Smoothies are the latest super-food, the lifestyle choice for Britain's increasingly health-conscious consumers. They are vitamin packed, low in fat and "bursting with goodness. Allegedly.
Britons are spending more than £100m a year on smoothies. But now health experts are warning that the smoothies revolution has gone too far. Some of the fruit-packed drinks are also packed with sugar, calories and acids, while most people wrongly believe that every smoothie is just as good as eating a fresh apple or unpeeling a ripe banana.
That, said Dr Frankie Phillips, from the British Dietetic Association, is not the case. "Juicing involves the removal of fibre and this removes some of the nutrients that would be found in a whole fruit or vegetable," said Dr Phillips. "There is likely to be a more concentrated level of sugars naturally present in the fruit, and if a juice is sipped over a long period of time, the fruit juice, which is quite acidic, can damage dental enamel. In addition, some smoothies are very high in calories, with added whole-milk yoghurt, and even peanut butter and chocolate."
In the United States, a rapidly expanding smoothies firm called Jamba Juice, which says it wants to open stores in the UK, is selling a "power" drink that makes nutritionists go pale. The company sells the Peanut Butter Moo'd. Its super-sized version, which is 890ml in size, packs 169g of sugar and 1,170 calories.
Many smoothie drinks now on sale in the UK have sugar levels higher than the Food Standards Agency's healthy limit of 10g of sugar per 100g. There are other unseen problems with smoothies: as soon as a fruit is processed, its vitamins and nutrients start to lose their potency. And many smoothies are made from concentrate, not fresh fruit.
Even so, nutritionists agree that smoothies are a better alternative to Coke or Fanta. But a debate is now raging within Whitehall about whether these drinks are what they claim to be: a contribution towards the five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables that Britons are being officially urged to eat each day.
This argument goes to the heart of the Government's campaign to combat the UK's rising obesity rates and end our love affair with ready meals by persuading us to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables to get our "five a day". Two of Britain's most popular smoothie companies, Innocent and PJs, claim their drinks can play a significant role in helping to hit that target - a claim that health ministers have rejected, until now.
An Independent on Sunday investigation has found they have lobbied the Food Standards Agency, the official adviser on healthy eating, to revise the Government's guidelines on what kind of food and drinks are good enough to help to make "five a day". Health ministers insist that smoothies can make only one of those five daily portions because - unlike freshly prepared fruit and vegetables, they usually contain less fibre, fewer nutrients and do not help people to have a varied diet.
A Department of Health official told the IoS: "We state that fruit or vegetable juice and fruit smoothies count only as one portion regardless of how much over 150ml is consumed or how many fruits are blended or juiced. This is because the process results in an end product with very little fibre, compared with the raw ingredient. This is more the case with juice where the skin, peel and pith are removed entirely.
"Variety is one of the key elements; we encourage people to eat at least five different types each day in a range of forms, but to not rely too heavily on blended or juiced products."
But the FSA is now telling ministers at the Department of Health that these firms are right to claim that some smoothies are so rich in fruit that drinking one standard 250ml bottle is enough to make up two of those "five a day". Richard Reed, a co-founder of Innocent, is adamant that his products satisfy the Government's criteria for supplying two of the "five a day". He said: "Ours is the only brand which is 100 per cent fruit. We don't take anything out and don't put anything in. "
The FSA, he added, "had signalled very clearly to us that they're going to change the advice to two portions when the smoothie contains two entire portions in their natural state".
This is not just a technical argument about labelling. If they win this argument, their sales - already the fastest growing in the entire soft drinks market - will boom. The smoothie bar chain Crussh opened its 14th store in London this month. Both Innocent and PJs market their drinks by claiming they give two portions a day, and PJs are even using their own "five a day" label on their bottles - something which the experts and Government believe makes the confusion for consumers greater.
But even smoothie makers concede their drinks have a limited role. Chris Fung, managing director of Crussh, said: "Everything in moderation. If you had 10 smoothies a day then it wouldn't be that good for you, the same as if you had 10 of anything per day. A lot depends on what you are substituting the smoothie for."
Dr Frankie Phillips said that smoothies were a "grey area". "At the moment, there are a variety of ways that the portions of fruit and veg counting towards the 'five a day' are labelled on smoothie bottles. This can then lead to confusion."
Ministers are planning to publish new advice on how processed foods meet the "five a day" criteria. They are likely to give the highest-quality smoothies the right to claim they give two of those five portions - but only if they can prove to be entirely made from several different types of crushed fruit.
Additional reporting by Hannah Crown and Louisa Dennison
THE DRINKS: HOW DO THEY RATE?
Pineapple, Banana and Coconut
MADE FROM: pineapples, bananas, apples, coconut milk, orange juice
BENEFITS: vitamin C and fibre
PROBLEMS: 136g sugars (equivalent to 34 teaspoons of sugar) and 730 calories
Apples and Blackcurrants - Smoothies for Kids
SIZE: 180ml cartons
MADE FROM: apples, grapes, banana and blackcurrants
BENEFITS: one day's vitamin C, low fat
PROBLEMS: High in fruit sugars, but not listed on packet
Blueberry and Pomegranate
The Serious Food Company
MADE FROM: blueberries, pomegranate, banana, grapes, apple
BENEFITS: high in vitamin C, some fibre, no fat
PROBLEMS: 33g of sugars
Oranges, Mangoes and Passion Fruit
MADE FROM: orange, apple, mango, banana, passion fruit and apple
BENEFITS: claims two of the five a day fruit and veg
PROBLEMS: high in sugars, but exact level not listed
Orange, Mango and Carrot
Marks & Spencer
MADE FROM: orange, banana, mango, carrot, lemon juice
BENEFITS: low in fat
PROBLEMS: has 56g fruit sugars per bottle, equivalent to 14 teaspoons of sugar
Peanut Butter Moo'd
MADE FROM: non-fat yoghurt, chocolate, soy milk, ice, frozen bananas, peanut butter
BENEFITS: contains 35g protein, calcium, vitamins C and A and iron
PROBLEMS: contains 169g sugars and 1,170 caloriesReuse content