Happy Thanksgiving to you, my dear reading friend. I hope the weekend that was saw you gathered around some good food with some good folks for some good times. And some great phone conversations with those from away.
This week's Monday Health Basics blog post (albeit a day late) is zeroing in on one of the most oft questions I get: what do I think of smoothies? How do I build a good smoothie?
For you, my bullet-breakfast loving friend, here is my spiel on smoothies.
There are clearly two camps when it comes to smoothies: those that say 'yea' and those that say 'nay'. I sit on the fence. I really do.
I think they can be fantastic vehicles for nutrient density; I think they can carry lots of goodies if you're looking to increase your intake of fruit and veg for those all important nutrients, vitamins and minerals to best help support a body.
I wonder how much we are by-passing normal parts of digestion when we just 'drink up' our breakfast (or snack or meal). I mean, I think we have teeth for a reason. I really believe we were always meant to chew our food; chewing activates the proper cascade of events we need to go through in order to optimize digestion. And if you know me, you know what I'm going to say: you are what you assimilate. If you aren't digesting properly, you will have trouble getting nutrients out of the foods you're eating. Our bodies utilize nutrients after all; not food. We need to be able to properly break down our foods in order to get at the nutrients within.
If you look back in history, no one, nowhere was making smoothies. We were all chewing what we had on hand, what was in the larder, and what we found or hunted on the field or in the woods. Or kept in the coop out back. It was all slow food all the time. So I really think there is something to the business of chewing our breakfast, and taking our time for that important first meal of the day.
My recommendation here then is, if you're going to make a smoothie for breakfast or for a snack, you should aim to chew it in your mouth in order to start the digestive process properly. Really swish it around your mouth so that you can start building what is called a bolus: from the greek, meaning a soft, roundish mass or lump, especially of chewed food. You need to work your saliva in the mix here in order to help initiate that important breakdown of carbohydrates.
Know that if your smoothie is cold, the temperature can halt or hinder digestion. It is best to warm it up a bit before you consume it in the morning. You can warm it up by adding a spot of hot water, or a mugful of tea!
The Fat of the Matter
It is important to ensure your smoothie is loaded with the good stuff. I do a breakdown of what to include and why, and offer suggestions below. One of my key recommendations to anyone who makes smoothies for meals, is to ensure you have a good fat and/or protein in the mix. This is essential to slowing down the release of sugars found within the smoothie (which can make its way into your system so quickly if your food processor or thermomix has blitzed it in to such small particles).
I have talked before about the addition of full fat at length, and invite you to read up on past Monday Health Basics posts for the refresher. I focus on going full fat (esp. dairy) here, ensuring your animal fat sources come from grass-fed and grass-finished animals. You'll find an earlier post on navigating fats here, and a wee write up on the importance of including the all-important Essential Fatty Acid Omega 3 in your diet here. All good reasons and explanations behind including those good fats.
You may recall a write up earlier in the summer where I spoke about the importance of soaking your nuts and seeds before using them as a base for your smoothie. You can find that write up here, including an easy recipe and how-to for pre-soaking your nuggets. I love using nuts and seeds in a smoothie: they add wonderful healthy fats, give a good plant-based hit of protein and offer some vital vitamins and minerals that are essential to the body's functioning. As if that wasn't enough, they are also good sources of fibre, helping to bulk up your stool and move spent metabolic waste and toxins out of your body so that your engine can run clean. GOOD WORK.
Smoothies are an integral part of the Wahls Protocol, a protocol developed by a Functional Medicine Doctor in the United States named Terry Wahls who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a number of years ago. She did extensive research into how diet and nutrition could play a role in her health and wellness; she developed a protocol based on nutrient density and foods that would help 'mind her mitochondria'. Dr. Wahls is a big believer in loading up on a variety of colours in your fruit and veg, and ensuring the good things are in the mix here.
So let's break down the template, shall we? Here is my smoothie equation for you:
Greens + Berries + Fat + Fibre + Extras
+ The Liquid
Let's go item by item to get the gist of what this means.
This is an important part of the smoothie, and a great way to boost the nutritional content in your smoothie. You can find an extensive write up as to why greens are good for you here at an earlier MHB post. These foods are mineral rich and offer great support for detoxification and overall lowering of inflammation. Including a handful of greens or a cup of chopped greens or herbs in your smoothie is a super idea.
If you have a thyroid condition, consider using swiss chard instead of kale or spinach, as these last two foods have goitrogens, which have been shown to slow down your thyroid's function. Reach for romaine, or add some herbs as greens. Mint imparts a most delicious flavour, and ensures those minerals you are looking for here.
Smoothie-approved greens (1-2 cups):
- swiss chard
- bok choy
- beet greens
- dandelion greens
- nasturtium leaves
- borage leaves
- Organic is always best, as greens have been shown to have a pretty high pesticide residue and so are listed on the 'Dirty Dozen' list as ones you should pay the extra dollar for. Find that information here.
Another idea you can try is to dry your own greens and mince them up, adding a tablespoon of them to your smoothie. Find the how-to here.
Smoothies are typically sweet tasting. Adding fruit is a wonderful idea and a brilliant natural way to add that sweet taste. My recommendation here though is to stick to low glycemic load fruit, things like berries, or maybe apples or pears. I highlight berries because they're easy to keep in the freezer. They don't spoil as readily when purchased frozen. I love the idea of frozen berries too, seeing as they typically freeze freshly picked berries close to where they were picked. (True for other fruit and veg as well.) This allows the berries to fully ripen on the vine, which ensures a more nutrient-dense end product. Go for frozen berries.
And add a good cup or cup and a half per serving.
Vary your berries from one purchase to the next, in order to offer a variety of nutrients. You should know, most berries are fairly high in pesticide residue as well; it is something you may want to purchase organically. Read up on the why here.
Another benefit to berries is the high fibre content, and also the high amount of antioxidants found in these deeply hued berries. These antioxidants help neutralize that free radical damage that happens in our bodies, especially helpful in slowing down the aging process and protecting our cells from the inside out. These nutrients are of tremendous support to the liver in keeping your engine running clean.
In addition to the points mentioned above, fat is also incredibly important in helping balance hormones, and keeping us satiated. Fats are key providers of nutrients necessary to reduce inflammation.
My fave smoothie go-to-fats (choose 1 or 2):
- 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, cacao butter, nut or seed butter or straight up butter/ghee
- keep it plant-based by adding a half of an avocado (they freeze beautifully)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil; delicious flavours at Blue Door Oil + Vinegar
- a handful of nuts or seeds (pre-soaked of course!)
- you can use 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of homemade creme fraiche (the how-to is here)
- 1/2 cup of homemade greek yogurt (read up on why it's wise to make your own here, including full instructions)
Fibre is just so integral to helping usher out spent metabolic waste and toxins our body is looking to get rid of. I did a wee blog post on the importance of including fibre here. The seeds listed below also happen to have a good amount of omega 3 fatty acids, which will help in reducing inflammation.
I recommend here you include 1-2 tablespoons per person:
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- flax seeds
This is where you get to be creative. Depending on what kind of health concerns you are currently working through, seeing a Holistic Nutritional Consultant may be of benefit when it comes to figuring out this piece. I know a gal. I can hook you up.
These are all optional; you can pick none, or one, or three to add to your final smoothie. Look for these at your favourite local health food store, or check out The Light Cellar on Bowness Road in the NW of Calgary. (* denotes you should only add at the time you are blitzing the smoothie together)
- 1 tsp matcha green tea powder or 1 tsp moringa leaf powder– great for adrenal support!
- 1 tsp minced seaweed – extra mineral boost, liver support (spirulina is my fave)
- 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of fresh minced ginger – liver support, reduces inflammation
- 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp of fresh minced or dried turmeric – anti inflammatory
- 1 tsp of vanilla powder – antioxidant support
- 1 tsp of cocoa powder – if it's raw, extra antioxidant support
- 1 tsp colostrum – immune and gut support
- 1 tsp of medicinal mushroom powder – good write up found here on The Light Cellar's website
- 1 tbsp of dried nettle leaves - liver and inflammation support
- 1 tsp of holy basil loose leaf tea (aka tulsi tea) – excellent support for histamine intolerance issues, migraines, inflammation and adrenal support
- 1/2 tsp bee pollen - for inflammation, although not recommended for pregnant women or women hoping to get pregnant
- a scoop of collagen powder* - for gut support (this one is my preferred)
- a raw egg yolk* – make sure your chickens were pastured; conventionally raised eggs have possible contamination issues like E.coli and salmonella
- 1-2 tsp of cod liver oil – nutrient density at its finest, good for your entire body (find a lemon flavoured one - the best)
You obviously need to add some liquid to make this a smoothie. To the blender, I would add 1 cup of any of the following:
- water (warmer is better - filtered is de rigueur)
- tea – dandelion root, rooibos, rose hip, ginger, green tea, nettle, lemon tea
- water kefir
- any non alcoholic fermented beverage you have on hand – excellent way to include probiotics
- milk kefir (or coconut kefir if you can't tolerate dairy)
- a cup of any of these liver-loving teas (medicinal mushroom brew recipe included)
- Make a big pot of medicinal mushroom tea, and stash in the fridge once it is complete. You can pull from this stash for a week at least.
BATCH PREP IS KEY
Batch cooking really is key here to making this a do-able thing. I recently spent a full day with a friend preparing meals for her freezer for easy retrieval; she was about to undergo major medical treatment and wanted some ready-made easy-prep things in her freezer to pull out in order to ensure proper nutrient density for those days when food wouldn't necessarily be so appealing, nor would the energy be there to prep a meal.
She purchased big containers or bags of greens, berries, ensured she had good fats, seeds for fibre and some tasty extras. We assembled about thirty little freezer bags of smoothie essentials. It took all of 15 minutes to put it all together. We set medium-sized freezer bags propped open in a box, and dumped a handful of spinach in each bag, a handful of slivered chard (without the stems), a cup of berries, a few slices of peaches, a tablespoon of coconut oil, a tablespoon of chia seeds, a teaspoon of matcha green tea powder. We wrote on the bag to include some creme fraiche and a cup of kombucha for the day she will be using the baggies. Easy peasy.
On days where she wants a nutrient dense easy meal, all she has to do is take it out of the freezer, add in some liquid, some warm tea and blitz the whole thing in her blender. Voila. Talk about good fuel for her days, and her body's work ahead.
This is a wonderful gift you can put together for a friend in need, or for a loved one about to undergo extensive medical treatment. New moms would love the ease of a quick nutrient-dense meal like this. Your older parents may love the idea of an easy breakfast at hand to go along with their daily buttered toast. Your kiddos away at university may find this saves them on their early mornings. Your littler ones may enjoy helping put together a batch of these baggies so they can start making their own breakfasts in the mornings.
This was a long post. Phew. Extensive. But I hope you find the template a do-able thing, and an easy thing to follow.
Greens + Berries + Fat + Fibre + Extras
+ The Liquid
Now go play with your food.
The information provided in this post is not intended to replace your doctor's advice. This is for educational purposes only. If your current health status is giving you cause for concern, it is best to seek out the support of your Medical Team before consuming any of the foods mentioned in this post.