Are Green Smoothies Really Good for You?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past decade, you have undoubtedly heard of Green Smoothies.  Fruit-based blender drinks of raw leafy green vegetables, blended until smooth, Green Smoothies are both delicious and nutritious. 

Why be part of the Green Smoothie revolution?

  • Enjoy your dark leafy greens without having to make a meal out of them
  • Improve your health and energy levels
  • Top up your calories and re-hydrate after a workout
  • Feel full for hours on fruit, greens, nuts or seeds, and water
Dark leafy greens
Dark leafy greens: According to Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, the fiber in smoothies is so finely pureed that its helpful properties are destroyed

What’s the catch?

A few months ago, vegan health blogger and cookbook author Lindsay Nixon wrote a strongly worded article against the health benefits of Green Smoothies and why she no longer drinks them.  The post generated such an uproar she had to take it down.  Clearly, people are very attached to their Green Smoothies!

Lindsay points readers to Dr Caldwell Esselstyn’s position on Green Smoothies, which had informed her own.  Esselstyn, a popular plant-based health crusader and one of the stars of the film Forks Over Knives, writes:

“Avoid smoothies. The fiber is so finely pureed that its helpful properties are destroyed. The sugar is stripped from the fruit, bypasses salivary digestion and results in a surge of glucose and the accompanying fructose contributes to inflammation and hypertension.”

In fact, the entire Esselstyne-Campbell Forks Over Knives camp has come out strongly against Green Smoothies.

In defense of Green Smoothies

Just to make things interesting, well-respected vegan nutrition researcher and author, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, promotes Green Smoothies!  Dr Furhman writes:

“Eating raw greens and fruits blended together to make a smooth, creamy treat is quick and convenient. The greatest benefit of blending is the increased absorption of important nutrients. All plants cells are surrounded by a cell wall that must be broken open to release the nutrients inside. As a result, most of the valuable nutrients contained within these cells never enter our bloodstream. Blending raw, leafy greens guarantees a higher percentage of nutrients absorbed into your bloodstream. By just chewing your food you absorb about 15 – 25% of the nutrients, but blending makes your body able to absorb up to 95%!” 

To blend or not to blend? It’s all about absorption

When Purslane Met Kiwi: A green smoothie. Click on the photo for the full recipe
When Purslane Met Kiwi: A green smoothie. Click on the photo for the full recipe

Essentially, both sides are talking about absorption, but whereas Dr Fuhrman feels that the better absorption of nutrients is what makes Green Smoothies so healthy, Dr Esselstyn warns that the lack of fiber in smoothies causes fruit sugar to enter the bloodstream quickly, raising blood sugar and insulin levels rapidly.

I happen to believe that both sides have valid points. Here are my tips on how to enjoy the health benefits of Green Smoothies without the downfalls:

  • Leave your smoothie a little chunkier and chew some of it. 
  • Swirl the smoothie in your mouth a bit before swallowing so digestion gets a head start before it hits the stomach. 
  • Don’t use high-glycemic fruits in your smoothies such as bananas and mangoes if you are worried about fruit sugars. Use pear, kiwi, or berries instead.
  • Keep a 4:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit.
  • Add ground flax or chia seeds to up the fiber and protein content, slowing down sugar absorption.

If the fiber and sugar absorption issue is important to you, skip the Green Juices as well; they contain no fiber at all, having had it strained out and disposed of before drinking. I’m no doctor, but personally I feel a person eating a healthy plant-centered vegan diet, getting between 40-80 grams of fiber per day, can spare some fiber in their smoothie!

Kale is one of the dark leafy greens with fewer oxalates.

What about all those oxalates, though?

Oxalates are molecules in some fruits and vegetables that are actually part of the plant’s defense system.  When we eat oxalates, they bind with minerals such as calcium, making calcium less absorbable by our bodies. There has been some concern in health circles about the oxalates in raw greens, such as spinach and Swiss Chard.

In people with severely compromised digestion and leaky gut syndrome, oxalates can really wreak havoc.  For most of us, I simply suggest a rotation of greens in your Green Smoothies.  Don’t always go for spinach – use kale, cabbage, arugula, parsley, or even cilantro plus wild greens like dandelion and purslane, all of which have fewer oxalates.

As always, you are your own best doctor and health guru.  If Green Smoothies make you feel great, then rock on!  If they don’t, or you are healing blood sugar issues, then eat your smoothies as salads instead and chew, chew, chew. Me?  I will continue to be a gloriously green Green Smoothie powered vegan machine!

How to make Green Smoothies? Smoothies are easy to make!

Here is one simple recipe, but you can also check out our Green Smoothie recipe gallery for more inspiration!

Easy Green Smoothie for Suspicious Palates:

1 banana, peeled

1 mango, peeled and cubed

2-3 cups raw baby spinach

2 cups water

Blend until smooth

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