The story behind the smoothie

The vibrant hues of an icy, blended fruit smoothie alone are enough for one to believe that they epitomize health. From deep, rustic purples to softer and lighter oranges and pinks, the color of a smoothie suggests all the variations of fruit that were blended to concoct it. Unfortunately, a blend of fruit and ice does not guarantee happiness in the health department.

However, this does not mean that the days of the smoothie are over, it just means that paying attention to the ingredients and the size of a smoothie are important factors in determining the nutritional benefits it may or may not contain.

According to Student Health Services Senior Dietician Kim May, “It’s not so much the ingredients as it is the size of the smoothie.”

With many places boasting smoothie sizes from 16 ounces all the way to 40 ounces, one may wonder how the smoothie’s reputation as a healthy beverage has continued to remain intact.

“The sizes offered at most places are big,” said freshman Gaelle Pierre, who frequents FreshÃns Smoothie Company and Smoothie King. They’re so big that Pierre sometimes has to throw away her unfinished portions.

For the average person who gets 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, May recommends no more than “eight ounces of a smoothie, which is equivalent to three pieces of fruit.”

Like anything in excess, what is ordinarily a good thing can go bad – including fruit. In the case of an excessively sized smoothie, it is one’s blood sugar levels, as well as weight that can be at stake.

If eight ounces is the recommended portion for an average person getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, one can imagine the reaction the body is going to have to 16, 20, 32 or 40 ounces of smoothie: it’s going to go into shock.

May describes the reaction this way: “Large amounts of sugar can cause a person’s concentration level to go straight up once they have a smoothie, but once it goes down their blood sugar level goes down too low. High energy and then a low drop can lead to overly strong hunger, which can increase risks of overeating.

“Your body is going to recognize the sugar from the banana the same way it does a cola,” May said. “Sugar is sugar. However, there are other vitamins and minerals in a banana and other fruit that is not found in the cola – but either way, your body recognizes sugar as four calories per gram.”

But drinking a smoothie loaded with excess amounts of sugar and calories does not always have to be the case when partaking in one of these icy, blended beverages.

“Most smoothies can act as a meal replacement because they’re filling,” said Spencer Salim, owner of the local Grassroot Organic Restaurant. “After you’re full you don’t want to eat a meal. Most smoothies are high in good calories, so you’ll have energy and they’re wholesome and filling.”

Most of the smoothies Salim is referring to are the vegan shakes and smoothies he offers at his restaurant. Instead of adding refined sugar, he uses agave nectar to sweeten the smoothies.

According to the article “How Sweet It Isn’t” by Starre Vartan in E, the Environmental Magazine, agave nectar is “a fruit sugar (that) absorbs more slowly into the bloodstream and is suitable for diabetics, since it’s much lower on the glycemic level.”

The importance of a sugar’s impact on glycemic levels lies in its influence on blood-sugar levels.

“Low-glycemic foods such as pasta and oats are absorbed more slowly, causing less fluctuation in your blood-sugar levels and making you feel full longer and reducing cravings – that, (Glycemic Index) system supporters say, helps with weight loss,” states a Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter from June 2006.

Even though smoothies at Grassroot’s Organic Restaurant are sweetened with agave nectar, they are still served in 16-ounce cups. However, the answer doesn’t have to be completely eliminating smoothies from one’s diet.

“If you’re going to get a smoothie, split it with a friend half and half,” May said.