I'm often asked, "Yuri, don't smoothies have a ton of carbs and sugar in them? Thus, don't they make you fat?"
To tell you the truth, I am not surprised there is so much confusion about smoothies.
For years, the media has forced us to believe sugar and carbs are "evil," will make us fat and should be avoided at all costs. The thing is, there's a huge difference between the naturally occurring sugar and carbs found in fruits and veggies and those found in processed, refined foods and sugary drinks. Fruits and vegetables are good for you and should not be avoided, while processed, prepackaged and refined foods are not good for you and should be avoided.
While fruits and veggies are healthy, there are a few things you should keep in mind when adding them to your smoothies.
In my opinion, there isn't an easier way to increase the amount of plant food in your diet than drinking a green smoothie. I mean, I get about 6 to 8 servings of veggies and a few fruits in my daily green smoothie alone.
This is important because vegetables, especially the green leafy variety, are the ultimate source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. These minerals are vital because they will help you to maintain a slightly alkaline bloodstream. In my opinion, maintaining a slightly alkaline bloodstream is the foundation of good health and energy.
The problem is, there are thousands of green smoothie recipes out there and some are better than others. To give you an example, one smoothie recipe I've seen calls for greens powder, avocado, grapefruit and dates. Sure, this smoothie probably tastes great, but dates are not the best choice to include in your smoothies because they have a high glycemic index.
[Read: Use and Abuse of the Glycemic Index.]
The term glycemic index refers to how fast a particular food will spike your blood sugar after you eat it. Dates have a high glycemic index, which means they spike your blood sugar almost immediately. For this reason, I do not recommend using them in your smoothies.
Honestly, you should choose to eat low-glycemic foods as much as possible. Since high-glycemic foods spike your blood sugar, they also spike your insulin levels. High insulin and blood sugar levels will make you fat. They also lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
While glycemic index is used to describe how quickly a single food spikes your blood sugar, the term glycemic load is used to describe how fast a combination of foods, like those in a smoothie, will spike your blood sugar. One way you can reduce the glycemic load of a meal or smoothie is to add protein, fat or a mixture of the two. Protein and fat both slow digestion, which allows the sugar to be released slowly rather than dumped into the bloodstream all at once.
When it comes to glycemic load, there are no particular numbers you should aim for; but as a rule, the lower the glycemic load, the better it is for your health.
The smoothie I mentioned above has a glycemic load of approximately 32, and when the dates are excluded, the glycemic load goes down to 20. In my opinion, even without the dates, the glycemic load of this smoothie is too high, and if consumed on a daily basis, it could make you gain fat. Dates and, actually, grapefruits are both high in sugar, making them higher on the glycemic-index scale than other fruits.
The green smoothies I recommend contain mostly leafy green vegetables. I hardly ever include fruits in my smoothies, but on occasion, I might add an apple or a pear for flavor and texture. Apples and pears are better options than dates or tropical fruits like pineapples, mangoes and bananas because they are low glycemic.
I also make a lot of berry smoothies. Berries are even lower on the glycemic-index scale than apples and pears. This makes them a great choice if you want to add a little sweetness to your smoothies.
[See: The Best Berries for Your Health.]
This idea of glycemic load is the main reason I am not a fan of fruitarianism. As the name suggests, fruitarians only eat fruit. The problem is that fruits like dates, bananas and mangoes are high in sugar and, when eaten together, they create an extremely high glycemic load.
I know many people who make smoothies with purely fruit – these smoothies will make you fat! Don't get me wrong, fruits do contain a lot of great nutrients, but they are only good for your body when consumed in small quantities.
[Read: 5 Secret Smoothie Ingredients.]
To recap, when it comes to smoothies, you should only include low-glycemic fruits like berries, apples and pears. Tropical fruits like pineapples, mangoes and bananas are higher in sugar and should only be used sparingly.
The main ingredients you should include in your smoothies are vegetables, especially the green leafy variety, since that is where the real health benefits come from.
If you follow these few simple rules, you'll never have to worry about a smoothie making you fat again.
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Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's FREE "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.