Green Smoothies and Juices: The Hype About Going Green

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.