Juice bars, home juicers, and smoothies—particularly green ones—have proliferated over the recent years, but do the drinks really make you healthier?

Purported benefits of the fruit- and vegetable-based drinks include detoxing, disease prevention, and increased vitality. While studies haven’t shown that drinking your veggies is superior to eating them whole, juices and smoothies are good ways to increase your vegetable intake while having fun.

If you’re not a fan of say, kale, mixing it with bananas and coconut milk helps hide the taste while still offering the cruciferous vegetable’s many health benefits. For chronic pain patients with achy joints or hands, juicing vegetables or adding chunks of them to smoothies is a way to ingest the required daily amount of produce while minimizing the amount of slicing required.

Plus, including more of these inflammation-reducing and health-boosting foods into your diet is an excellent way to manage pain.

Although juicing has surged in popularity over the last few years, the practice dates back to the 1930s, according to AARP. But experts say this time, juicing is here to stay. San Francisco-based restaurant consultant Andrew Freeman says:

“The concept has settled into being just part of a healthy life, rather than a thing.”

As the popularity of these healthy drinks has skyrocketed, so has the availability of juice and smoothie bars. Some of the concoctions served up at these trendy establishments come with sky-high price tags, particularly for juice, which is expensive to make.

A 16-ounce cup of juice can take up to two pounds of produce make, reports the LA Times, and with the surcharge of purchasing the drink from a vendor, those wanting to drink juices frequently may find it best to purchase a machine. Smoothies cost a tad less, but expenses still add up, making home blending a more affordable option for those wanting to drink the beverages regularly.

Juice versus smoothie—which is better?

Die-hard juicers swear by the drinks, claiming they detoxify, brighten the skin, and help the body achieve levels of energy envied by Superman. However, juicing does have drawbacks.

First, most juicers remove the fiber from vegetables. Proponents view this as a positive thing, noting that it’s possible to ingest more nutrients absent the fullness of fiber. Also, the lack of fiber may help people with digestive issues absorb the nutrients, according to AARP.

Smoothies, on the other hand, do contain fiber since the entire fruit or vegetable is added to blender, which pulverizes it into a drinkable liquid. In addition to helping you feel full, fiber regulates the rate at which the body metabolizes sugar. Smoothies also produce less waste. Juicing results in clumps of leftover pulp that often go to waste.

Either way, drinking juices or smoothies, people with chronic conditions like diabetes should be cautious with how much fruit they include because too much could send blood sugar skyrocketing.

Another note of difference is that smoothies require some type of liquid to blend the ingredients, usually water or a non-diary milk like almond or coconut, while juices include only the juice squeezed from the fruit or vegetable.

Making smoothies and juices at home

The first thing to purchase, obviously, is a juicer or blender. Appliances come in a range of budgets, from around $30 to $500 and beyond.

For blenders, the holy grail is the Vitamix, which will set you back around $500. The higher-quality blenders do a better job of liquefying greens while the lower-end models sometimes leave chunks of leaves. Not too tasty.

Nevertheless, high-quality blenders are available for substantially less than the Vitamix for those who want to blend greens without such a high price tag. The Nutribullet is one, but there are dozens more.

Juicers also come in a range of price points, but unlike blenders, the more expensive ones tend to work through a different process.

  • Centrifugal juicers: These machines essentially grind the vegetables through a shredding or chopping apparatus to separate the juice. This is the most commonly used, and most affordable, home juicer. However, the process isn’t the most efficient and doesn’t work that well for greens and other hard-to-juice vegetables.
  • Masticating juicers: These extract juice by crushing fruit and vegetable fibers. They don’t produce as much heat as centrifugal juicers, and so are believed to preserve more nutrients. Masticating juicers tend to cost a bit more than centrifugal ones, but are generally better for juicing greens. They also produce less waste.

Next, you’ll need to select ingredients. The true benefits of juice or smoothie drinks come into play when they include vegetables, especially leafy greens. This is your chance to hide the taste of kale, spinach, or chard behind the sweetness of pineapple, blueberries, and other dessert-worthy fruits.

Even hidden behind fruit sugar, greens can taste a little bitter, so start out slow. Add just a leaf or two of whatever green you desire, and then cap it off with a complementary fruit. As your taste buds grow accustomed to green juices and smoothies, feel free to change the proportion accordingly, adding more greens and fewer fruits.

Once you get the hang of proportions and which fruits and vegetables taste delicious in combination, have fun experimenting with all types of concoctions. In the meantime, look for recipes online. Try this roundup of 50 juice and smoothie recipes by The Roasted Root to start.

Another thing to consider when making smoothies is the type of liquid or additional ingredients used. Be wary of high-fat and calorie add-ins, like yogurt. As a once-in-a-while treat, extra creamy smoothies are a delicious, healthy option, but they can result in extra pounds if enjoyed on a regular basis.

A good option for liquid is water, but non-sweetened almond milk is another excellent choice.

Vegetable drinks at the juice bar

If you’re not ready to commit to making juices or smoothies at home, experimenting with different tastes at a local juice bar is an excellent way to get started. Options abound and range from mainstream chains like Jamba Juice to Kaleidoscope Juice, a local business with locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Whole Foods also has a smoothie and juice bar in select locations, including Tempe.

When ordering, take care to look at all the ingredients. Some establishments, particularly the more mainstream ones, will include generic ingredients like “red fruit juice,” and it’s hard to tell if those juices have extra sugar in them or are completely natural.

The healthiest options will have only fresh, raw fruit and water or some type of milk, not fruit juice. Packaged fruit juice contains added sugar and limited real fruit, decreasing the health benefits of your drink.

Other smoothie shops, like One Stop Nutrition, are more geared towards bodybuilders and include flavors like blueberry or banana, but may not include any actual fruit.

Do you drink fresh smoothies or juices?

Image by Joanna Slodownik via Flickr

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