. A whole foods cleans rather than a juice cleanse may be just the ticket.
The media has a way of making even our good choices seem evil. Health fanatics can and will criticize any food choice we make.
Op. No. Five | I'm of the opinion that anyone who is shaming you or criticizing your intentions for your personal health and wellness journey in a non-constructive way probably isn't anyone you need to pay attention to, anyway.
We can choose to take the things we read (even this content) with a grain of salt and trust our own inner wisdom to make the best choice.
You have within you a clarity that no one else can grant you. Sometimes we just need a bit of help uncovering it.