Green smoothies aren't a foreign concept these days.
Juice bars are popping up everywhere, offering "healthy" juices and smoothies to aid in weight loss and help with energy and longevity. Even fast food restaurants are now offering smoothies, as an attempt to illustrate health as a priority, alongside their sugar laden and deep-fried foods.
Before you completely buy into the green smoothie craze, it's important for you to know how to distinguish between a healthy green smoothie and an unhealthy one.
To start, what is a green smoothie?
A green smoothie in its simplest form is a blended concoction of whole vegetables and fruits in water or milk. Today, smoothies are jazzed up with superfoods, that is, foods that offer a specified benefit to the body, like protein, antioxidants, B vitamins, omega 3s or magnesium.
Why drink a green smoothie?
We all know the importance of good nutrition, but so many of us lead lives that don't support full-time self care. The purpose of a green smoothie is to deliver the body as much health-promoting nutrition as possible, in an accessible way. And by accessible, I mean digestible, fast and easy.
This green smoothie is intended to give us vitamins to help our bodies work better, and energy to carry us throughout our days, free from crashes and fatigue. Superfoods are an important addition to smoothies, as produce alone is not always a reliable source of nutrition, given the soil quality and conventional farming and food transport methods of today. Superfoods like fibre, protein and essential fat are also intended to help balance green smoothies, to ensure they're slow digesting and slow absorbing. This translates into sustained energy and satiation, meaning you can easily go on for a few hours without feeling low or feeling hungry.
How is a healthy green smoothie made?
To answer this question, it's important to understand your own body's nutritional needs. As a Toxicologist and Integrative Health Coach, I work with my clients to help them understand their nutritional and metabolic requirements. In other words, we work together to identify which foods help the body perform optimally, and which foods disagree with the body, commonly referred to as trigger foods. Trigger foods can easily be identified as foods, which when consumed lead to abdominal pain, bloating, low energy, sugar cravings, mood fluctuations, and digestive upset. You can track this yourself by recording what you eat in a daily food journal, for one or two weeks. For every meal, you also record your feelings and energy, and then look for patterns.
Besides trigger foods that are very specific to the individual, there are a few common foods or food groups that are generally known to cause disturbances in the body's natural healing process. These include common allergens which may harm the gut and the immune system, and foods which cause a peak in blood sugar levels. Common allergens include dairy, gluten, corn and soy. Not everyone reacts to them, but they are considered triggers for many people, and it's important to do some personal or expert guided-experimentation to see if they impact your health in any way (inflammation, mental fog, cramps, etc.).
Foods which cause a peak in blood sugar levels are by far the ones you want to avoid, as these lead to serious fluctuations in energy and mood, making you feel tired and then even more hungry. Too much sugar absorbed too quickly leads to weight gain and eventually, to more serious issues. It's a known fact, and fast-digesting carbohydrates are in part responsible for this effect.
To have long lasting energy and prevent blood sugar peaks, we want our foods to digest slowly and get absorbed slowly. This keeps us full for longer, and gives us a steady stream of balanced energy.
So, how does this apply to the smoothie making process?
Does this mean we can't make our smoothies sweet? Well, that depends on your individual requirements and response to certain foods. For some people, bananas are trigger foods, as they lead to energy fluctuations and cravings, despite being eaten with slow digesting and slow absorbing foods. Trial and error, paired with self-awareness are key to understanding the right foods for you. Remember, food journals may sound time-consuming, but they're not. Think about the number of commercials you watch in between your favourite TV shows. Consider completing your food journal then.
Now you know how to make and identify a balanced smoothie. The next time you go to a juice bar, remember to ask what sources of protein, essential fat and fibre are being added to your smoothie, and also pay attention to the amount of fruits being added. Despite being fibrous on their own, the sugar in fruits, when consumed in excess, can still overpower the other nutrients and lead to peaks, followed by lows. My rule of thumb is to stick to 80 per cent greens and 20 per cent fruits, especially if you know you're extra sensitive to sugar. If you're not extra sensitive and are exercising regularly, you may be able to handle 60 per cent greens and 40 per cent fruits. Self-experiment and let your body be your guide.
Here is an ideal smoothie recipe, that's balanced and delicious.
I call it my Green Warrior Smoothie.
To a high-speed blender, add:
2 stalks celery
1/2 bunch sunflower sprouts
2-3 twigs cilantro or parsley
1/2 cup spinach or romaine (alternate weekly)
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup mixed berries, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp flax oil (omega 3's)
1 scoop raw and sprouted protein powder or 4 tbsp hemp seeds
1 tsp chia seeds
pinch sea salt
Optional: 1/4 avocado; 1/2 apple; 1/2 ripe banana (if you can handle it!).
Top with water and blend. Makes three to four servings.
Happy green smoothie-ing!
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