June 16, 2024

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The idea of drinking your vegetables is appealing to many. Maybe you don’t love the taste of veggies or you don’t want to spend the time prepping them. Or — and here’s the magic of marketing at work — you’ve heard that a green juice or smoothie is one of the healthiest things you can consume.

“The most important thing to understand about green drinks is that while in some cases they can help supplement an overall healthy diet, they’re not a replacement for whole foods,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition and dietetics at St. Louis University in Missouri. Here’s what you need to know about the various green drink options out there.

A green juice can be a refreshing and sometimes low-calorie and low-sugar beverage. For example, Suja Uber Greens has 50 calories and only 5 grams of natural sugars in 12 ounces. Juices retain much of the vitamins and minerals in the leafy greens (or other veggies).

“For people who aren’t eating enough greens, this is an easy way get their nutrients,” says Kristina Petersen, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University. But because the veggie pulp is tossed, you’re missing out on the fiber.

And be sure to check ingredients lists for fruit juice and sugars. Bolthouse Farms Daily Greens juice, for example, lists apple juice as its first ingredient and has 23 grams of sugars in 12 ounces. “Without fiber, that sugar is more readily absorbed and will raise your blood sugar more than if you ate those vegetables or fruit whole,” Petersen says. Fresh-pressed juices are also pricey. You could buy a week’s worth of produce for the cost of a couple of bottles of some green juice.

Unlike juices, smoothies are made with whole veggies, so they can be a good source of fiber as well as nutrients. But you’re best off making your own. Commercially available smoothies may have lots of juice — and very few whole fruits or veggies. For instance, Smoothie King’s Veggie Lemon Ginger Spinach smoothie lists four types of fruit juices before you get to the spinach and kale. “The perception is you’re drinking healthy greens, but it’s mostly just green-tinted fruit juice,” Linsenmeyer says. Adding a protein to a smoothie, such as yogurt, milk or nut butter, will make it more filling.

What about green ‘superfood’ powders?

They’re supposed to boost energy, improve gut and brain health, and bolster your immune system. Most have a long list of ingredients that go way beyond veggies and fruit, such as seeds, algae, herbs, probiotics and mushrooms. Pulverizing all of those ingredients into a powder means you’re getting a concentrated form of many nutrients, which isn’t always a good thing. Some supply 500 or even 1,000 percent of the daily value of certain vitamins and minerals, “levels that have the potential to cause toxicity and could also interact negatively with some medications,” Linsenmeyer says, such as blood thinners. “These drinks aren’t ‘food,’ they’re supplements.” That means they’re not strictly regulated, and you should let your doctor know you’re taking them. Another downside: A month’s supply of green powder can cost $40 to almost $100.

Copyright 2024, Consumer Reports Inc.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Read more at ConsumerReports.org.

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