The New Face of Smoothies

By Star Lawrence
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

This year, Americans will guzzle down $6 million worth of commercially blended smoothies and countless vats of homemade snacks and meals contained in a single glass.

Smoothies have jumped out of the health food stores and into tony cafes, duking it out with specialty coffees as the "grande" drink of choice. The chalky powders and additives with the funny aftertaste are gone. Even the humblest street vendor is offering upscale jolts like wheatgrass and whey.

What role does this popular drink have in a healthy diet?

Pat Crocker, a home economist, culinary herbalist, and author of The Smoothie Bible, tells WebMD that smoothies are a valuable way to get the recommended daily intake of 5-10 fruits and veggies. Smoothies are filling, portable, and quick -- all pluses in this busy society.

Basics of Smoothie Construction

Crocker recommends each smoothie contain at least half a cup of liquid. Possibilities include:

  • Water
  • Orange juice (could be juice concentrate diluted as directed)
  • Apple juice
  • Yogurt (unflavored or natural is best)
  • Kefir (enzyme-enriched yogurt-like milk product)
  • Soda water (this creates "sparklers," especially delicious with veggies)
  • Ice chips

Since smoothies are soft, often sweet, and milkshake-like, what about ice cream? "Not if you are interested in healthy smoothies!" Larrian Gillespie, MD, author of The Menopause Diet, exclaims to WebMD.

Once the liquid is in the blender, it is time to add the fun stuff. Gillespie reels off a produce department of yummy ingredients you could try:

  • Bananas (almost a must in smoothies because they thicken the mixture. Crocker says to cut into 4 sections -- she includes almost all peels, except banana peels)
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries or other berries
  • Oranges and citrus (skip the yogurt with these)
  • Raw or cooked veggies (cooked are fine, don't forget those)
  • Papaya
  • Apples (the pectin can carry off toxins, Crocker says)
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Kelp
  • Split peas
  • Tofu
  • Goat cheese

Now for the Exotics

Gillespie and Crocker suggest a number of nutrition and flavor-enhancing additives you can add after the basics are in place.

For more protein, add dried powdered milk, Gillespie suggests. Or how about espresso coffee power or cocoa powder (unsweetened)? To add more sweetness, Gillespie suggests Splenda or honey. Many fruits are naturally sweet, however. Fresh mint can also add zip to fruit concoctions.

The trend nowadays is to transform smoothies into liquid vitamin pills.

Whey is a byproduct of cheesemaking. When the liquid left over after the cheese particles are removed is filtered and purified, it becomes a powder quite high in protein, but free of lactose and fat. Many athletes use it to build muscle.

Another popular smoothie-booster is wheatgrass. This is a powder made from the young wheat plant and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and enzymes. It is more of a veggie than a grain at this stage of development.

Not all smoothie lovers embrace the supernutrients approach. "This is garbage!" Sally Fallon, author of Eat Fat, Lose Fat and Nourishing Traditions, tells WebMD. "Smoothies need to be made of real food."

Fallon's rule of thumb is: Would you eat each ingredient by itself, on its own?

She also isn't a fan of raw veggies in smoothies, especially those in the broccoli and cauliflower (cruciferous) area.

Some people also add bee pollen to smoothies. "Use unprocessed honey instead," Fallon advises. (Honey should not be consumed for kids under age 1 because of the risk of botulism.)

Crocker thinks smoothies are a way to get healing herbs. Herbs can be powerful medicine, however, and you should study up on them first.

Smoothies as Therapy

Because smoothies are comforting and slide down easily, it is possible, if your doctor or nutritionist advises, to incorporate needed nutrients. If you are anemic, you might include iron-rich sea herbs, Crocker says. These include dulce and kelp. Beets and spinach are also possibilities.

For constipation, Crocker says don't turn to chemicals. Instead, eliminate bland, refined foods and add nuts, legumes, and psyllium powder to your one-glass meals. Prunes can also be good "smoothie-ized," as can rhubarb.

For weight control, spin up a smoothie at midday, rather than reaching for a bagel.

Invent Your Own

Crocker recommends a smoothie a day. They can be a reasonable meal substitute.

Veggie smoothies can also be a nice aperitif. For a before dinner "cocktail" Crocker suggests zipping up some soy milk, celery, whole tomato, a pinch of fennel, curry powder, turmeric, and cumin, and making a nice "smoothie" dip or sauce. You can even chug it straight. Sip and savor.

Another nice lunch smoothie, she says, contains oranges, cooked carrots, orange juice, seedless red grapes, and some fresh ginger.


Star Lawrence is a medial journalist based in the Phoenix area.

Published May 19, 2006.


SOURCES: Pat Crocker, home economist, culinary herbalist, author, The Smoothie Bible. Larrian Gillespie, MD, author of The Menopause Diet. Sally Fallon, author, Eat Fat, Lose Fat and Nourishing Traditions; president, Weston A. Price Foundation, Washington. Juiceconsult.com web site: "History of the Smoothie Industry."

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