Hungry Runner’s “Is it really healthy?” series aims to explore whether products that are labeled and marketed as “good for you” are truthfully healthy or just another junk food cloaked under the guise of a fancy label laden with buzz words. “Healthy” is defined as “a minimally processed food product with little added ingredients that provides the body with beneficial nutrients.”
A little over a year ago, a few months after I had first launched Hungry Runner and seriously started to commit myself to clean eating, a friend messaged me asking weather or not I thought an Odwalla Fruit smoothie drink she had picked up was “healthy.”
Having recently started the “Is it really healthy?” series on my new blog, I decided to use the Strawberry-Banana Flavored Odwalla Smoothie as my next topic. I gave it a fairly decent review, deeming it mostly healthy but warning that I would beware of its high sugar content.
You can read my original post here: Is it really healthy? Odwalla
Since then, some of you have commented, noting that the sugar is all naturally occurring from the fruit ingredients and therefore, completely healthy. And you’re right.
Such was a point that I mostly agreed with in my original post, highlighting the fact that there are no added ingredients (in that particular flavor, at least). However, looking back now, after a whole year of learning much more about food and nutrition and what it truly means to be healthy, I can see that I really did not fully understand the difference between added, refined sugars and naturally occurring sugars like the kind found in fruit. In fact, even after much of my own research, I still wouldn’t claim to fully understand the entire sugar picture, because though it is surrounded by plenty of studies and research, not much has been proven with one-hundred-percent certainty and there are still many questions left to be answered.
As is stated in my disclaimer, I am not a nutritionist or a registered dietician. I cannot give you personal nutrition advice. That is not my goal here. My aim is simply to analyze and discuss, and to provide resources so that you can further educate yourself about nutrition, a topic surrounded by a great deal of conflicting research, which means you should read and learn as much as you can in order to make informed decisions about your diet for yourself.
That being said, we do know some things about sugar. There are several different types of sugars (See: An Introduction to Sugar), but there is still much that is unknown about how each kind might affect the human body. (See: “Is Sugar Toxic?” and the counter argument, “Fructose Alarmism“) Still, with all that is left up in the air about the ingredient, it is generally regarded that the natural sugar found in fruit is healthier for human consumption because it is consumed with the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that are also found in fruits, and because the fiber that fruit contains slows the absorption of the sugar into the blood stream and body.
(I also suggest reading: What Kind of Sugar Should I Eat? and Sugar Is Sugar Is Sugar!)
So now, a year later, as I look back on my original Odwalla blog post, I also realize that as I was just starting out on this journey, much of what I had first learned about nutrition had turned me into a bit of a “sugar alarmist.” Where I was previously under the impression that if I wanted to lose weight I’d simply need to reduce the amount of fat in my diet (a common misconception), learning about the potential effects of consuming too much sugar (a completely new idea to me) caused me to start holding a huge grudge against it, even the naturally occurring kind from fruit.
I’ve since let go of that grudge, (health and nutrition is an ongoing learning process for me and you will see my successes and failures unfold as a I continue to blog) and today, I would not be worried that the Strawberry-Banana flavored Odwalla drink contains “too much sugar.” I would say that it is a healthy choice because it is loaded with nutrients from its fruit ingredients and it contains no processed, refined sugars or artificial ingredients.
However, too much of even a good thing can become problematic. So, in the same way you wouldn’t want to eat a diet composed completely of fat, or completely of protein, it’s important to remember that just because the Strawberry-Banana Odwalla smoothie might be considered a healthy source of fruit, doesn’t necessarily mean you would want to drink it in excess or use it as a constant replacement for real, whole fruits. A truly healthy diet that provides our bodies with all of the minerals and nutrients it needs to function properly means finding a balance between fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Too much of any one thing will most likely lead to the deficiency of another.
(For a complete breakdown of what I consider to be a wholesome healthy diet, see: The Clean Eating Diet)
All that being said, please take careful note of the fact that above I am only referring to the Strawberry Banana flavor. This is because not all of the Odwalla products are created equally and some of their smoothie drinks do include refined sugar ingredients, which are OK to have every once in a while, but not something that would necessarily benefit your body if consumed on a regular basis. And the same can be said for some of Odwalla’s other products, like their bars and protein drinks. Some are mostly clean with little added ingredients, while others contain some natural flavorings and refined sugars. This is a perfect example of why it’s so important to read the nutrition facts and ingredient lists for all products, because even across a single brand the “healthiness” factor of varying products can differ greatly. (Another great example of this is the Kashi brand.)
Odwalla produces many different food products, however I have taken the time to at least look at all of their fruit juices and smoothie drinks. Below I have separated them into two lists, Clean Juices & Smoothies (whose ingredients contain no added sugars or “natural flavorings”) and Smoothies With Added Sugar or Natural Flavors. I suggest using the Fooducate app if you would like to further research the nutritional value of their other products.
Clean Juices and Smoothies:
Organic Carrot Juice
Mango Tango Smoothie
Garden Organics Carrot
Garden Organics Carrot Apple Berry
Garden Organics Carrot Apple Mango
Garden Organics Carrot Beet Ginger
Mango Super Protein
Original Super Protein
Orange Honey Passion Wellness
Smoothies With Added Sugar or Artificial Ingredients:
Citrus C-monster Smoothie (contains organic invert cane syrup)
Strawberry C-monster Smoothie (contains evaporated cane juice)
Chocolate Protein Monster(contains evaporated cane juice)
Pumpkin Super Protein (contains evaporated cane juice)
Strawberry Protein Monster (contains organic invert cane syrup)
Vanilla Al’mundo Super Protein (contains organic invert cane syrup)
Vanilla Super Protein (contains organic invert cane syrup)
Lemonade (contains evaporated cane juice and 41 grams of sugar, all added!)
Pomegranate Limeade (contains evaporated cane juice and is made from concentrate)
Tropical Energy (contains brown rice syrup)
Mango Lime Twist (contains “natural flavors” and stevia leaf extract)
Mixed Berry Shuffle (contains Stevia leaf extract)
Pear Berry Jive (contains “natural flavors” and stevia leaf extract)
*From Concentrate juices are not necessarily less nutritious but it does mean that the product is more processed
*See What is the Healthiest Sugar? For descriptions and more info about the types of refined sugars mentioned above.
As you can see, a fair amount of their beverage products do contain some form of added sugar and/or “natural” flavors. If you’ve been following Hungry Runner for a while, you know that I support the everything in moderation approach to nutrition. No one will ever have a perfect diet (there’s no such thing), and I don’t believe that completely restricting a specific food or nutrient makes for healthy eating habits. Which is why I want to point out that by highlighting which products have added ingredients, I’m not saying they are something to never ever be consumed. I’m not advocating that they are necessarily “unhealthy.” After all, they do contain plenty of vitamins and minerals from the fruit ingredients,which definitely is healthy. I’m simply highlighting the fact that the ingredient list on any food label should never be dismissed simply because a brand seems healthy or has other clean products. And that when possible, since we do not fully know the effects of added sugar on the body, the healthier choice would be the product without any added, processed ingredients, and the BEST choice will always be the natural, whole food equivalent.
The bottom line is that some added sugar is OK. But it is likely that too much added sugar may be harmful to our health. Which is why reading the ingredients for every packaged product that you consume is so important, especially when it comes to supposed health food products that are very carefully marketed using buzz words like “organic,” “vegan,” “natural,” and “pure.” With products like these it is so easy to glance over the nutrition facts and ingredients and blindly trust whatever is written on the front of the package without realizing you may be consuming more added sugar than you had intended or thought.
It would probably be healthier to consume the nutrients from the fruits in these drinks by eating the actual fruits themselves, but that does not mean these smoothies are unhealthy. In fact they are a much healthier alternative to a great deal of the bottled fruit beverages that you would find at any grocery store.
And as a final even more important note, a truly healthy relationship with food means being able to regard all food as neutral. Meaning, there are no “bad” or “off limits” foods. Simply, foods that you know are more beneficial to your health (natural, whole foods) and foods that you know won’t necessarily benefit your body, but that are still OK to eat every once in a while without feeling any guilt or remorse.
I like to think of it this way:
Final Consensus: Most of Odwalla’s products are wholesome and healthy, but always read the labels just to be sure, and sugar from fruit is not unhealthy or fattening when consumed alongside a complete, balanced diet.
What food product brands can you think of whose packaging and labels seem tricky or misleading?