Juicing and boosting health with smoothies is no new health trend. But are those store bought smoothies as good as they seem? What are we looking for when it comes to nutritional value in a juice or smoothie? How can we boost our health, in a healthy way, when it comes to juices and smoothies? Not being experts in this area, we turn to Nutritional Therapist Tracy Tredoux who shares her insight on just what benefits you can get from juices and smoothies, the ingredients to be cautious of and those that are sure to boost your immune system. Plus, she shares 6 delicious and simple recipes you can try at home.
If you are reading this article, it’s a fairly safe bet that you will be aware of the concept of ‘five portions of fruit and veg a day’. Depending on who you are talking to, this may even be seven or ten portions a day and refers to the minimum amount of fruit and veg that should be included in your daily food intake to meet your body’s nutritional requirements. If you lay out ten portions of fruit and veg on a plate, it can look like quite a daunting task, especially since it’s a task that needs to be repeated day after day. That’s where smoothies and juices come in.
Liquids are much quicker to consume than solids and also put less stress on the digestive system, as a large part of the work has been done for you already. Swapping your morning bowl of cereal or toast for a nutrient-packed smoothie can be an excellent way to ingest those foods that you might otherwise end up avoiding. Similarly, switching your mid-morning cup of tea for a delicious green juice can springboard you closer to that elusive ten-a-day target.
It’s not just health enthusiasts who should be aware of juices and smoothies, however. For those struggling to lose weight, a strategically constructed smoothie can work as a meal replacement, when consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. And for people who are struggling to eat or hold down solids, such as those on strong medications, smoothies can be a way of delivering vital nutrition that may just stave off the need for an intravenous solution.
What’s the difference between juice and smoothies?
Smoothies and juices are really quite different. Making a smoothie involves taking a base liquid, often water or milk, adding just about any ingredients you can think of, and blending. Depending on the ingredients you use and the liquid to solid ratio, you might end up with something close to a juice, or something that requires a spoon to consume. Smoothies produce no waste, so everything you put in becomes part of the drink and no nutrients are wasted. The downside of this is that your digestive system still has a bit of work to do to break down the contents.
Juicing, involves extracting the liquid content from fruit and veg. Most of the nutrient content is preserved in the liquid, leaving only the pulp and indigestible fibre behind. Because there is very little fibre left in juice, it is easier on your digestive system, however a downside of this is that you may still feel hungry afterwards, and more likely to crave unhealthy snacks before your next meal.
In terms of hardware, you can make a smoothie in a standard blender or food processor. My preference is a NutriBullet as they are quite affordable and last a long time, however you can spend a lot more or a lot less and still end up with a great smoothie. Whereas juicing requires a dedicated juicer, or a food processor with a juicing attachment. You can also do it by hand but this is time consuming and will lose a lot of the nutrients. It is worthwhile investing in at least a mid-range juicer as they will last longer and be far more efficient at extracting the nutrients.
The sugar factor
One of the criticisms often levelled at smoothies and juices is the high level of sugar they can contain. Sugar is ruinous to your health and many chronic health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, which can be avoided by cutting as much sugar from your diet as possible. A lot of fruit is naturally high in sugar, and so should be used in moderation.
For this reason, it is important to know what is going into your drink. Many shop-bought smoothie brands are high in sugar and use unhealthy syrups to add flavour. Likewise, bottled juices often rely on high-sugar fruits, or even add extra sugar. If time permits, it is always best to make your own. This way you can experiment with ingredients and make sure you vary your nutrient intake throughout the week.
High in sugar
High sugar fruits include (from highest to lowest): lychees, passionfruit, pomegranate, mangos, cherries, bananas, oranges, kiwifruit, grapes, guavas, pears, apples, peaches, papaya, nectarines. Dried fruits such as raisins and currants have an even higher sugar content than their hydrated counterparts.
Lower in sugar
Fruits that are lower in sugar include: avocadoes, limes and lemons, rhubarb, berries, clementine’s, Asian pears, watermelon, and figs. This is not to say that you should exclusively choose fruits from the second list and completely ignore those on the first. Just use the sugary ingredients in moderation. Frozen berries are one of my secret smoothie ingredients, you can buy a huge bag from the supermarket and they won’t go off or lose their nutrition while frozen. They also make your smoothie nice and cold without the need to add extra ice!
While it is important to include fruit in your diet, juicing is probably not the best way to consume it. It is best to consume fruit, along with its naturally occurring fibre, in whole-food form. This helps to avoid a blood-sugar spike. Therefore, ideally, you should favour vegetables over fruit when making your juice. An exception to this is lemon and lime, which can be taken in high quantity.
If you feel that your smoothies or juices really need more sweetness, add a few figs or dates into the mix, or try a spoonful of raw honey or maple syrup.
Other ingredients for your juices and smoothies
Remember, it’s not just fruit that goes into juices and smoothies. Vegetables, nuts, seeds, oats, powders, herbs, and spices can and should also play a major part. Feel free to experiment with ingredients; you might be surprised at what you come up with! I like to keep my cupboard stocked with a wide selection of seeds and nuts in airtight containers. I also use a lot of cinnamon and turmeric as flavouring, both of which compensate for having less sugar.
When juicing, certain foods produce much more juice than others. Making your own juice at home, it’s always best to start with a ‘base vegetable’, such as celery, cucumber, or carrots, as these produce the most juice.
Certain vegetables, fruits and herbs promote specific health benefits to the body. Depending on your individual health goals, you can target your juice or smoothie by including specific vegetables, fruits, and herbs. For example, if you want to cleanse your liver, you could include asparagus, celery, coriander, and lemon. If you are looking to alkalise your body, try including carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, ginger, kale, spinach, and lime. Some of the most popular ingredients for making juices are carrots, cucumber, celery, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, coriander, garlic, ginger, kale, lemon, and parsley.
Supercharge your smoothies!
If you want to really supercharge your juice or smoothie, keep a stock of superfood powders. These are foods that have exceptional health benefits resulting from a very high nutrient density. These powders will dissolve easily into a juice or smoothie and often complement the taste. Some of the most popular superfood powders that you should consider keeping in your cupboard are acai berry, ashwagandha, baobab, cacao, super-greens (chlorella, moringa, spirulina), maca, matcha, and wheatgrass.
Healthy fats are always an important contributor to overall good health and balancing blood sugar levels. The best healthy fat options to add to a smoothie are avocado, coconut oil, walnuts, and cocoa butter. In fact, I always add a spoonful of coconut oil to my smoothies as I find that it improves the texture and helps to bring out the other tastes. Coconut oil first thing in the morning is also a good way of firing up the brain for better focus and concentration throughout the day.
Here are a few of my favourite juice and smoothie recipes to get you started, but remember they are just starting points. Once you start experimenting the possibilities are really limitless.
Antioxidant Supreme Smoothie
- 1 ½ cups dairy-free milk or coconut water
- ½ cup blueberries
- ½ avocado
- 1 teaspoon spirulina or wheatgrass powder (optional)
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao
- 1 cup mixed greens
- 1 handful parsley
- Dash of ginger powder
Mighty Berry Smoothie
- 1 ½ dairy-free milk
- 1 teaspoon raw spirulina
- 2 cups frozen mixed berries
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 1 cup spinach
- Top with 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds
Dark Chocolate Smoothie
- 1 1/2 cups of milk (preferably dairy-free) or water
- 1/2 banana
- 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed
- 1 cup of frozen berries
- 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of raw cacao
- 1 large handful of spinach or kale
- splash of vanilla extract
- 2 cucumbers
- 2 green apples
- 5 strawberries
- 4 ounces of coconut water
- 5 mint leaves
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 apple
- 3 kale leaves
- 5 celery stalks
- 1 cucumber
- ½ teaspoon spirulina
- ½ cup coconut water
- Juice of 1 lemon
Watermelon Twist Juice
- 3 cups watermelon
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 handful mint leaves
- 5 basil leaves
Tracy Tredoux is a Nutritional Therapist, working in London. When not consulting with clients, she posts health articles, tips and recipes on her website. You can also follow Tracy on Twitter for more top tips and to chat!