Before we get started, if you’re concerned about making your smoothies healthy, check out this post where I detail a long list of tips for building the healthiest smoothie possible.

I’ve said, for a long time, that they’re bad…. but as bad as pop?

Two researchers responsible for highlighting the health risks behind consuming sugary soft drinks now say that fruit smoothies may be just as bad for you as soda since they contain the same amount of sugar.

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“Smoothies and fruit juices are the new danger,” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor Barry Popkin told the Guardian. “It’s kind of the next step in the evolution of the battle.”

Popkin and his research partner George Bray say that since their 2004 soft drink study was released, Pepsi, Coke and other soda manufacturers have been buying fruit smoothie companies and marketing their products as healthier alternatives.

“It’s a really big part of it because in every country they’ve been replacing soft drinks with fruit juice and smoothies as the new healthy beverage,” Popkin told the Guardian. “So you will find that Coke and Pepsi have bought dozens [of fruit juice companies] around the globe.”

However, Popkin says these drinks are not in fact healthier and that they on average contain the same amount of sugar as a regular soda. Further, he says that smoothies do not actually provide the same health benefits as simply eating a whole fruit or vegetable.

“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 is deceiving,” Popkin said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about half of the U.S. population consumes at least one sugary drink per day on average. Those statistics are higher for lower income individuals, minors and minorities. The CDC also says the dramatic rise in soft drink consumption over the past 30 years has played a direct role in rising obesity rates and cases of diabetes.

A recent Harvard study found that a typical 20-ounce bottle of soda contains about 15-18 teaspoons of sugar. The same study says U.S. beverage manufacturers spend about $3.2 billion dollars each year marketing these drinks to children .

In fact, the near omnipresence of sugary drinks is so prevalent that a June 2013 study from the National Institutes of Health claims that removing soda machines from schools would not have a significant impact on the number of drinks consumed by kids.

However, at least one fruit smoothie manufacturer is standing by their claims. “Smoothies are made entirely from fruit and therefore contain the same amount of sugars that you would find in an equivalent amount of whole fruit,” reads a statement from fruit smoothie manufacturer Innocent, which is primarily owned by the Coca-Cola Company. [source]

Someone tweeted the article to me while I was presenting at the Black Girls Run! conference this weekend, while countless women were asking me how I felt about smoothies and juicing. Man, do I wish I had this article then!

Now, to be fair, I think nutrition and quality of ingredients account for the “difference” between the two, with a smoothie actually imparting some kind of nutritional benefit [problems or not] while sodapop only gives you calories and nothing more.

A few years ago, I said this:

The difference between table sugar and the cane from which the sugar comes? There’s no possible way I’m getting as much sugar from chewing through (and swallowing) all that fiber as if I were simply swallowing a tablespoon of sugar. Why? Because with everything else in the sugar cane, I’ll fill up much quicker. There’s no possible way a tablespoon of sugar carries the nutrients that a stalk of sugar cane. Why? Because everything was filtered OUT Of the sugar cane to make the table sugar.. including the nutrients. Lastly, the fiber outright ensures that I’m not going to wreck havoc on my system. A tablespoon of table sugar cannot do that… and it comesfrom sugar cane.

The sweet part is separated from the part of the food that’s supposed to protect you from the element that, by itself, is harmful to your system. So no – most teas, coffees and juices with sugar added to them have the same effect. Baked goods made with “refined” flours (which go through a similar process, resulting in a flour devoid of fiber) have the same effect.
Excerpted from Q&A Wednesday: High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Table Sugar | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss

…and, even though I was talking about the difference between natural sugar and processed sugar, I think the same applies to the difference between fruit and juiced fruit. Sugar, sans fiber, is a problem.

I joked to one of my audiences this weekend that I felt like a large portion of the people who do the juicing/smoothie thing are doing so because they “hate vegetables,” so they’re juicing a whole pineapple, a banana, an apple, a bag of blueberries and a leaf of kale. Because it’s basically “kool-aid.” Those are the people most susceptible to thisand thisand this.

It’s hard to slander juicing/smoothies because I understand the intention and the goal. You want to live healthier, and at least it’s more nutritious than processed food. But the end result needs to be a transition to actually chewing and learning to cook/prepare your veggies without running them through a blender.  No snark, no shade. I promise.

I also think that the juicing/smoothie craze was furthered largely by brands that make pre-packaged juices… sort of like this one:

While government agencies like the FDA keep stalling on demanding rigorous scientific testing of numerous questionable ingredients, GMO foods, and the correct labeling of such foods, PepsiCo has recently agreed to settle out of court for $9 million over a class action lawsuit that claimed ‘natural’ and ‘non-GMO’ on their bottles was misleading since they are made with GMO ingredients, as well as synthetic and ‘unnatural’ items.

The plaintiffs in the suit claimed that PepsiCo gave the “the false impression that the beverages vitamin content is due to the nutritious fruits and juices, rather than the added synthetic compounds such as calcium pantothenate (synthetically produced from formaldehyde)” and “Fibersol-2 (a proprietary synthetic digestion-resistant fiber produced by Archer Daniels Midland and developed by a Japanese chemical company), fructooligosaccharides (a synthetic fiber and sweetener), and inulin (an artificial and invisible fiber added to foods to … increase fiber content without the typical fiber mouth-feel).” [source]

…only make the situation worse, because if these are your introduction to smoothies and juicing, then you’re getting an artificial understanding of how your smoothie should taste, you’re getting an extra heaping helping of sugar, and you’re probably going to seek out all of your smoothies tasting that sweet. And, with all things, if you like it super sweet and aren’t losing weight, then….

…I’m just sayin’. You might want to look at those smoothies.

What do you think? Talk to me about your smoothie habits – how healthy are your smoothies? For those who are interested in keeping them as low in sugar as possible, what tips do you smoothie drinkers recommend?

Edited to add: Since this is getting so much attention, and since so many people have questions, I’m going to put it like this:

Take the recipe for your smoothie, and plug it into a nutritional profile calculator like the ones on SparkPeople or MyFitnessPal. Take note of how many cups (8oz cups, not merely a coffee cup which is usually around 12oz nowadays) of drink your recipe produces. If one 8oz serving of your smoothie produces more than 28g of sugar, then congratulations: you’ve just made something as sugary as a Pepsi.

And, vitamins and minerals aside, if you’re thinking the fiber in your fruit or flax seed will save you, remember: you’re blending the produce, meaning you’re disrupting the fiber. It cannot save you in the way it would if you were simply chewing it yourself, because you’re blending it to beyond what you’d chew it.

And, furthermore, I think it’s important to note that vegetables have sugar in them, too. It might not be in as gratuitous an amount as in most fruits, but there are single digit gram values of sugar in vegetables. And, when you’re adding “a cup of this,” “a half-cup of that,” it all adds up. Guess what else? Greek yogurt? Protein powder? Almond milk? They all have sugar in them, too. Take it from someone who had to learn all this stuff to help myself with my sugar addiction – find out what’s in your drink. Period.

I have a general disdain for smoothies, and this is why. People are just throwing stuff in a blender, thinking it makes sense, or that it’s “safe.” If you need your smoothie to be that sweet in order for it to be bearable, then you should strongly reconsider drinking your vegetables in the first place.

For more info on why you should reconsider the sugar in those smoothies, check out the following:

The takeaway, here, aside from the pricessing in store-bought smoothies, is to be incredibly mindful of the amount of sugar in your drink.

And, for those of you who are ready to disown me, check out this post where I detail a long list of tips for building the healthiest smoothie possible.