Why didn’t I do it sooner? Well, some articles and news pieces are so ridiculous that you think it’s not even worth gracing with an answer but the question, “Are green smoothies bad for you?” has come up from enough coaching clients, and in my classes, that I think it’s time to give this topic its due diligence (if only to arm my readers and clients with science-based facts).
Like everything in life, there is a yin and a yang ; so for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So for all the amazing press and popularity that has graced green smoothies lately, universal laws dictate that there must be an equal and opposite reaction: people who decide to say that green smoothies are (surprise) NOT good for you on the basis they have oxalic acid.
In fact, they even go as far to say that green smoothies can devastate your health (what?).
The reason? That green smoothies contain small – very small – amounts of oxalic acid, which is a completely natural toxin, found in many types of foods like meat and dairy, soy products, fruits and berries and – here’s where green smoothies enter – in dark leafy greens (for a complete list of oxalic content, visit here).
The worry is that oxalic acid contributes to kidney stones, since over 80% of kidney stones contain calcium oxalate.
Here’s the kicker though: most people who have kidney stones, have never even had a green smoothie! In fact, their diets were more traditional diets really high in animal products, like dairy and meat. But you don’t hear these same opponents to green smoothies telling you to cut down on meat and dairy, do you? Of course not!
The Contradiction of Science
Many of you know that the field of nutrition is simply in disarray. There are so many diets out there it is impossible to keep up with what is the “right” way to eat.
I always say that for any way you want to eat, you can find an equal number of proponents and opponents. The real issue is that there are many supposed “scientists” posing as qualified researchers when they are really just trying to sell a diet to make lots of money from it.
If you’ve been involved in raw food or plant-food movement for any amount of time, you’ve probably gleaned that we go against the grain (no pun intended). This isn’t a shared scientific consensus on the impact of a raw food diet over a lifetime (due to lack of studies) other than that small subsets of the raw diet, like fruitarianism, isn’t healthy in the long term but there are many promising studies that show how vegans, vegetarians and more traditional raw foodists are healthier (far and away the best resource for scientific sources of peer-reviewed literature on the raw and vegan diet is Becoming Raw by Brenda Davis.)
Here’s the funny thing though – despite all this nutritional battling – almost every group of experts: doctors, dieticians, health counsellors, naturopaths, nurses, agree that increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet is positively life-changing (supported by peer-reviewed scientific studies and literature).
In fact, too few of fruits and veggies reduce our longevity and increase our odds of disease (see veggies on this longevity clock here).
A definite downside of nutrition and scientific studies, though, is how we study nutrients, since science tends to prefer studying nutrients in isolation. But, in line with the universal laws, nothing in this universe occurs in isolation.
There is not one best vitamin or nutrient; foods are eaten together, not in a laboratory. Vitamin C isn’t better than Vitamin E. Additionally, scientific studies have shown that, largely, anti-oxidants consumed in isolation (as supplements) do not have the same positive effect on health, as when they are eaten as a part of a whole-foods diet. Go figure!
As well, many nutrients are considered toxic in large amounts (think Vitamin D and selenium, iron, oxygen – the list goes on and on). Does this mean we should avoid eating or breathing these things? Far from it!
In fact, the real kicker (did I have already one kicker in here? It’s just that kind of article), is that our very own bodies maintains a certain amount of oxalic acid and even converts Vitamin C into oxalic acid, so the notion that it is toxic to us in small amounts is simply ludicrous.
Let’s talk chimps
As a society, we suffer from having too few fruits and vegetables, not too many. A popular raw food argument holds that humans are designed to eat far more vegetables, in particular, dark leafy greens, because chimpanzees, who share 94-99% percent of the same genes as humans, eat the equivalent of 1-2 bunches of greens a day (or 40% of their entire daily diet!).
Why as humans, do we think we can live healthy and flourishing lives with barely any greens?
In fact, I’ve seen people lives changed for the better, radically transformed, by eating more greens, my own life included. We don’t see any chimps suffering from kidney stones, do we?
The simple truth of the matter is that there are people wishing to capitalize (i.e. make money from driving traffic to their website) from flashy false headlines that contradict what mother nature, common sense and what science has proved to be wonderful for our bodies, at the expense of people’s health.
While there are some extremely rare conditions (primary hyperoxaluria, enteric hyperoxaluria – and yes, you’ll already know if you have these) where people should reduce the level of high oxalate foods, the vast, vast majority of people will experience nothing but the most positive effects from green smoothies.
The hierarchy of greens
As I’ve always said at my classes and with clients, is to graduate from spinach and rotate your greens. Anyone who has been to my green smoothie class has seen my huge slide with a list of the vast range of greens to include in your smoothies.
Just like we’re supposed to eat from the rainbow (i.e. eat many different coloured fruits and veggies since they all have different vitamins and minerals), it’s also best to rotate your greens so you’re not always eating spinach (which is the green with the very highest oxalic acid content).
I always call spinach a starter green, precisely because it is smoother and more palatable for people just starting out with green smoothies.
For long term though, I always suggest upgrading to other types of greens like kale, as well as rotating, since you’ll have a better intake of iron (your body can’t synthesize iron from raw spinach because of the oxalic acid, which is why it is arguably the one raw vegetable that is healthier lightly steamed, as it increases the bioavailability of the iron).
In conclusion, if it feels good to your body, like if your energy is skyrocketing, your skin is glowing, you’re getting rid of constipation, you’re sleeping better, you’re losing weight, you’re just in a better mood (just some of the side effects of green smoothies), then don’t let any bloggers try to tear you down.
Common sense and intuitive eating will prevail above all of the “controversies” about eating what is right and nourishing for us.
What has been your experience with green smoothies? Have they changed your life or the life of somewhere below? Help me weigh in below!
© 2012 – 2013, ohmyraw!. All rights reserved.