While the blender is whirring away making your next yummy smoothie, do you wonder if blending fruits and vegetables destroys the nutrients? I mean, really. You’re taking whole food and turning it into liquid, right? Doesn’t it seem like blending has to change something?
Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much research on the topic of whether blending fruits and vegetables does any harm to the nutrients. I’ve read websites that claim blending destroys 90% of the nutrients in food. Other sites state that blending breaks food down at the cellular level allowing your body to absorb more nutrients than from whole foods.
Hmmm. That doesn’t help much, does it?
I’ve found there are a few main topics about how blending might affect nutrients. Let’s take a look at these ideas and dig into whether or not they are a real concern when it comes to making and drinking smoothies.
Does blending destroy the nutrients of fruits and vegetables?
One topic I see discussed a lot is about whether the processing of food in a blender actually does harm. The thought is that blending breaks down whole fruits and vegetables, destroying the food and the nutrients along with it.
On the surface, this theory seems logical. It seems like something must change with the nutrients when you take whole foods and liquify them.
How could it not change anything?
You’re right. Something about the nutrients does change when food is blended.
More accurately, the process of breaking food down changes the availability of nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies. This happens with cooking, blending, chewing, and digestion.
When you eat whole foods, you break them down by chewing them. The more you chew, the more they break down. Chewing helps us to be able to swallow the food without choking, and also helps to break up the fibers that hold the nutrients.
The more you break up the fibers, the more nutrients become available for your body to absorb.
After chewing, the food enters the stomach and digestive tract where it will be further broken down, releasing even more nutrients.
Chewing and digestion are not the most efficient ways of breaking down food. There are foods our bodies are not able to break down much – if at all. Take flax seeds, for example. Our digestive system is unable to break through the hard shells of flax seeds. Any seeds that make it into our digestive tract whole will come out whole.
With foods like that, we need to break them down first in order to get at the nutrients. Chewing flax seeds really well, or buying ground flax seeds, helps us to get the most nutrition out of them.
No matter how much you chew, you will not be able to break the food down as much as a blender can.
The biggest difference between eating whole foods and blending them is how fast they can be digested by your body. Whole foods have their fibers left more intact from chewing than when blended. Fiber plays an important role in slowing down the digestion of food and regulating blood sugar.
When you blend your food, the fiber isn’t destroyed. It is broken down – essentially pre-digested. This means that your body can digest the food and absorb the nutrients faster.
Keep in mind that sugar is also more easily absorbed by your body. This is why it is very important to limit the amount of sugar in your smoothies. I’m not just talking about added sweeteners – fruit also has a lot of sugar in it. Try to limit the amount of fruit in your smoothie to no more than a cup. 3/4 of a cup of fruit is ideal.
Try adding protein powder to your smoothie to help slow digestion so you feel full longer. Protein powder can also help reduce blood sugar spikes from sugar being absorbed quickly, by slowing down digestion.
Nutrients and heat
Another thought around smoothie nutrient loss has to do with the heat from blending destroying nutrients. The idea is that the heat produced from running the blender and the blades will destroy nutrients.
It’s true that in some cases nutrients are destroyed by heat, although that’s normally from cooking, deep frying, canning or microwaving them. The heat produced in dehydrators can also be a contributor to nutrient loss.
When it comes to making your smoothie, it doesn’t seem like much heat can be produced from running a blender for 30 to 60 seconds. That’s the time it takes to blend a smoothie. If you’re finding you need to blend 1 – 2 minutes you probably need a more powerful blender. You don’t need an expensive Vitamix – I use a Breville blender and it works great.
Besides, you’re most likely adding chilled liquid, ice, or frozen produce to your smoothies.
How warm could it possibly get?
I don’t think heat generated by the by blending your smoothie is anything to worry about. There can’t be that much heat created by the blender to make much of a difference, if any. Even if you don’t add chilled ingredients because you prefer a warmer smoothie, the temperature of the blender blades is not going to get as hot as cooking food. No one seems to worry much about the nutrients in cooked food and those temperatures are much higher than the temperature your blender will reach.
Oxidation of nutrients in fruits and vegetables
Once the skin of a fruit or vegetable is broken, oxygen is allowed in and the nutrients begin to break down. This process is called oxidation and you can see it happening as the damaged spot turns brown.
The concern around blending food is with oxygen getting sucked into the blender during the blending cycle, exposing it to air and speeding up oxidation of the nutrients.
Blending your fruits and vegetables certainly does expose nutrients to air, but so does chewing, cutting, chopping, shredding, peeling, dehydrating, and juicing. Yes, blending will result in some nutrient loss. Nutrient loss will occur in fruits and vegetables as soon as they are picked off the plant. This doesn’t mean that the fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator are lacking nutrients or unhealthy.
Think of other foods that we eat to drink where the food has been heavily processed: juice, soup (especially purees), mashed potatoes or cauliflower, seed or nut butters… just to name a few. I haven’t seen much debate about nutrient loss in those foods.
If you’re worried about the oxidation of nutrients in your smoothie, just drink it right away or store it in the fridge until you can drink it.
Keep drinking those smoothies!
There doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence either way. What I do know is that most people do not get the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. If drinking smoothies is helping you to get closer to those servings, I say drink up!
I do not recommend only drinking your fruits and vegetables every day, because we do lose some of the benefits of chewing when we drink our food. Many processes in the digestive tract are only activated when we chew.
I always recommend adding protein powder to your smoothies to give it a nutritional boost. This isn’t because of nutrient loss from blending fruits and vegetables. Adding high-quality protein powder to your smoothies helps to make sure it is balanced nutritionally as a full meal replacement. Protein powders will also help you feel fuller faster and longer, helping you to eat less and helping to regulate blood sugar.
Blending does not destroy nutrients – and it doesn’t destroy calories. Keep in mind that liquid calories count the same as whole food calories. Be sure you are adding healthy ingredients to your smoothies and be mindful of the calories.
If you’d like to learn more about how to create nutritionally balanced smoothies, download my free guide:
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