Green smoothies are all the rage, particularly here in Byron Bay. They are promoted as one of the best things you can do for your health.
In case you are one of the rare few who has never had one, green smoothies are usually made up of about 40% leafy greens and 60% fruit. Sometimes they contain a other goodies to either make them tastier or more nutritious, such as chia or flax seeds, maca or camu powder, cacao nibs, hemp protein, spirulina or coconut oil.
At first glance, the power-packed hit of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fiber you get from a green smoothie seems indisputably healthy, so why on earth would you avoid them?
The Ayurvedic view is never just about NUTRIENTS, it is always about QUALITIES. These seemingly super-smoothies have some qualities that can have a negative effect if consumed regularly over an extended period of time.
Three reasons to avoid smoothies (or take in moderation)- An Ayurvedic perspective:
1. Green Smoothies Aggravate Vata Dosha
Green smoothie recipes often call for chilled water or the addition of ice cubes. On top of this, the majority of the fruits and veggies added to them are cold in quality (they have a cooling post-digestive effect). Even if you’re adding some warming ginger to your smoothie, the overall quality of smoothies is still usually COLD. Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach and cabbage; veggies like broccoli and celery; as well as a number of fruits are also DRY and ROUGH in quality.
The Vata (Air/Ether) dosha in our bodies has the qualities of dry, rough, cold, mobile and changeable. Foods that are COLD, DRY and ROUGH, directly aggravate Vata. Like increases like. When Vata is aggravated, it causes increased dryness, roughness, coldness, mobility and variability in the body/mind.
This can be experienced as:
Gas or pain after eating
Dry constipation or loose motions (increased mobility)
Dry/rough skin and hair
Pain or cracking in the joints
From a mental perspective, aggravated Vata is associated with increased:
Vata has a strong association with the nervous, endocrine and excretory systems so excess Vata is most inclined to affect these systems. According to the principles of Ayurveda, the majority of diseases are related to aggravated Vata dosha.
2. Green Smoothies Deplete Ojas
Long-term aggravated Vata is also associated with catabolism or the breaking down of tissues. This is one of the reasons why people often feel very energetic when initially getting into green smoothies (and raw food generally) – because when a cell breaks down a huge amount of energy is released!
The good news is your fat tissue gets broken down. The bad news is your other tissues do too, including the deeper tissues of bone, marrow, nerve and sexual reproductive tissue. Depletion of these important deep tissues is never a good thing. We’re talking:
Compromised nerve conduction and communication
These deeper tissues are also directly responsible for nourishing ‘Ojas’ the foundation of our immune system. If these tissues become depleted, Ojas also becomes depleted. As a result, we become more susceptible:
Other diseases of depletion.
3. Green Smoothies Are Difficult To Digest
Although many of the ingredients in a green smoothie are actually light, the sheer quantity of ingredients can make them very dense and therefore heavy. If you’re adding a bunch of superfoods to the mix, your smoothie is going to be even heavier. Heavy food, although satisfying to one’s hunger, are difficult to digest.
Green smoothies are very complex. Our digestive fire (‘Agni’ in Sanskrit) likes simplicity. For example, our Agni has no problem digesting a few veggies that have been cooked with mung daal, rice and spices to aid digestion. Foods cooked together in a single pot have time to get to know each other, to combine their qualities and be transformed from several individual ingredients to a single meal with a particular character. In contrast, smoothies contain a multitude of ingredients with very different qualities combined raw in a blender. Raw food prepared in this way may be delicious, but it doesn’t allow for this subtle transformation and marrying of qualities. As a result, the meal remains very complex which is difficult for the body to digest.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, green smoothies contain the number one food combination no-no. Ayurveda teaches that fresh fruit should never be combined with any other foods. As we know, green smoothies combine fresh fruit with leafy greens, veggies and sometimes superfoods. Although somewhat pre-digested thanks to the blending process, the smoothies still stay in our stomachs for as long as the most difficult food contained within them takes to digest. As a result, the fresh fruit (which is light and easy to digest in comparison to all other foods) generally stays in the stomach for too long and ferments – causing over-digested food wastes (or ‘Ama’ in Sanskrit).
In the short term, green smoothies may be cleansing, due to their high fiber content, but they tend to put a strain on the digestive fire – which most people experience as a sensation of lasting ‘fullness’ (and think this is a good thing!).
In the long run, the aggravation of Vata can lead to an imbalanced digestive fire of the ‘Variable’ kind (like a candle blowing in the wind). Variable digestion is associated with pain, bloating, flatulence, burping and also leads to the under-cooking of foods or undigested food wastes (‘Ama’). This is where the ‘cleansing’ benefit can be reversed. Undigested wastes accumulate in the digestive tract and eventually overflow and relocate into the deeper channels and tissues of the body. There they begin to wreck havoc on cellular nutrition and waste disposal and can, thus, from the Ayurvedic perspective, becoming the root of all disease.
I invite you to pause and reconsider next time you find yourself in line at the local juicery. Your agni, tissues and emotional state will thank you in the long run.
Make Your Green Smoothies Healthier
So there you have it! Some pretty good reasons to reconsider the green smoothie trend…. aggravated Vata, depleted tissues, depleted Ojas, imbalanced Agni and accumulating Ama!
Having said all that, it should be noted that if you have a robust Pitta or Pitta/Kapha constitution with a super strong digestive fire and a body in need of a little cooling, you’ll be able to handle green smoothies better than most. On the other hand, if you have a strong influence of Vata in your constitution, you should not overdo them.
If you’re already addicted to green smoothies and are determined to keep having them for whatever reason, try the following adjustments to make them slightly more Ayurvedically-friendly:
add a pinch of turmeric and ginger and a squeeze of lemon to the mix to aid digestion
have them at room temperature, not cold… or even add a little hot water
keep the ingredients to a minimum, keep it simple and less dense – less is more!
add a little coconut oil to offset the dry/rough qualities of the veggies
try them without fruit
avoid the addition of superfoods – they make them even heavier
only have them a couple of times a week, not daily.
I hope this helps! Or better still, you can just make a green veggie soup instead!
PLEASE NOTE: If you are in any doubt, it is a great idea to see an Ayurvedic Practitioner for specific recommendations.