Before I answer this I want to share a few things that show where I’m coming from on this question…
First, when I started my healthy eating journey I was pretty much eating crap–coffee and donuts for breakfast, pizza or kraft mac ‘n cheese for dinner…you get the idea. So I was really, really far from where I wanted to be. It wasn’t going to be a matter of making a few tweaks, but some pretty huge shifts in what I was eating on a daily basis.
Second, I do not have a background understanding of cooking and food. I never learned how to cook growing up, and I have never been one of those people who can just throw something together in the kitchen (as I have said before, I’m just not a foodie). I definitely had/have a lack of knowledge about not only healthy eating, but any kind of home-cooking.
And third, I have always had what I refer to as “texture issues” with food. As a kid I was labeled a picky eater, but what it came down to is that the textures of a lot of foods make me gag. So that’s something I have had to navigate as I have gone along.
Anyway, that’s me and the challenges I faced (I also had a lot of help, in the form of a supportive partner and the ability to afford organic produce). If you’re more of a foodie, already have a solid background in cooking, or don’t have the texture issues I have then you might have a different recommendation for how to get started with healthy eating. It’s all good.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes–smoothies or juicing?
Both are awesome ways to get large amounts of micronutrients in your body and they’re easy on the palate. I drink a green smoothie every morning, and I tend to juice in the afternoons whenever I have the time. I really love both of them! But I would recommend smoothies as a first step to making lasting dietary changes for a few reasons.
Fiber is filling
Smoothies have it, juice doesn’t. Juice definitely has its place, don’t get me wrong. It’s like mainlining nutrients! So I try to juice more when I think I am fighting off a cold for example (Btw, since adopting a whole foods vegan diet over a year ago I have been sick only once, with a stomach bug that went around Z’s co-op, and even then I recovered 12 hours faster than everyone else who got it).
With the fiber in smoothies, they can become more of a meal replacement so they can help displace some less-than-healthy habits. Not right away, I think your stomach and cravings have to adjust at first. But eventually a smoothie (especially one loaded with protein powder or chia seeds) can be a really satisfying meal. Juice can’t really do that in my opinion, unless you are a super-disciplined raw foods person whose satiety points are just way shifted from us regular mortals.
I’m getting good at juicing the more I practice, and I have an awesome juicer. But it still takes me about 25 minutes to prep the fruit and vegetables, juice, clean the juicer and compost the pulp. And that doesn’t include the time to drink the juice! Totally worth it, but not something I have time for every day.
A smoothie on the other hand is super quick. Less prep (at least using my system) and the clean-up is ridiculously faster. With a Vitamix all you do is give the three pieces a good rinse and you’re done. I maybe stick it in the dishwasher once a week, but other than that a rinse is enough unless I’m going to be doing something with a very different flavor (like I’ll do a wash with soap if I make a salad dressing before making a smoothie again.) So I can make a smoothie in less that ten minutes, including clean-up.
With a smoothie you can add in all sorts of great superfoods: seeds, nuts, oils, green powders. Basically, if I read about something that might be beneficial and I want to give it a try, I can just throw some into my morning smoothie. You can’t really do that with juice.
Closer to whole food
A discussion of smoothies and juicing wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention that there are many nutrition experts, such as Dr. T.Colin Campbell (the author of The China Study and my hero and teacher), who say that neither is ideal.
Dr. Campbell is a staunch advocate of whole foods, and doesn’t like smoothies or juices. Oy!
(To this I say: Yep! I totally agree, whole foods are the ideal and I am sure that if I ate a bowl of kale and fruit every morning that would absolutely be more beneficial to me than a blended smoothie, however…that ain’t gonna happen! In my world, the choice is not whole fruits and vegetables or a smoothie, it’s a smoothie or donuts.)
A smoothie has all the elements of the whole food, they’re just blended. Nothing is taken away, as in juicing. So to me, that seems closer to a true whole food. I was also really moved and inspired by Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead but I feel nervous when I think about the sugar content of juices without the fiber to slow down absorption. I’m sure it could be argued eighty ways til sunday but that’s just my gut feeling. (I will probably explore juice fasting on a limited basis when I am done nursing, but I don’t see it as something I would ever do for an extended period of time.)
I think it’s all well and good to talk about what the “ideals” are in terms of nutrition, but in my mind what it all comes down to is what can I do in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable amount of money? Keeping in mind my tastes, and the fact that I need to enjoy life in the process of wanting to extend it!
So to me an investment in a high-quality blender is hands-down better than an investment in a juicer. A juicer only makes one thing: juice. But a blender will make smoothies, salad dressings, and will help in baking without using refined sugar.
Also: the raw ingredients for juicing are waaaay more expensive than smoothies. Because you end up throwing away a lot of the pulp, it just costs way more to get a serving of juice than a serving of smoothie.
That said, do you need a Vitamix? No! Absolutely not. That is a hefty price tag for sure. My friend Tara makes smoothies using her $20 immersion blender, and I have done the same (although if you go the immersion route I would say stick to thinner, less substantial greens, like baby spinach or field greens instead of kale.) There are also some decent blenders under $100 and some under $50, I would check Amazon and read the reviews (I love how bonkers-detailed Amazon reviewers can get!)… If you find a good one, let me know.
Anyway, I hope some of that is helpful.
Twitter version: My answer to the age old question smoothies or juice? Smoothies, if I had to pick between the two.
PS Question-asker Lisa is doing some amazing advocacy as part of the Stroller Brigades in support of the Safe Chemicals Act. Go Lisa! Thanks for representing all of us mamas who care about our kids’ exposure to toxic chemicals. (If you haven’t heard about this, check out those links to learn more.)
PPS Any other questions anyone wants to get my opinion on? I would love to answer some more, just leave a comment or email me at eileen at valazza dot calm and if it’s something I think I can answer I’ll post about it.
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