How Green Smoothies Devastated My Health

Last week, a fellow health coach asked my opinion on this article by Sarah at the Healthy Home Economist: How Green Smoothies Can Devastate Your Health.

My response could be summed up in one word: Nonsense.

Big Macs will devastate your health.  Diet Pepsi will devastate your health.  The regular consumption of highly processed pseudo foods, eating pints of ice cream at a time, smoking cigarettes and choosing a sedentary lifestyle will all devastate your health.

But green smoothies?  Not a chance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that I am drinking a green smoothie as I write this article.  In fact, I drink anywhere from 16 to 64 ounces of green smoothies every day, and have done so since August of 2009 (with just one exception that I’ll share in minute).

My health was an absolute train wreck when that summer began.  I weighed 210 pounds, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, suffered from unrelenting heartburn and poor digestion, and dealt with chronic fatigue.  I often felt waves of pressure in my chest, and my left arm and jaw would frequently ache – classic symptoms of a pending heart attack.

I was a mere 40 years old.

I had a simple choice.  I needed to make peace with a shortened lifespan that was sure to include hospital stays, medication, and surgeries.  Or I needed to change my life.

I chose the latter and discovered the wonders of a plant-based diet.  Replacing my steak, fries, and ice cream with beans, kale, and berries made those aches go away within three days.  My blood pressure had dropped to normal within a week.  I started to feel a little more energy, and people began to notice a change in my skin tone and weight after just two weeks of eating differently.

I was enjoying my newfound health, but I wasn’t enjoying my newfound time spent in the kitchen.  I’m one of those rare health coaches who actually doesn’t like to play with recipes or do much cooking.  I’m a terrible cook, in fact, and while my love of convenience is what got me into my health scare mess in the first place, I feared that with my very busy schedule as a school principal and single mom, I might fall back into old habits if I didn’t find something that would work for me.

So I set out to find the quickest, easiest way to get the most greens, veggies, and fruits into my system.  I was on a high nutrient quest, and like so many others on a similar quest, I discovered the green smoothie.  After a few messy attempts at getting the recipe just right, I was hooked – mostly at first because I’d found the ultimate fast food!  I carved out a simple daily eating plan for myself which basically called for easy to prepare whole foods, salads, and two huge green smoothies a day – one for breakfast, and one right before dinner.

Here are some before and after photos to give you an idea of how the green smoothies devastated my health.

The convenience factor of the green smoothies was undeniable, but the health benefits were even more astounding.  The weight just seemed to fall off once I started drinking them.  My energy levels went through the roof.  I began to feel the need to exercise, like it was actually something I wanted to do, not something I had to do.

I religiously drank my daily smoothies for almost two years, and then I had the chance to take the trip of a lifetime to Europe.  For various reasons, green smoothies were in short supply the whole month I was there.  I had salads, of course, and lots of fruits and vegetables wherever we went.  But I gained a little weight back.  I walked for miles every day but could feel my energy levels depleted without the powerhouse concentration of nutrients that the smoothies provided.  By the time I reached the final week of my stay, I couldn’t wait to get home and throw some kale in a blender.   Drinking that first smoothie was like an IV shot of nutrients right into my blood stream, and I think it even helped minimize the effects of the jetlag from the return trip.

Clearly, the only thing potentially devastating to my health would be a lack of green smoothies.

Now, this is just my own story.  We are all unique, and what works for me might not work for you.  I am not one to discount anyone’s experience, especially when it has to do with health and wellbeing.

Which is why I found the Healthy Home Economist’s blog post incredibly reckless and irresponsible, particularly her statement that, “The best course of action for health, then, is to opt out of the green smoothie fad.”

Let me address the grain of truth at the heart of her sensationalist blog post.

The main theme of the piece has to do with oxalates, and primarily their role in the formation of oxalate stones in body tissue.  Oxalates (unlike high fructose corn syrup) are natural compounds found in living things.  These living things include us, of course.  The cells in our bodies regularly convert other substances, like Vitamin C, into oxalates.  Obviously, since we consume plants, which are also living things, we also regularly ingest oxalates.  It can’t be helped… well, unless you eat a diet of Cocoa Puffs and Pop Tarts, maybe.

I cannot claim to be any kind of expert in the area of oxalic acid or the development of kidney stones.  Since most kidney stones contain oxalates, there would appear to be an obvious connection between the two.  But there is a whole bunch of controversy in the nutrition world about the forces behind the formation of kidney stones containing oxalates.  There is also considerable agreement among many researchers that limiting the intake of foods that are high in oxalates demonstrates no clear benefit, while the consumption of animal protein is actually a damaging culprit.

I could go into more specifics and cite the data, but Victoria Boutenko, the queen of the green smoothie, already has.  She also has NINE low oxalate green smoothie recipes, so if oxalates are a concern for you, there’s no need at all to give up the smoothies if you want them.

After reading Victoria’s post, a few other blogs, and drawing upon my own experience, I think it’s pretty safe to say that green smoothies don’t pose a risk to the general population.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say they pose absolutely no risk, and carry tremendous benefits, for almost everyone.

But do they pose problems for some people?   Well, they may.  One of my health coach colleagues is well versed in the benefits of a low oxalate diet for people with leaky gut and candida issues.  There appears to be a fair amount of documented research demonstrating that where serious digestion problems exist, oxalates from foods that are eaten can be absorbed from the GI tract and become a risk to other cells in the body.   Of course, that doesn’t mean green smoothies are necessarily a problem.  It just means that such people need to be careful, rotate their greens and possibly choose some that are lower in oxalates, and simply listen to what their bodies tell them.  As a health coach myself, I worked with a woman who seemed to have a different issue with the green smoothies.  She had hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones necessary for regulating metabolism.  She found that the smoothies made her feel worse, not better, and actually led to some slight weight gain.  I did a little research, and so did she.  Together, we suspected that this was because raw green vegetables, especially kale, contain chemicals called goitrogens that may inhibit absorption of dietary iodine, and a decrease in iodine can worsen symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Did the consumption of the green smoothies devastate her health?  Hardly.  We listened to her body, and we made appropriate adjustments to the diet.  In her case, green smoothies weren’t helping.

But in literally hundreds of other cases that I personally know about, green smoothies work wonders.  In fact, there are only three legitimate reasons I can think of why you should limit or eliminate the consumption of green smoothies.

  1. Your doctor has diagnosed you with a condition that warrants their limitation or requires you adhere to a low oxalate diet.  In which case, you can still do green smoothies… just use the greens that aren’t as high in oxalates, like arugula or mustard greens, and keep your intake within your doctor’s recommendations.  Look again at Victoria Boutenko’s recipes.  You’ll surely find something that will work for you.
  2. You drink green smoothies and they don’t make you feel better – they make you feel worse.  This is rare, but because everybody on the planet is unique, it can happen.  Your body will tell you one way or the other.  But again, this doesn’t mean you necessarily have to give up the smoothies.  Experiment with different greens, and you might find some that work for you.
  3. You hate green smoothies.

What bothers me most is that this blog article will surely drive people away from learning about the most nutrient-dense concoction on earth, and these will be the people who most need to know.   Hysterical hyperbole like what we find in this post only serves to confuse and distract from the basics of living a healthy, happy life, which aren’t confusing at all.  Eat real food, drink lots of water, get your rest, move your body, and do what you love in your work and your life.

It could be that you’re among the very small percentage of people who find that a green smoothie doesn’t contribute to that equation for you.  That’s fine.

But it won’t devastate your health.  Certainly not like the French fries will.  And that’s a guarantee.

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I just saw this morning that Mayor Bloomberg is proposing some government intervention in the realm of oversized sugary soft drinks in New York City.  I think I might have some things to say about this in next week’s article.  I hope you’ll check it out!  And if you have a story to share about how green smoothies have impacted your life, good or bad, share it in the comments section here.  Would love to hear from you!

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11 thoughts on “How Green Smoothies Devastated My Health

  1. Until those interested in health acknowledge that we don’t all have the same needs we are going to go round and round with nonsense. I agree, junk food is bad for everyone. I think we all agree about that! As for whether or not one should eat lots of raw butter and grass-fed steak or lots of green smoothies and kale salads…….that depends on the person.

    What we should be talking about is the absolutely critical practice of observing the body. When you are aware of your body and how foods make you feel then the debate about what is right or wrong to eat dissipates. There is no such thing as a bad food (whole foods that is). It is only our unique biochemistry that differentiates how we react to any given food.

    Thank you for sharing and I’m glad to see you found what works for you!!

  2. Great post! I am almost certain that I fall into category 3 of “I hate green smoothies” or at least I hate the idea. Can you share your top starter recipe for the un-initiated?

  3. Sue,
    this article is right on the nose! I think the biggest thing I hope people are doing is listening to there bodies. Everyone is different and as they say at IIN what works for me may be poison to someone else. The body is a wondrous thing, we just have to stop ignoring its needs and treat it as the blessing it is to us every day!

  4. Daire, glad you asked! For starters, take a good handful of baby spinach, put the leaves in your blender and fill it halfway with water, then blend. Next add two or three ripe bananas, and blend again. Finally, I suggest using a frozen bag of fruit… not sure where you do your grocery shopping, but Lowes has a perfect Tropical Fruit mix (NO added sugar or syrups, just fruit). Just carefully dump the whole bag in, and blend one more time. Depending on your blender strength, might take you a minute or two to get it smooth. And there you have it. If you like Pina Coladas (and getting caught in the rain), I have a GREAT “Green-ya Colada” recipe, with or without rum, depending on the situation. 🙂

  5. Thanks so much for writing this…It is great and right on point…Everyone is unique.

    Daire,

    I have a juicer and when I want a little less bitterness, I throw in a large red delicious or gala apple with my spinach, kale, and, celery.

  6. Very well articulated, Sue! I love how you mix your personal experience in with researching the matter for other opinions. You’re right, bottom line is that people have to learn to listen to their bodies. Great post!

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  9. My dad gets oxylate kidney stones on a regular basis. The word “green” is not part of his vocabulary or diet. Processed foods and Coke are very much a part of both. His general consumption of oxylate containing foods are low if not nil.

    I very much doubt that oxylate consumption has anything to do with kidney stones despite the doctors’ warnings. I agree that the anti-green crowd is way off base.

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