They purport to be the secret to better health, increased energy, and a smaller pant size. But which of the latest crazes deserves a place at your table? Here’s some food for thought.
The trend explained: These super-concentrated blends of green vegetables and fruit can deliver your five daily servings in one glass. They’re usually packed with the kinds of leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, that we don’t consume enough of. Sometimes made with almond or coconut milk, they taste sweet, not bitter. Whether made from fresh produce or from a powdered mix of dried greens, these smoothies are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Proponents claim they boost energy and overall health.
Expert opinion: “The phytonutrients in green smoothies may help lower inflammation in your body, which could help reduce your risk of many diseases, from heart disease to cancer,” says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., the director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. There’s no hard evidence that they increase energy. But adding a bit of protein and fat to your green smoothie—a tablespoon of walnuts or ground flaxseed, say—can help stabilize blood sugar, keeping you off the energy-spike-then-crash roller coaster.
The bottom line: If green smoothies help you up your daily intake of fruits and vegetables, go for it. Just keep in mind that they’re not meant to be a meal replacement, says Applegate, since they lack substantial calories.
The trend explained: The label is popping up on everything from pancake mix to bottled water (really!). According to research from the University of Maryland, about 18 million people in the United States have a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats, which can cause symptoms such as gas, bloating, fatigue, and weight gain. (This is not the same thing as celiac disease. People with celiac cannot process gluten at all and suffer a severe autoimmune response when they ingest it.) But even some without a diagnosed sensitivity claim that cutting out gluten helps them lose weight, gain energy, and reduce bloat.
Expert opinion: The only way to know if you have a sensitivity is to “eliminate foods that contain gluten for a few weeks and see how you feel,” says Kris Clark, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition at Penn State University, in University Park, Pennsylvania. “If you notice a reduction in bloating or constipation, you may, in fact, have a gluten sensitivity.” Forgoing gluten may help you lose weight, but that’s probably because you’ll have to give up calorie-dense grains, which are easy to overeat. Also, keep in mind that a gluten-free cupcake can contain the same amount of sugar, fat, and calories as a regular one.
The bottom line: No one, except those diagnosed with celiac disease, needs to totally eliminate gluten. But if you have a confirmed sensitivity or suspect that you might feel better on a gluten-free regimen, it’s perfectly healthy to do without it. You can still maintain a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and starchy foods that don’t contain gluten, such as all types of rice, quinoa, corn, and potatoes.