Smoothies! You know those drinks - the ones we encouraged in copious amounts because they are better for us than fizzies (too much sugar) and certainly more fun than plain tap water. And don't they generate sought after health and wellness in just a few sips? That's what I heard anyway.
What is a smoothie?
First of all, for those of you in the dark (and it must be a dark dark place), a smoothie is a drink made from a blend of fruit and fruit juices (fresh or concentrate) which can contain, yoghurt, milk, ice cream or ice. The commercial variety often contains fruit concentrates and purees; homemade recipes usually use fresh fruit and commercial fruit juices.
Smoothies have become very popular in the last decade. One of the reasons is because we have been told by the World Health Organisation that we need a minimum of 5 fruit and veg a day to keep us healthy (though we're not told that often that at least 3 of those should be veg). Smoothies provide us with a minimum of two fruits a day in a convenient sized drink. Parents and children love them alike, because they are much cleaner and quicker than munching your way through two apples a day. Plus they are pretty tasty.
That's perhaps the reason consumers don't question whether smoothies are healthy or not. We presume innocently that they are.
So what's all the fuss about?
In one word. Sugar.
The 'potential damage from naturally occurring fructose in fruit juices and smoothies is being overlooked' said Professor Barry Popkin and George Bray back in 2004.
It all began nearly a decade ago when two scientists from the Nutritional Department in the University of North Carolina identified high fructose corn syrup used intensely in soft drinks as dangerous. They successfully argued that people should change their drinking habits by avoiding carbonated soft drinks. The British Soft Drinks Association says that consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9% over the last 10 years, which is a positive change.
However, consumers have been on the hunt for naturally occurring sweet drinks ever since. Smoothies, which at one time could only be made at home with fresh fruit, met those needs. Clever entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon and started making smoothies using fresh fruit, conveniently taking away the messy prepping from the kitchen. Other brands followed using cheap China sourced fructose fruit juices, which can be as dangerous as sweetened carbonated drinks.
What the food brands are saying?
The general stance that food brands have when questioned about poor nutritionally created foods is predictable - there are no bad foods, only bad diets. To which I have to agree.
Not surprisingly, so does a spokesperson for Innocent Smoothies who said "Smoothies are made entirely from fruit and therefore contain the same amount of sugars that you would find in an equivalent amount of whole fruit."
The Strawberry and Banana Innocent smoothies contains 28 grapes, 13 crushed strawberries, 2 mashed bananas, 1 1/2 pressed apples, 1 squeezed orange and a dash of lime juice. Delicious, but it also contains 5 teaspoons of sugar per serving (250mls) which is comparable with the 5 teaspoons of sugar in the same measure of Coca Cola. Okay. I know that this is supposed 'good' natural sugar. But it's still sugar. And nobody is talking about it.
I decided to do a few comparisons. The cheapest smoothie I could find on Tesco Online was their Own Brand at £1 for 750mls (which is pretty cheap), compared to the most expensive Innocent version at £3.98 for 750mls.
Here is the cost and nutritional info for a 250ml serving of some popular smoothie brands.
Tesco Tropical Smoothie
33.3p per serving (250ml)
Calories 130 calories
Fibre 2.5 grams
Sugar 6 teaspoons
Innocent Strawberry and Mashed Bananas
96p per serving
Calories 135 K calories
Fibre 1 gram
Sugar 5 teaspoons
Homemade Strawberry and Mashed Bananas
Using the exact same ingredients as is used in the above Innocent smoothie, I calculated the cost and approximate nutritional value.
75p per serving
Calories 110 K calories
Fibre 6.9 grams
Sugar 41/2 tsps
There wasn't a massive difference - however the big drop in fibre bemused me. It is probably down to losing the benefits of peeled fruit.
So what does this all mean?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a smoothie, if it contains the right ingredients. Some fruits are less sweet than others, so why not start with these, adding low fat milk, natural yoghurt or just ice to add volume. Or why not include some vegetables?
This can only mean one thing for me and hopefully you - back to the kitchen to experiment with celery, spinach, apple and carrots. Come back next week and I'll let you know how I get on. The Sian's Plan team are in for treat!
And if you are hell bent on the more sugary ones, include the smoothie as a luxury - once or week. Measure out a 250 ml portion and enjoy it as a dessert. It is not a substitute for your water.