Smoothie King Is Terrible for You

Not long ago, I set foot in my first and last Smoothie King. At the time, I was a smoothie-making fiend in my own home, gulping down bags of expensive organic frozen berries like flappers guzzled bathtub gin. So I was psyched when I walked through the door of this "nutritional lifestyle center" at 14200 SW Eighth St. (we'd just finished a thirst-inducing bike ride through Shark Valley) to see the reasonable prices on immense fruit smoothies.

A 40-ounce blueberry smoothie for just $8? Wow. Yes, 40 ounces of anything is probably going a bit overboard. But this wasn't beer or steak. And considering blueberries are one of the most nutrient-dense fruits on the planet, are insanely high in antioxidants, and might even prevent and reverse age-related mental decline (oh, and also they taste amazing), this seemed like a delicious, health-boosting offer I couldn't refuse.

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I stepped up to the counter and ordered the monster-size Blueberry Heaven. "Please don't add any sugar -- just the fruit," I specified.

The bored-looking teenage counter girl pushed her long dark hair from her face, revealing a mocking smirk. "OK," she said. Her patronizing sneer frightened me. What evil secret does she harbor? I wondered. Why is she laughing at me?

As she began preparing the smoothie, the answer soon became clear. There was not one actual berry in sight. Instead, she squirted a purplish stream of "blueberry juice blend" from an old-school Slush Puppie-style dispenser. Next, she extracted a slimy and browning semifrozen banana from a cooler. Finally, I watched in horrified disbelief as she pumped a few more squirts of an unknown clear liquid, which I can only guess was sugar syrup, into the cup. I was so stunned I couldn't even tell her to stop. She blended all this crap together, and the result was a weighty Styrofoam-encased barrel full of frozen sugar sludge, which, for "just" $8, I soon held in my hand.

Even though I knew better, I decided to take a sip. Sure enough, it tasted like artificially flavored corn syrup ice. (Note: Because Smoothie King uses "proprietary" ingredients that are "manufactured to guidelines set by the franchise," I can't actually be sure whether the "juice blend" or the mystery liquid contains corn syrup, cane sugar, fructose, dextrose, or some other form of sugar. But one thing I can tell you is that the smoothie contained sugar. And lots of it.)

Like a naive 1960s TV show character who has just finally grasped that she's entered the Twilight Zone, the realization of this sham "nutritional lifestyle center" fell upon me full-force.

I noticed a couple who collectively weighed around 600 pounds bumbling in through the entrance. "Let's do something good for ourselves today," I imagined they were saying to each other, as I held my 650-calorie sugar-water blend in my hand."Let's have Smoothie King for lunch."

The rest of my posse, who were not as nutritionally anal-retentive as I, ordered and received their concoctions without seeming fazed. I, meanwhile, tried to hold in my stream of outraged indignation so as not to impede my friends' enjoyment.

I failed. We had barely made it to the car before I dumped my frozen junk juice and began my rant about how betrayed I felt by this place that had the audacity to label itself a "nutritional lifestyle center."

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.

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