Juices, smoothies and shakes

Juices, smoothies and shakes are very popular, and most of us have a favourite concoction. They’re convenient, tasty and available everywhere these days. But why are we drinking them? Are they good for us?

Many of these drinks contain unnaturally high concentrations of nutrients; their ingestion can upset stomachs and send blood-sugar through the roof. So beware. The nutrient value is undeniable, and at times they might prove useful. But if you’re eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruit, vegetables and appropriate dairy products, it’s highly unlikely that you need such a hefty dose from a liquid substitute on a regular basis. But if you just like them for their taste, then go for it; but do so with caution.

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Freshly juiced fruit and vegetables have been hugely popular for decades because they provide a quick and easy way to consume lots of plant nutrition. That’s useful for anyone who refuses to eat fruit and vegetables, but it’s overkill if you normally eat a balanced diet that includes fresh produce. And if you’re trying to lose weight, you shouldn’t be drinking so many calories; much better to eat the fresh fruit and salad vegetables if you’re hoping to curb your appetite. And if you only drink the juice, you miss out on all that fantastic probiotic goodness left behind in the pulp.

I could never understand why anyone would bother swallowing ‘wheat grass shots’? The chlorophyll might be okay for cows grazing in a pasture, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you just because it’s green! One ounce of spinach has the same amount of protein, 20 times the vitamin A, 8 times the vitamin C, and 3 times the magnesium, calcium and potassium of an expensive shot of wheat grass. So why do it?

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Smoothies are the decadent modern version of the old-fashioned milk shake. How to make one? In a blender, blitz a few ice cubes with:

  • 2 cups of chilled summer fruit (e.g. banana, blueberries, strawberries, mango, peaches, nectarines),
  • 1/2 cup natural Greek-style yogurt, and
  • 1/4 cup cold milk (dairy or non-dairy).
  • Tip: To make it even thicker and creamier, substitute frozen banana for the ice cubes.

If you’re a super trendy person who follows all the latest hype, you might be tempted to add all sorts of extras that you probably don’t need, such as chia seeds, cacao powder, dates, coconut oil, oats, avocado, almonds, hemp seeds, peanut butter, flax seeds, or turmeric! But hey, if you like the flavour, that’s your choice. Just don’t add all these extras because you think they are super healthy. Most are high in nutrients from fats, proteins and sugars, which means they are also calorie-dense. Not good if you’re trying to lose weight. However, the occasional smoothie can offer a healthier alternative to an ice cream binge when you’ve had a bad day! Practice restraint and moderation. Keep it simple.

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Nutritional protein shakes

The formulas are largely milk-protein based, with a few carbohydrates and then supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Most diet shakes contain high amounts of fibre too. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, you mix the powder with water, milk, or a milk-alternative such as soy milk or almond milk. You can use a shaker or a blender. My preference is a small blender with a few ice cubes added to make it thicker and more palatable.

  • Protein powders contain whey protein which is used by body builders and other athletes to help increase muscle mass. These powders can play a role in ‘sports nutrition’ for athletes, but they are very calorie-dense, so you do risk gaining fat rather than muscle.
  • Nutrition powders contain balanced amounts of macro-nutrients (carbs, fats, protein) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals). These shakes are often used by the elderly or others who might be nutritionally compromised, in addition to normal meals.
  • Meal replacement powders are predominantly used as a means to lose weight by substituting a shake for at least one daily meal. In the science literature, these are called ‘very low-calorie diets’ (VLCDs). Supermarket shelves are stacked with a dizzying array of brands and flavours, but only those labelled ‘formulated meal replacement’ must adhere to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Read the label carefully before purchasing, as the nutritional value might not be as high as you might expect. However, there are some good ones on the market too, and they can definitely provide you with a nutritious snack in the middle of summer when you’re being tempted by thick shakes or ice cream!
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Q & A

Q. How long can I store freshly-made juice in the fridge?

A. To get all the nutrients, you should drink the juice within 20 minutes of making it, or you can freeze it immediately. You can store the juice in a sealed container in the fridge for 24 hrs, but you do lose some nutrient value. Any antioxidants (such as vitamin C) begin to oxidise and lose their potency as soon as they are open to oxygen.

Q. I always get a stomach ache when I try drinking fresh juice. What can I do?

A. Juice is very concentrated, so always add a little water before drinking, especially if your using lots of vegetables. And give your gut a chance by only sipping the drink. Best to start your juicing experimentation by only using fruit and vegetables that your stomach is used to, e.g. apple, orange, lemon, carrot, celery, and add a teaspoon of fresh ginger to help calm your stomach. If your stomach can handle that combination, you can eventually try adding a small piece of raw beetroot or a small swede (the swede looks like a white carrot and it adds a sweet creamy element to the juice). Restraint is key. Only drink a small glass of juice and make it an occasional treat instead of a daily routine.

Q. Is fresh juice good for a liver cleanse?

A. There is no such thing as a ‘liver cleanse’. If you feel you’ve been eating and drinking too much, then all you need do is quit the alcohol, snacks and fast food for a week or so. By eating more fresh food, eating smaller portions, and drinking water instead of alcohol, your liver will have a nice rest. The liver is the only internal organ that is capable of regenerating, so it’s very capable of looking after itself. However, if you think there is a problem with you liver, ask your doctor for a Liver Function Test (LFT), and while you’re at it, you might as well ask for a ‘Full set of bloods’ to check other aspects of your blood chemistry. That way you’ll put your mind at rest. Once you hit 50, it’s a good idea to have a ‘full set of bloods’ done every year.

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