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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Smoothies vs Juicing, and the evils of Sugar.


I have to admit, though it might incur some judgements... I've become a smoothie drinker.  No longer just a casual smoothie drinker either, it has now become a full-blown aspect of my lifestyle.

It's hard not to see, and thus enjoy, the benefits of drinking a cup of well-thought-out fruit and vegetables.

A lot of people, it seems, are extolling the awesomeness of green smoothies these days.  Just google it, and you'll see an insane representation online.  I mean, I get it, they can be great. The one thing I don't get, however, is how bad for you many of these concoctions can be.

Indeed, it seems like people are solely interested in getting one or two good things down their gullets that they don't see anything wrong with all the bad they're also throwing in.  I've seen so many great-seeming recipes that are just ruined by the addition of yogurt, milk, or (shockingly) even sugar.

For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would add sugar to a smoothie.  Do you put sugar on your salads?  Well, maybe sometimes I'll admit I've had a honey-vinaigrette dressing while dining out... 

But how about a bowl of fruit?  

I mean fruit has so much sugar in it already... and it's fructose which is far, far better than sucrose.

Anyway...  sorry about that.

My point is just that I've been getting into smoothies.  And, as such, I've been delving into researching different aspects of consuming food in puréed form.  From what I can glean, much of the bad flak that is directed towards smoothies comes from an ignorance that fails to distinguish adequately between smoothies and juicing.

Juicing is bad.

I'll just say it.

Juicing involves taking a whole food and rendering it... not whole.

In addition to throwing away much of the good nutrients and roughage from what your juicing leftover as a by-product, there is the very interesting side of it which is how your body digests this juice.

I've been seeing and reading a lot about sugar lately, how North America really needs to reconceptualize how sugar is classified, and ultimately how it is consumed, in our diets.  A lot of it should be common sense (like avoid processed foods, eating pure whole foods instead), but one thing which I found very interesting, was the way in which our bodies metabolise sugars according to the rate at which these sugars are ingested.  Apparently your liver can literally go into 'shock' when too much sugar is consumed too quickly.  I mean, we always knew that blood glucose spikes are bad, and that the healthiest diets all consist of unrefined sugars and carbohydrates that take a long time to digest within the stomach, thus releasing sugar into the blood slowly and at a much more consistent rate.  After all, it's those spikes which are just really, really bad.

But we've all been there... you're hungry and haven't eaten all day so you pop a chocolate bar or a cookie and it gives you a literal rush of energy.  It has always been common knowledge that you'd get a sugar 'high' and then a corresponding sugar 'crash' soon after, often leaving you with less energy than you had had before.  This is super, dooper bad for you though.  That glucose spike just curb-stomped your liver,  stopping on its way only long enough to smack your pancreas upside the head.  They're still dazed long after the sugar has been 'metabolised'.  But the really scary thing is that, do this too often, and you're basically going to get type II diabetes... or studies are showing lately, even heart disease.

Heart disease from sugars?  Yup.

Sure I'm over-simplifying things, and let us not forget that I'm also not a doctor, but it does seem to make sense to me that if you piece together all the information we've been told over the last few decades indicating a preference for whole foods, whole grains, and unrefined sugars, it a clear picture is painted which places the speed at which your stomach can digest these sugars as playing a very large role.

Drinking a sugary beverage, even one made entirely of pure, organic, all-natural fruit or vegetables, isn't really great for you.

So here we circle back to juice, and juicing.

It seems there are still a lot of companies marketing (and successfully) juices couched in buzz such as 'organic', '100% pure', 'All-natural', etc.  And people are buying them.  Sure there are some nutrients in there, and sure, it's better than something artificial, but it still is not great for you.  And sure, I have been known to buy some OJ myself, in order to get a quick hit of sugar and vitamin C, but make no mistake, I consider this an 'extra' not a 'fruit'.  Indeed, part of this reconceptualization of sugars that is being called for, is the notion that juices should no longer be considered as fruit or vegetable servings.

Basically, with juice, you're taking something that your stomach would naturally take its time digesting slowly, with any nutrients entering the blood stream leisurely and naturally, and instead forcing a distilled and mis-represented deluge of concentrate into your stomach, with no roughage or anything to slow down the digestion.  

Think about it this way: if your cup of juice contains the juice from 5 large carrots (just as an example here), consider how quickly you'd be able to bite, chew and swallow 5 large carrots, vs. how long it takes you to drink 250ml of liquid.  Next think about all the extra things that go into your stomach when you eat 5 whole carrots, and how long your stomach will feel full afterwards, vs. the same considerations regarding 250ml of carrot juice.

Even if your juice says quite clearly on it 'no sugar added', it is imperative to note that it doesn't need to have sugar added because it has already concentrated the sugars from the fruit or vegetable.

Downing the sugars from 5 large carrots in a matter of a minute or two is just as bad for your blood glucose levels as drinking a can of coke.  In fact it contains almost as many calories.

So what if it doesn't have sucrose, glucose-fructose and other really bad laboratory-concocted sugars, the fact remains you've just dumped a shit-tonne of sugar into your stomach with no filter, nor any medium with which absorption gets slowed.

So... even good sugars (fructose) can be bad if distilled and concentrated into liquid form.

It's sad, because I used to love juice.  I was raised on orange juice.

Smoothies are often confused with juice, however, and I feel like we should stand up for them.  The same things do not (at least not necessarily) apply.

For one thing, you aren't removing any food or food nutrients.  Everything is still in there, you've just used a machine to 'chew' it for you.

If however, you are one of those smoothie drinkers who adds sugars, then there are considerations, namely those blood glucose level issues we were referencing above.  Even still though, you've got a lot of dietary fibre and solids in there to accompany the sugar, so it has to be a little better still, right?

But let's not even go there, let us--for the sake of this argument--assume we're only talking about smoothies consisting of nothing but natural fruit and vegetables.

If I drink a cup of smoothie that is, in order of volume, kale, almond milk, banana, blueberries and raspberries, sure my delivery method speeds up the consumption a fair bit, but I could argue that I could down the equivalent foods just as quickly.  But the important thing, I think, is that nothing has been distilled or concentrated.  It's still the food, and I'm still eating it whole, I've just blended it.

Think about this:  take all the food that would be equivalent to 250ml of a smoothie containing these things, and arrange them as a salad.  That's not a lot of food, so even taking your time, you'd probably only take a minute or two of eating, right?  So if I drink my smoothie in the same amount of time, what's the difference?  

Next, arrange the exact same salad, but instead of eating it all whole, squish all the liquids out of the food and throw away everything else.  Drink the paltry few millilitres you got from that, and think about how inefficient that was.  Finally, consider squishing enough of this food in order to get enough liquid to get back up to 250ml.  How much food did you imagine getting?  Imagine wasting?  Furthermore, consider how that liquid is going to be digested, all at once, in one big hurry?

I'm not your stomach, but I'm going to guess that it would far prefer the first scenario.

Even something as wicked-awesomely-healthy as kale, isn't great when juiced.  Made into a smoothie, though...  It is not really any different from eating it whole...  Just bear in mind that the healthiest smoothies are like the healthiest salads.  If you add a crapload of dairy or oils or fats or sugars, it isn't going to be as healthy, right?  So that's why common sense needs to prevail.

So... to summarize this rather long and raving rant... we went from: 'I like smoothies' to 'If you think smoothies are bad, you're probably confusing them with juicing', to 'juicing is bad because it is inefficient and because it concentrates a lot of sugars', to 'concentrated sugars lead to disease', to 'smoothies aren't all that different from eating whole foods', and finally ending on 'just be smart about it.'


You don't have to believe me, and sure if this was an academic paper or professional article I would have to back these claims up with references, and I'm not going to here.  But I could, if I wanted to, I'm just being lazy and well honestly, it's a blog people, not an authoritative doctrine.

If you are interested in what I've laid out here though, and whether you agreed or disagreed, I do (as always) strongly suggest and encourage you to read up on it yourselves.