If you’ve gone into any health stores or vegetarian restaurants recently, or seen any pictures of a cup filled with green liquid on Instagram accompanied by the hashtag #DrinkYourGreens, you may be wondering why suddenly everyone and their mother is obsessed with green juices and smoothies. What exactly are these concoctions? Why are they the color of Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc.? Are they as healthy as they’re cracked up to be? And do they taste as gross as they look? Whether you’re new to the green scene or a seasoned cucumber-kale-wheatgrass veteran, we’ve got the answers to all those questions and more.
What are green smoothies and juices?
Well, the name pretty much gives it away—they are smoothies and juices that are green! More specifically, these drinks are made from fresh vegetables, and sometimes fruits, too. What gives these drinks their green hue is typically a nutrient-dense leafy green such as spinach, kale, or romaine—or all of the above. Other green vegetables that are often found in the mix are celery, cucumber, parsley, and wheatgrass, but really any veggie that can be juiced or blended could be added.
On that note, the difference between a green smoothie and a green juice is that smoothies are made using a blender while juices are made from a juicer. Smoothies include the whole vegetable and fruit (pulp, skin, etc.) and possibly other ingredients such as juice, milk, or yogurt. Juices, on the other hand, are just straight up juice extracted from fresh vegetables and fruits.
Are they good for you?
The nutritional value and health benefits of a green juice or smoothie completely depend on the ingredients used. If the drink is made purely of fruits and vegetables—meaning no added sugar or funky chemicals and preservatives—then it is good for you for all the same reasons that the fruits and vegetables themselves are good for you. In other words: they provide an array of vitamins, minerals, healthy nutrients, and antioxidants that pack benefits for your body (inside and out), mood, and well-being.
With juices, however, there is catch. “Juicing extracts the juice from the fruit, but does not include the fibrous pulp,” says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician at Ingrain Health. “One of the benefits of eating fruit is to get the benefits of dietary fiber, which you lose if you throw out the pulp.”
In other words, you actually get fewer health benefits from drinking a green juice than you would from just eating the fruits and vegetables themselves whole, or blending them whole into a smoothie.
Why all the hype, then? “Some juice advocates argue that drinking fruit and vegetable juices serves as a way to give your gut a rest from digesting fiber,” Ferraro explains. “The problem is, most of us aren’t eating ENOUGH fiber, and it’s certainly not something we need a break from!”
So, green juices are not the answer to all your health concerns and goals. But, when filled with the right ingredients, they can be nutritious and tasty nonetheless!
What ingredients should go in them?
What are the right ingredients? Well, a Shamrock Shake filled with ice cream that is turned green by mint and food coloring is not the same as vegetable juice. Less obviously, a vegetable juice with 30 grams of added sugar is not the same as sipping a fresh pressed juice made solely from carrots and spinach. So, if you’re buying the drink pre-made, make sure to check the ingredients list and the nutrition facts first. A calorie range of 100-250 is ideal; anything more than that likely means that it’s packing on the sugar.
You probably get the point by now, but your best option is one that contains nothing but fruits and vegetables, and according to Ferraro, the more veggies the better. “I like green juices that are approximately half vegetable, half fruit,” she says. “Once you tip the scales towards a higher fruit drink, your calories add up quickly. Your best bet is to aim to make half your juice lower-calorie, nutrient-dense vegetables, and no more than half from fruit.”
If you are making the juice or smoothie yourself, check out our recipes at the end for healthy ideas.
What do they taste like?
The taste varies based on the ingredients of the particular smoothie or juice, but we can assure you that green smoothies don’t typically taste like a pile of grass, as much as they may look like one. Green juices and smoothies are a testament to not judging a book by its cover!
Juices and smoothies that include fruit will of course be sweeter. Additionally, if the green ingredients are primarily mild ones, such as spinach and cucumber, the vegetable taste will not be as strong. “I always add a handful or two of spinach into smoothies I make for breakfast or a snack because even though it turns the smoothie green, you can’t taste the spinach at all,” says Sarah, a rising junior at the University of Michigan. So, if you’ve never had a green drink before and are reluctant to try it, start with one that combines fruit with a milder green, like spinach.
If, on the other hand, you are ready to try something with a stronger, leafier flavor, opt for ones that include kale, cucumber, and parsley, which will add a distinct taste (it may be a little bitter or sour). Non-green vegetables such as carrots and beets will also add a noticeable vegetable flavor.
How can you incorporate them into your diet?
Okay, so you get what all the hype is about and you are ready to become a juiced-up, green machine. Where do you start? When it comes to drinking your greens, you have several options.
Find a juice bar in your area
As the green revolution continues to spread, more and more restaurants are beginning to serve up green juices and smoothies. “In Ann Arbor, a new coffee shop called Glassbox also sells fresh-pressed juices that are so good,” says Kaye, a junior at the University of Michigan. “They don’t add sweeteners or anything besides just the vegetables and fruits listed, and they all taste really fresh.”
If no juice or smoothie bars have opened in your area, search online to see if there are any vegetarian or vegan restaurants around. Plant-based restaurants typically have fresh juices on the menu. You’re probably better off avoiding smoothie chains, which tend to have added sugars in their mixes and generally don’t incorporate vegetables, and finding a local joint instead.
Stock up at a health foods store
Most health food stores, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, sell bottled green drinks.
As mentioned earlier, when buying bottled juices it is especially important to check the nutrition label to make sure you won’t be downing 400 calories per glass because of junk snuck into the deceiving green mixture.
Bottled juices are typically the least ideal form in terms of health and cost. Ferraro advises against them. “Buying bottled juice is generally a waste of time and money,” she says. “Most bottled products are juiced, not blended, so they are higher in calories and lower in fiber than if you were to make your own at home—or if you were to just eat the fruits and vegetables!”
However, if bottled is your only (or the most convenient) option, there are better choices than others. A few good brands to try, which can be found at Whole Foods and various other supermarkets (follow the links to see where they are sold near you), are the BluePrint Cleanse, Bolthouse Farms, and Evolution Fresh.
If no stores near you sell green juices, you could also order a pack online from a juice or cleanse company. A few options are The Cooler Cleanse, Urban Remedy Cleanse, and Roots Juices. Even though some of these juices are a part of cleanse programs, it is totally fine to just have one of the juices as a snack or alongside a meal without doing the whole cleanse shebang.
Make your own
The cheapest option in the long run is to invest in a juicer and/or a blender and make your own delicious drinks! Plus, when you make your own, you get to control what goes into it, which means that you can choose your favorite vegetables and fruits and know exactly what’s in the mix to ensure that it’s healthy.
You can experiment in the kitchen with any fruits and veggies that you like (again, add a leafy green like spinach, kale, or romaine to get the green glow). Or, you can try any—or all—of the HC approved juice and smoothie recipes below. For each juice recipe, the directions are just to run the ingredients through the juicer, and for the smoothie recipes, you just blend all ingredients together until smooth.
Refreshing Green Juice
Recipe from: All About Juicing
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1/4 small honeydew melon (cut into pieces, rind removed)
- Small bunch of seedless white grapes
- 2 kiwi fruits (without skin)
- Large handful of spinach
- Small sprig of mint
- 1 lemon
Dr. Oz’s Green Juice
Recipe from: Omega Juicers
- 2 cups spinach
- 2 cups cucumber
- 1 head of celery
- 1/2 inch of teaspoon of ginger root
- 1 bunch parsley
- 2 apples
- 1 lime
- 1/2 lemon
Drink Your Produce Green Juice
Recipe from: MindBodyGreen
- 4 carrots
- 1 cucumber
- 1-2 cups spinach
- 1 lemon
- 1 Gala or Pink Lady apple
- 1 pear
Green Monster Smoothie
Recipe from: Oh She Glows
- 1 cup almond milk, or milk of choice
- 1 ripe banana, preferably peeled and frozen
- 2 handfuls organic spinach or 1 handful kale
- 1 tbsp chia seeds OR 1 tbsp ground flax
- 1 tbsp nut butter, optional
- 1-3 ice cubes
- Protein powder of choice, optional
Green Lemonade Smoothie
Recipe from: Eating Bird Food
- 2 cups raw kale
- 1 large pear, cored and sliced into large pieces
- ½ cucumber, peeled
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ¼ cup ice
- ¾ cup cold water
Coconut Kale Smoothie
Recipe from: Carrots ‘N’ Cake
- 1 cup frozen chopped kale
- 1 banana
- 1.5 cups coconut milk
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp coconut extract
- 1 handful ice
Green juices and smoothies may not be the panacea that they are sometimes made out to be, but they are definitely a convenient and tasty way to sneak vegetables into your diet and get your fix of the nutrients that we often skimp on in college. So whether you create your own drink or buy one at a restaurant, the green juice and smoothie bandwagon is worth hopping on. Happy sipping!