Nothing is quite as refreshing as a cold, vibrantly colored smoothie, especially in the warmer months. In recent years, smoothies and smoothie bowls have gained massive popularity. Creations resembling unicorns, mermaids and even monsters have flooded social media feeds. You may have even dabbled in this smoothie “art” yourself.
But here’s the problem — many trendy health beliefs about smoothies aren’t rooted in fact.
Many claims made about certain smoothie supplements have not yet been thoroughly researched. Let’s talk about three common smoothie supplements: acai, activated charcoal and spirulina.
Acai (pronounced AH-sigh-EE) is a fruit originating from the acai palm tree native to tropical Central and South America. The small fruit has a deep purple hue and mellow, tart flavor profile. Acai is generally sold as a frozen puree, freeze-dried powder or juice.
Acai is praised for its antioxidant and weight-loss properties, which is why you may see it often on social media. Some studies have suggested that acai has a higher antioxidant content than strawberries, blackberries or blueberries.
Some studies have suggested that acai has a higher antioxidant content than strawberries, blackberries or blueberries.
However, it is important to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get the most out of antioxidants. According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine, “No independent studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals that substantiate claims that acai supplements alone promote rapid weight loss. Researchers who investigated the safety profile of an acai-fortified juice in animals observed that there were no body weight changes in rats given the juice compared with controls.”
If you decide to purchase acai puree, powder or juice, be mindful of added sugar or syrups.
Activated charcoal is a special form of carbon that can bind other substances on its surface through a process known as adsorption. Medical grade activated charcoal can be used to remove excess alcohol or drugs from the digestive system of an over-intoxicated patient, but it can also bind to and excrete nutrients or important medications.
While medical grade activated charcoal has a role, it is important to remember that the human liver and kidneys already perform detoxifying functions. A balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins is more effective in providing nourishment when compared to targeting things your body already does with niche dietary supplements. Excess activated charcoal can also cause constipation or bowel obstruction.
It is important to note that the charcoal in food is not of medical grade. It is food grade activated charcoal that is not regulated by the FDA, so it is difficult to tell if the charcoal in food has similar characteristics to prescription grade charcoal. Enjoying a punk, all-black smoothie or bowl made with activated charcoal occasionally is not going to present many health concerns. However, it is recommended to consume this sparingly, not as a diet staple.
Spirulina in smoothies and bowls is evidenced by its vibrant bright aqua color. Spirulina is actually a type of blue-green algae that naturally grows in oceans in subtropical climates.
Claims regarding spirulina range from metabolism improvement, to heart health, to weight loss and management of diabetes and cholesterol. Spirulina is high in protein (4 g/tablespoon) and vitamins, making it an excellent supplement for vegetarian or vegan diets. Research suggests spirulina is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory as well as an immune system modulator.
The claims regarding the effect of spirulina on chronic health conditions still need to be further researched. If you wish to add spirulina to your diet, purchase it from a reputable manufacturer that tests the product for contaminants. An example of this would be USP Verified.
Research suggests spirulina is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory as well as an immune system modulator.
Great ways to add spirulina in your diet is through smoothies or bowls, as well as using it as a garnish in baked goods or salads.
While smoothies can be a healthy part of your diet, watch out for added sugar and don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can get all the nutrients you need from smoothies and bowls. As always, aim for a balanced, colorful diet.
Wondering what makes a healthy diet? Talk to a nutrition expert near you.
This article was contributed by David Rihn, a dietetic intern at the University of Texas at Austin Coordinated Program in Nutrition and Dietetics.