Day 9 Sneaky and Smooth

My son, like many teenagers, doesn’t sit down to a big plate of vegetables each meal. He is concerned about his health, though, and knows eating healthfully will help him be strong and look good.

Last night, he added lettuce, avocado, tomato, and green chile to his burger. He does that because it’s delicious, of course, and he’s also proud to put together a healthful meal. If you don’t want to sit down to a plate of veggies, find ways to add more vegetables to foods you already love. Add squash to your burritos or enchiladas. Instead of getting stuck in veggies-as-side-dish or a salad once a day, begin to add more vegetables to every thing you eat. 

A really easy way to enjoy more produce is with a smoothie. A Better and Bolder reader asked me a few weeks ago for recipes and smoothie ideas. I’m not so much into recipes as I am basics -- take these things, throw them together in about these portions -- so I’m going to tell you what I think you may want to know about deeply healthful and fabulously yummie smoothies. 

When we got our VitaMix, my son started making smoothies in earnest. This blender is quick and powerful, making a fine puree of everything.  Ailin throws in a handful of frozen berries, a handful of spinach, frozen banana for sweetness and texture, a small amount of water or juice, and protein powder. Spinach is one of the sweeter and milder dark green vegetables. It adds lots of nutrients but doesn’t make a smoothie taste too green. He’s sneaking in way more fruits and vegetables than he eats in meals or snacks.

I’ve been urging him to add avocados for good fats and texture. A smoothie is richer with dairy (milk or yogurt) or non-dairy fats, including almond milk or coconut milk. There’s a new, non-dairy coconut yogurt called CoYo that’s sweetened with just a bit of stevia. It’s super rich and just a tablespoon in a smoothie is going to add a lot of flavor and texture. 

For many people, the dairy or dairy substitute makes up a big portion of the smoothie. If you’ve bought smoothies in a store, they add sugar or a lot of juice. They aren’t really all that healthful if the smoothie isn’t based on lots of fruits and some vegetables. Play around with fruits and vegetables to find the combination you like that allows you to use the least amount of fruit juice and dairy/non-dairy source of protein and fat. That’s the fun thing about smoothies -- experimenting with the basic ingredients.

For those of you who love recipes, I want to point you to these sites. Oh She Glows has some creative options. Butternut cinnamon date smoothie sounds like the perfect breakfast option. The recipes on Raw Vegan Power work well when you want something cool and green. Buzzfeed will send you to different sites for the recipes. The tart cherry smoothie could be a great post-workout recovery drink. Gingered plum smoothie? Yes please and thanks for the inspiration.

What should go in a smoothie?  The basics are

  • produce (fresh or frozen, fruit and/or vegetables)
  • something creamy (for fun, texture, good fats that help us feel full and keep our nervous system grounded and happy)
  • liquid (water, juice, milk, non-dairy milk)
  • extra protein or nutrients if you like

Start by putting a small amount of liquid and produce in the blender. Try adding a cucumber with a bit of water if you have a powerful blender or VitaMax. This will turn the cucumber into a super healthful liquid. If you read yesterday’s post (on my website), you know that cucumber is mostly water. This article proclaims the cucumber as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Remember that lettuce, celery, and even carrots have lots of water and could be the liquid base, too. Carrots are sweet. Celery is bitter. Cucumber is the most neutral taste. Once the cucumber is liquified, add in more produce, a bit at a time until it’s all smooth.

If your produce was frozen, you won’t need to add ice. It’s not necessary for a smoothie to be frozen or cold, though you can add in some ice. This will water it down a lot so minimize how much liquid you add in the first step. You’re adding the ice close to last because otherwise, it will all blend down to cold water. 

Add in the fats and protein at the last, including a small amount more of liquid if it’s getting too thick. My son found that if he blended it just a bit longer, the taste and texture both got better, so remember it’s not just the ingredients but how it’s blended that matter, too.

There are a ton of protein powders out there. First, know that you don’t need them. If you’re not a teenage boy who works out daily, chances are good you don’t need extra protein.  If you used more fruit than vegetables, you might like adding in some protein to make the smoothie more of a complete meal. It’s just as easy to grab a handful of walnuts to eat with your smoothie, though, and you’ll get great fats, a bit of protein, and a lot of satisfying bulk. It’s good to chew! Eating some nuts with a smoothie can make the meal more satisfying, probably more so than adding a protein powder. 

Another problem with powders is that there are lots of powders out there that claim to have all the minerals and nutrients you need. That’s fine as long as you think of it as an extra boost, not a replacement for the whole food that should be supplying minerals and nutrients. Don’t add Garden of Life’s Raw Protein Powder or Sun Warrior’s Super Greens instead of eating lots of produce every day. Use the powder if it’s fun and nutritious on an occasional basis. 

I do not have a protein powder recommendation. I like this article about protein powders in part because they state, repeatedly, that this is an individual choice. How much protein you need is highly individual. I’ve discovered I need and want less protein (especially animal protein) than what is recommended; others, however, thrive on high protein. Please, don’t get caught up in any hoopla about how protein helps you lose weight and gain muscle and you need a ton. You need what you need, and you’ll discover that by experimenting and noticing how you feel. Yes? Yes. So let the experiment begin! Here’s my take on protein powders you may wish to experiment with. 

We use Nutribiotic Raw Organic Rice Protein, and it’s got a mild taste. I’ve never heard of someone being allergic to rice. Rice doesn’t affect our hormones the way soy can. My next favorite is hemp protein, which has good fats (the Omega 3s), though hemp also has a stronger taste that not everyone likes. Go to Sprouts or Whole Foods or your local co-op and get some individual packets. It’s more expensive than buying in bulk, but you get to try out different powders. Each has its own taste and texture.

Whey is made from dairy. Body builders like it. My son gets massive amounts of dairy from milk and cheese, so I don’t figure he needs any more from a protein powder. If you’re sensitive to milk and cheese, avoid whey as well. 

I recommend avoiding soy proteins. Soy is a very intense food, and turning it into a powder intensifies its properties. This article explains why some people consider soy to be problematic, this New York Times article says there isn’t research to support that conclusion. It could be that dose matters, which is why I continue to eat tofu in small amounts. Fermented soy, according to some sources, may not be as problematic. But once a food is highly processed, and all protein powders will be highly processed, I consider that food to be a once-in-a-while item rather than a dietary staple. 

I had a bad reaction from eating too much pea protein. Because it’s plant-based, I thought, whoohoo, what a great protein. Eating whole peas gets me a tiny amount of protein. Once it’s processed down to just protein, it has also concentrated the protein allergens. If you’re adding a powder once a week, don’t worry. If you’re having a smoothie with the powder every day, consider varying the type of powder you use or skipping the powder some days. 

Pea protein has become very popular in dairy alternatives (yogurts, ice creams, cheeses, energy bars and protein powders). I was eating way too many of these dairy alternatives when I experienced that negative reaction. Heck, I’ve read about people having negative reactions from overzealous consumption of kale! It’s not the food. It’s how distilled or processed that food is and it’s also how much and how often we eat it.  If we process a food (soy, peas, kale, whatever) into every snack and juice, we may find it’s gone from healthful to harmful. 

For that reason, I declare our smoothies to be kale-free zones!  Kale is a marvelous dark green vegetable. Add it in moderate amounts to your burritos and enchiladas, to your soups, to lasagna. A little goes a long way. Kale is a serious food. For smoothies, go have fun.