Taking the rough with the smoothies
When did eating and drinking get so complicated? Consumers are already unsure if red meat and milk are healthy or hazardous. Now some scientists are questioning the health benefits of juices and smoothies
Fancy a virtuous breakfast? Pop some fruit and juice into the blender. Want to add nutrition to your child’s school lunch? Throw a smoothie into the lunchbox. Right? Well, yes and no.
US scientists Barry Popkin and George Bray are now warning that smoothies and fruit juices are the “new danger” in the battle against obesity because of their high sugar content. So, they believe, a parent who replaces a fizzy drink with a large, apparently healthy smoothie could unwittingly be giving their child the same sugar content.
Just when did eating and drinking become such a complicated business? Eat dairy products to help your bone strength but watch the fat content. Eat red meat because you need iron but not too much or you could clog your arteries. Have a glass of red wine for your heart but if you drink too much it increases your risk of cancer. It’s a minefield. And now juices and smoothies are in the firing line.
Prof Barry Popkin of the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina said last week that many people had been replacing soft drinks with juices and smoothies for health reasons. But he said drinking smoothies did not affect how much people ate. “The entire literature shows that we feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does,” he said.
“So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It’s deceiving.”
But Irish nutritionists are not rushing to judgment on the smoothie just yet. Prof Mary Flynn, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s chief specialist in public health nutrition, notes that Prof Popkin is based in the US, where portion sizes are much larger. There, some smoothies come in pint-sized cups – or even larger.
“In the States, some of the smoothies can be over 1,000 calories. A woman needs only 2,000 calories a day,” she says. “And sometimes they add peanut butter, for example. But then the healthier ones can be as low as 150 to 200 calories. They are lower in portion size and just contain fruit, and if there’s dairy in them, it’s skimmed milk.”
Prof Flynn says whole fruit is preferable to smoothies and juices but some people just don’t eat fruit so if they get the vitamins and minerals through a smoothie, then that’s a good thing. “As long as it’s in moderation,” she says. “And choose one that hasn’t any added sugar, and if there’s dairy, make sure it’s low-fat dairy products.”
Nutritionist Paula Mee of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute echoes this. In the case of fruit juice, she says a lot of fibre is lost in the juicing process as it’s generally found in the cell wall of the fruit or the vegetable.
“So when you squeeze it, the pulp and remains that are left in the machine are where the fibre is.” However, smoothies contain more of the fibre as the entire content of the fruit goes into the mix.
We are advised to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and she says a fruit juice should be counted as one of the five, but not more than that.
She has compared the nutritional content of 330 mls of a cola drink, unsweetened apple juice and a strawberry and banana smoothie. The smoothie is highest in calories at 178, followed by 135 for the cola and 125 for the juice. The cola has the highest sugar content at 35.3g, followed by the smoothie at 34.7 g, and the juice at 32.3 g. The smoothie contains 3.3 g of fibre, compared with none in the cola and a trace amount in the juice.