This week I learned how to turn one Smart Point into four Smart Points through the magical power of blending. Yup, you heard me. My unblended smoothie was only one Smart Point and 30 seconds later it was four Smart Points. This lead me down the rabbit hole of researching Weight Watchers smoothies and trying to understand why.
But, before I go off on my rant, I need to give credit where credit is due. If you follow the Weight Watchers program, you will lose weight. A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine shared that at 12 months Weight Watchers participants achieved at least 2.6% greater weight loss than those assigned to the control group who had no intervention, printed materials only, or three sessions or less with a provider. This means that structure combined with social support and accountability rule in weight loss.
If you can find a healthy program that gives all of what you need for free or at a lower cost, go for it. If not, try finding the right program for you and getting it cheaper through my referral link on Ebates. You’ll find discounts for Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Beachbody, Medifast, 24 Hour Fitness, P90X and more. If you’re new, you’ll also get a $10 gift card, and I’ll get a $5 referral credit, which is basically like buying me a smoothie. Thank you!
Why Do Weight Watchers Smoothies Increase Smart Points?
When you decide to turn your solid foods into liquids, Weight Watchers dramatically increases the Smart Points values. It’s not funny and it’s hard to swallow if you’re a Weight Watcher’s fan like me. To illustrate, I created a recipe that I call my Premier Protein Green Smoothie (recipe below) that started out as one Smart Point until I blended it into four Smart Points. So frustrating.
I asked my Weight Watchers personal coach to elaborate on why this happens, and she pointed me to an article on the Weight Watcher’s Website that explained their reasoning. I’ll sum it up next, but you can read it from the horse’s mouth here as well.
In short, the reason why you have to count your Smart Points when you blend them is because you won’t feel the same amount of fullness had you eaten them in their solid form. According to my coach, “the intent is to recognize how detrimental beverage consumption can be to a healthy diet and weight loss efforts.”
I think my Weight Watcher’s personal coach needs a bit more training because the Weight Watcher’s article specifically states that the smoothie will be gone in a few sips resulting in the feeling of being hungry much sooner. It’s not the beverage that’s detrimental; it’s the speed of eating or drinking that leads to the hunger. Except, Weight Watcher’s didn’t explain it that way. They alluded to it, so I’ll give them “points” (pun intended) for trying. Let’s continue.
Weight Watchers is Right – Sort of
When I asked my Weight Watcher’s chat coach to explain why a bowl of soup with the same ingredients of my smoothie would have fewer points, I was told that my body digests it differently. The article my coach referenced was the exact same one from Weight Watchers that I referenced at the beginning of this article. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain why my body would digest it differently. The coach couldn’t find an alternative article, so I’m guessing that maybe she meant I’d have a quick insulin spike.
In the Weight Watcher’s article, they indicate that the research proves that liquids don’t match solids in satiety with the source as Cassady BA, Considine RV, Mattes RD. Beverage consumption, appetite, and energy intake: what did you expect? Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:587-93. Weight Watchers didn’t include a link in their article, but I found the study here. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I did wonder why would soup not be considered in the same category as a smoothie.
If you’re going to cite an article about liquids, then go all in. A liquid is a liquid regardless of whether or not it’s a smoothie or soup. So why do fruits and veggies get a pass when it comes to soup, salsa, sauce or stews but not when it’s in smoothie form?
The answer is time.
It’s More Important to Eat Slowly
As indicated in the Weight Watcher article, most people down smoothies and drinks like my ShihTzu gobbles down his treats. Drinks are convenient, easy to consume and are perfect for people on the go. But, it’s not the form of the food that matters, and that’s where I think Weight Watcher’s came up short in their explanation. They gave a one sentence explanation of this under the image in their article, but for the most part I felt they were explaining it the same way my high school teachers said to me back in the day: “because I said so”.
There’s a newer study out that found that it’s not the form of the fruits and vegetables, but rather the time that it takes to consume them that drives satiety. M J Martens, MS Westerterp-Plantenga. Mode of consumption plays a role in alleviating hunger and thirst. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012 Mar;20(3):517-24.
Soups and salsa simply take more time to consume than a smoothie, so if you drink your smoothie slower the results should be the same. I did my non-scientific experiment and found that I didn’t get as hungry if I took 30 minutes to drink my smoothie. The very best researched illustration of this point is from Michael Greger, M.D. at Nutrition.org:
When you slow down, your brain recognizes that you’re full before you’ve had a chance to shove the entire plate in your mouth. When you’re drinking Weight Watchers smoothies fast, you don’t give your brain a chance to figure out if you’re full or not. Of course, there is some speculation that drinking a smoothie slower results in oxidation of some of the nutrients, but I was unable to find a scientific study to prove that.
Does Sugar Absorption Play a Role?
I pondered about what my coach said about the insulin spike and wondered if it’s rapid sugar absorption that causes the hunger? There was one study that demonstrated that downing an apple puree quickly, caused insulin spike.
Why does this matter? Well, your body prefers a steady stream of sugar so it uses insulin and glucagon to regulate itself. For a detailed explanation, see the article from Harvard School of Public Health. Otherwise, here’s the simple version of what happens:
Your digestive system has to break down whatever you eat.
- Carbohydrates from your smoothie break down into sugar.
- That sugar enters your blood stream.
- Your pancreas responds by producing a hormone called insulin.
- Insulin tells your body’s cells to absorb the blood sugar into energy or store it for later in your liver.
- As the cells absorb the sugar, the levels of blood sugar start to fall.
- Your pancreas responds again by producing a hormone called glucagon.
- Glucagon tells your liver to release the stored sugar it didn’t use earlier.
When so much demand is placed on your cells, they get tired and eventually stop producing insulin. Enter type 2 diabetes.
Even if you don’t have diabetes, sometimes when you get a rush of sugar, your insulin and glucagon work hard enough and fast enough to reduce your blood sugar and you become hypoglycemic. In that case, you may feel tired or lethargic and reach for another carbohydrate to pick you back up. I know I do.
Even if you don’t become hypoglycemic, you may be come tired. When your body is tired the best thing to do is to rest. But, we don’t live in a society that values a nap in the middle of the work day. That’s why we grab coffee, energy drinks and food to bring up our energy levels. Maybe a short meditation or a quick break would do us some good?
The good news for smoothie drinkers is that studies have shown that smoothies don’t necessarily cause a mega spike in insulin. For example, this study: Bioactives in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity in obese, insulin-resistant men and women demonstrated the same insulin response to smoothie berries as it did to non-pureed blueberries.
So the answer is that sugar absorption probably doesn’t play a huge role as long as you’re using the right fruit. What’s the right fruit? Most studies are pointing to berries as being better than others.
Don’t Give Up on Smoothies
I believe that the right type of beverage consumption is healthy, and I’ve seen people do really well on liquid diets. Look at Joe Cross, who sold a ton of Breville juicers after he produced the documentary, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. A ton of people started consuming healthy beverages, and some of them were really successful at losing and keeping the weight off. On a side note, that movie was probably the best piece of content marketing I’ve ever seen.
I have juiced in the past, but honestly, I prefer smoothies. The truth is that you may actually get more nutrition from smoothies. In some studies, including this one, the particle size of the fruit or vegetable increased nutrition absorption significantly.
So, if you’re going to have a smoothie, drink it slowly. You can add some flaxseed to it to thicken it up and drink it through a straw over the span of 30 minutes. Then, your smoothie will act just like soup. But, you don’t get a pass from Weight Watchers on this theory. You’ll still need to count those points! Hey…if you’re going to be on Weight Watchers, you should at least play by the rules. Otherwise, you can’t blame them if it doesn’t work. A program is a program whether you like it or not.
Smoothies are a great way to get the nutrients you need. Not convinced? See this video:
Do What Works For You
My weight loss journey is not a temporary quick fix. I know this. I’ve tried everything to lose weight and some things have worked fabulously, while other things haven’t. My journey is long, but one day I’ll find the perfect combination of diet, exercise, mind and spirit that works for me.
In the meantime, I’ll keep with Weight Watchers and continue researching nutrition. Who knows? Maybe I’ll become a holistic nutritionist one day. Wouldn’t that be something? For now…I’m just a gal on a mission to get healthy and lose a few pounds in the process.
Here’s the Green Smoothies Recipe that I promised. It’s four smart points after you blend it, which as you’ve read so far is typical of Weight Watchers smoothies. I hope you like it!
- Premier Protein Green Smoothie Recipe
- ½ Premier Protein Vanilla Shake
- 2 cups organic spring mix
- ¼ cup strawberries
- ½ banana
Add all of the ingredients in your blender in the order above. Blend until you can only see micro-sized green pieces. Drink and enjoy!
So there you have it, the somewhat researched reason why Weight Watchers smoothies increase Smart Points when you blend fruit and vegetables in a smoothie. Is it right? Well…it’s their program and they make the rules. So technically, it’s right. From a science perspective, they’re probably not right. Calories don’t increase just because you blend them (but apparently, Smart Points do).
I’d love to hear what you think. Do you think Weight Watchers smoothies should go up in Smart Points because you’re blending the fruits and vegetables? Leave your comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.