Green Drinks... Proceed With Caution

Green drinks are all the rage right now.  Spinach, kale, romaine, cucumber and more, all the liquid squeezed out of them and poured into a cup or bottle for our consumption. They are popping up everywhere – you don’t have to look very hard – and that’s a good thing, right?  Well, kind of.  It really depends on what kind of green drink you are reaching for.  

I am a fan of green drinks and I’d love for more people to start adding them to their day. But not just any green drink will do.  The integrity of green juice is at stake when big food companies get involved and that means you have to be diligent and on your toes when choosing to add green juices to your day.  If you aren’t pressing or squeezing your own vegetables at home, then you should be asking questions and reading ingredients lists on those you are purchasing. 

I went on a little fact-finding mission recently to find out just what is in the most popular brands of ‘liquid green’.  Although this is one of my longer posts, it’s worth the read.  Here is what I learned:

Two of the most commonly available green juices, one by Naked, the other by Odwalla, have ingredients lists that read more like a sweet treat than a healthy elixir. 

Let’s start with Naked’s Green Machine (Boosted). The front of the label doesn’t give you any truly helpful information. It tells you it’s 100% juice, but not what kind and lets you know it looks weird, but tastes amazing. 


The side label gives you a clue about what’s going on inside the bottle.  Quantities of fruits in recognizable measurements, but when it comes to the green goodness, it’s been described in milligrams… kind of hard to picture just what 409 mg. of alfalfa  looks like. But they make it sound impressive, don’t they?


But the back label (in particular, the list of ingredients) is where you’ll really find out what you’re putting in your body:


This is where I get outraged.  The 15.2 oz. bottle is technically two servings, which means when you see how much sugar they’ve listed, 28 grams of sugar, that’s for only half a bottle. (And did you notice that it’s one of the only facts that isn’t converted for drinking the whole bottle?)  If you drink the whole thing – which most everyone does – you’re consuming 56 grams of sugar! That’s more than a can of coke and every bit as damaging to your health.  What about all those greens?  Take a look at the ingredients list, which by law is listed in order of quantity of ingredient in the product. The first five are fruits, squeezed in the middle is ‘natural flavors’, and it ends with some greens.  Not enough greens to give you the nutrient value you really should be getting out them, but more than enough sugar to send your blood sugar soaring, crashing and then causing you to reach for more sugar.

Odwalla is another popular green drink, and while their label is a bit more honest on the front, calling it a premium fruit smoothie blend, they deceive you with the visual of green liquid, which you will see in a moment is the result of a few added grasses and algae, all at the end of the list instead of the beginning. (I also take issue with calling it the original superfood - original superfoods come from the ground, not a bottle, but that’s a whole other post.)



Once again, the back of the label is your true decoder to nutrition. And while I’ll give Odwalla credit for being honest that the 12 ounce bottle is truly one serving, they are still delivering 37 grams of sugar in those 12 ounces. 


The list of ingredients is mainly fruit, which should be no surprise since the front does call it a fruit smoothie, but the fact they’ve added soy lecithin (a GMO thickener) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that is commonly synthesized from corn syrup, another GMO product, clearly puts it in the processed foods and nutrient compromised category. The disclaimer is a joke… an alternative always exists to not use bioengineered ingredients.

A few more things to note about these two products: first, they are both pasteurized, which kills vital nutrients.  The best, most nutritious green drinks are fresh squeezed or cold pressed and not pasteurized. Next, and the big clincher as to why there is so little integrity in these two juices, is that they are owned by Pepsi (Naked) and Coke (Odwalla)…. Two companies whose biggest interest is their bottom line ($$) not your health.

So what’s a well intentioned, health focused person to do when they want to get the benefits of fresh green juice, but don’t have the time to juice them at home? My first suggestion is to find a good juice bar near you, ask them exactly what’s in their green juices (you should be able to watch them be made) and if their produce is organic.  Organic is the ideal, but if it’s not available, I’d still rather have you have fresh juiced greens over the above choices. 

The good news is that there are more and more companies with a conscious coming out with responsibly formulated and packaged green juices.  Because fresh greens have a limited shelf life (which they should!) you’ll need to investigate what juices are available in your region.  Here in Southern California, we have some great options.  Suja, Blue Print Cleanse and Evolution, just to name a few.  These companies cold press vegetables first (and fruit secondary) and are high pressure processed to preserve freshness.  Yes, they will cost a bit more, but you are paying for real, organic vegetables, no added fillers, no synthetic ingredients and no excessive sugars.  You will be filling your body with wholesome nutrients which lead to better health.

Here’s a look at one of the “good guys” of packaged juice: Evolution

Right from the get-go, the front label gives you great information. It tells you what’s inside, (vegetables and fruits - mostly veggies and only two fruits lime and cucumber), that it’s cold pressed and that it’s never heated (preserves nutrient values).


The side label explains how much of each ingredient was used to make the juice in easy to relate to terms: 8 stalks of celery, 3 spinach leaves, 49 blades of wheat grass, ¼ cucumber… all easy to visualize.


And the all-telling back label wins a gold star in this category.  The only ingredients are real foods, no fillers, thickeners or synthetic vitamins.  Drinking the whole bottle (2 servings) will give you only 70 calories, very little carbs and only 12 grams of sugar! You could drink two bottles of this and still consume less sugar than half of a bottle of Naked greens juice. It is possible to put a healthy green juice on the store shelf!

You always have a choice in what you put in your body.  Don’t get lazy and grab something that looks good without doing your homework.  You are worth the best quality foods and your body will thank you with good health.  If you are interested in even fresher, delivered to your door greens, check out my favorite cold pressed juice company, Ritual Wellness.  When I’m not pressing my own green combinations, I choose Ritual Wellness.  What will you choose when you reach for green?