Why does man kill? He kills for food.
And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.
Jumbo Juices and CrappuccinosSteve Edwards
We've been conditioned to think the word smoothie is synonymous with healthy but many are quite the opposite. Smoothie's not a word you need to strike from your vocabulary but, like most things you put into your body, you should pay attention to the particular ingredients. Some are great, while others are little more than ice cream in a cup. Here's a quick rundown on the types of smoothies you're likely to encounter and when, or if, you should drink them.
A smoothie used to be a blend of various whole fruits with, perhaps, a bit of protein powder and/or other ingredients that were healthy, didn't taste great, and were best hidden in a mixture of yummy fruit. Nowadays, they can be almost anything. In stores, however, most of 'em still follow that traditional blend. They also have the nutritional information listed on the side so it's easy to see what you're drinking. This, I guess, is why you'll almost never see a Peanut Butter/Chocolate blast at your local market but you'll often see spirulina.
Analysis: Most of these drinks are pretty darn healthy, and it's obvious when they're not. Just read the label.
Jamba Juice, et al.
I'm using the Jamba Juice model because they're the biggest smoothie chain, but there are plenty of others and most follow a similar format of varying drink options. Coffeehouses get in on this too, which I'll discuss later.
- Traditional Smoothies. Jamba calls these "classics," because it's all they offered before consumers caught on to their hype and demanded healthier options. Not that they delivered on consumer demand, but let's start here. These are mainly made of fruit, with some amount of dairy dessert, like sherbet, added for a smooth texture. At an average around 500 calories (for an "original" size, or medium) and 100 grams of sugar, this is not exactly the "light lunch" many people thought they were getting.
Analysis: The only time this is an appropriate snack (or meal, really) would be if you were doing an excessive amount of exercise. Adding protein powder as an option helps balance it a little bit but, basically, there is no way around the fact that this is a high-sugar meal, which is only okay if you happen to be burning a lot of blood sugar.
- Functional Smoothies. These use industry buzzwords in drinks like Acai Supercharger, Matcha Green Tea Mist, Protein Berry Pizzazz, Coldbuster!, and a host of other really healthy-sounding items. Some of them had a slightly higher amount of protein but checking the bottom line, an "original" also had around 500 calories, 400 or so of which came from sugar.
Analysis: Shakespeare once asked "what's in a name?" and maybe he was referring to a business he knew would pop up in a few centuries. Don't believe this marketing hype; their only function would be to fuel you after a long bout of very intense exercise.
- Enlightened Smoothies. How did they do it? They look the same. They're the same size. Yet, these average around 300 calories, about 250 of which are sugar. In order to reduce calories they've used nonfat milk, whey protein, and Splenda. This does boost their protein content a bit, an improvement over the classics, but you have to deal with Splenda.
Analysis: Do two pluses offset a minus? You get fewer calories and more protein, but what's with the Splenda? This somewhat disgusting artificial sweetener (basically chlorinated sugar) has a lot of negative press surrounding it. It probably won't hurt you in small dosages but it begs to ask the question "why?" Surely they could have found something healthier.
- All Fruit Smoothies. These don't use dairy products and stick to fruit juice and fruit. But it's sweetened fruit juice, so their 300+ calories are nearly all sugar.
Analysis: Another sugary sports drink. Sure, there are vitamins and antioxidants in this stuffit's made of fruit after all. But you're far better off with a piece or two, or three, of whole fruit, which is healthier, more filling, and doesn't cause a sugar rush.
- Good Moo'ds. These are the chocolate-anything's that invariably show up on the menu. They like to advertise that they are "made with nonfat milk" or some other hollow promise but a medium "Peanut Butter Moo'd" contains 21 grams of fat (190 calories), 122 grams of sugar, 480 mg of sodium, and checks in at 840 calories.
Analysis: You might as well go for the ice cream. If that's what you want, there's not much trade-off here. These have no place in a healthy diet except as some kind of reward. They are decadence, pure and simple.
Starbucks, et al.
Coffee chains have gotten in on the game, too. Sometimes called smoothies, they are also referred to by various other names. Coffee and tea don't have any calories and give you a rush. But people seem to want their rush with other assorted items, like sugar and fat, so now when you order a black coffee at one of these places you often get a strange look or are asked "are you sure?" because, I guess, that's not what the cool kids are ordering. So let's have a look, shall we? Because the kids won't stay cool if they keep eating like this.
- Frappuccinos. An average 24-ounce Starbucks Frappuccino (at least it's their large, or venti) has around 700 calories, 25 grams of fat, 100 grams of sugar, 400 milligrams of sodium, and 70 milligrams of cholesterol. You can save a few hundred calories by ordering "light," almost all of them sugar because artificial sugar is substituted.
Analysis: These are dessert items. There is no other way to categorize them.
- Lattes 'n' such. These are slightly less caloric and vary quite a bit. A grande nonfat cappuccino might only have 100 or so calories but a venti white chocolate mocha with whipped cream has over 600.
Analysis: There's a lot of variance here and, I believe, most of you know the good from the bad. Here's a quick rundown:
- Coffee or tea: Zero cals; unsweetened without adding milk or cream, the best option.
- Milks and cream: Nonfat is best, then low-fat and last is whole, which is highly caloric and loaded with fat. Half and half or cream is even worse. Soy milk is a good option for the lactose intolerant but has similar fat and calories of regular milk. Most non-dairy creamers are filled with sugar and hydrogenated junk. You're better off with the real stuff
- Chocolate, caramel, vanilla, etc.: All of these flavorings are sugara lot of sugar.
- Whipped cream: 100% fat and condensed sugar and almost zero food value.
- Chai and other holistic-sounding stuff: These follow the exact same pattern as the Frappuccinos. The only difference is that they use tea instead of coffee as their base. Often touted as "a taste of Asia" or some such nonsense, these have long ago lost any trace of "exotic spices" and are flavored by the same junk that's in all this stuff. It's more like a taste of the Mulan ride at Disney World.
For Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.
6 Ways to Boost Your Antioxidant LevelsBy Joe Wilkes
Antioxidants are everywhere these days. Actually, they've always been everywhere, but now every health food drink and supplement purport that they have the most. What are they anyway and how can we make sure we're getting the right ones?
When our bodies metabolize oxygen, free radicals are created which, left unchecked, can cause damage to our cells. Certain nutrients, called antioxidants, have been shown to help protect our cells from free radical damage. These antioxidants include catechins, flavonoids, lignans, lycopene, Vitamins A, C, and E, and zinc. Studies have shown that antioxidants may help prevent cancer, heart disease, stroke, and many degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's and macular degeneration.
However, none of these antioxidants has been shown to be a magic bullet on its own. Therefore, it's best to take a belt-and-suspenders approach to make sure you're eating a wide variety of antioxidants in your diet to get the maximum health benefits. While there are a number of excellent supplements and shakes that can help you get your daily dose of antioxidants, you can get a lot of the best ones from eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using a color system to get the best results. Remember when your mom told you to eat a green thing every day? She was on the right track, but you should also eat something red, orange, yellow, blue, and white as well. Try and eat something from each color group every day, and you should be covering your antioxidant bases.
- The Red Group: Tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, and pink and red grapefruit
- The Green Group: Broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts
- The Orange Group: Carrots, mangoes, apricots, and sweet potatoes
- The Yellow Group: Pineapple, corn, and pears
- The Blue Group: Blueberries, blackberries, and plums
- The White Group: Onions, garlic, and leeks
For more about anti-aging tips, check out Steve Edwards' Fountain of Youth article, and for more tips on getting more veggies in you diet, read Jude Buglewicz's 10 Simple Ways to Spruce Up Your Salad.