Here are some tips for making yours healthier.
Being from California, smoothies were “in” back in the 60s and early 70s, but only among health nuts, as we were called then. Most of us “nuts” were very young, radical in our dress and political beliefs, extreme vegetarians, meditators and surfers, and hippies. We did yoga and practiced tai chi and qi gong before it was cool. It was definitely a youth movement with all the spontaneity, exhilaration, and enthusiasm of discovery, but completely lacking in comprehension.
But not all health-minded Californians were in their twenties. Many of the original health food pioneers—like Paul Bragg and his daughter Patricia Bragg, Dr. Bernard Jensen, Gerald Benesh, Jack Lalanne, and Edmund Szekely of Essene Gospel fame and founder of Rancho La Puerta health spa and retreat—were still around. Their followers owned or worked in the first health food stores and juice shops. Vegetarian restaurants popped up, and in our kitchens we made and sold fresh almond milk, granola and health bars.
Baby Steps in Juicing
The only juicer was the gigantic “Champion.” Blenders were relatively new and not powerful enough to puree raw vegetables. In those days, we made mostly fruit smoothies with protein powder. These smoothies provided a high protein and quick calorie fix. Lots of fruit and honey made for a natural high fructose boost. We didn’t understand smoothie nutrition back then. We didn’t know that too much fructose even from natural sources was not the way to optimal health. From time to time, a dash of home spun nutrition wisdom helped us keep a semblance of balance.
Once, when my mother an old school Lithuanian and a registered nurse who lived in New England—visited me in Southern California, she was horrified. “That’s baby pabulum,” she scolded. “You’re eating like old folk or sick people. You’re not exercising your teeth and gums. There’s no fiber. Where’s your protein?” I didn’t know it then, but she was right.
We’ve Learned Things, but We’re Still Learning
Things have gotten better. There are great juices now and powerful blenders. Protein powder choices are overwhelming, as are super food and juice concentrate additions, and product quality is much better. But smoothie madness is still more like a cult than a movement.
A new wave of vegetarians is obsessed with proving that they can get enough protein from plant sources. They power up with spirulina or overdo soy. There’s still confusion about the difference between getting lots of amino acids and complete bioavailable protein sources. And several other indispensible nutritional points get overlooked.
As a clinician with thirty years of practice in California and five in South Florida, I can cautiously say that I’ve seen it all. With so many new products to choose from, the basics often get overlooked. Take fiber for example.
Fiber for Health
Dietary fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Adequate fiber is almost a sure thing to prevent or relieve constipation. But high fiber foods provide other health benefits as well, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease, preventing cancer, and providing prebiotic support for friendly bacteria.
On average, an adult needs at least 35 grams of fiber a day. Women tend to need slightly less. To be effective at preventing cancer, some researches advise daily fiber intake should be at least 40 grams. Traditional indigenous people eating diets high in complex carbohydrates can consume upwards to 75 grams daily. The average American diet provides 15 grams or less per day. (When I first started practicing, the average American consumed only about 5 grams daily!) The average vegetarian diet provides for at least 25 grams daily.
Benefits of Fiber
- Provides bulk for normal bowel movement.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Lowers cholesterol.
- May prevent colon cancer.
- Prevents hemorrhoids.
- Lowers blood sugar.
- Increases insulin sensitivity.
- Manages weight.
High Fiber Smoothie Medicine
So how do you make a smoothie that’s a medical beverage? First, it has to be low in sugar, especially fructose, and fiber rich. Next it has to have loads of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Packing it with probiotics is another key step. Adding 15-20 grams of good quality, high biological value protein is important. And, having enough omega fatty acids not only makes for a thicker consistency, but completes the nutrient profile.
There are endless variations and personal recipes on smoothies. Even The New York Times has blogs with gourmet smoothie recipes. What’s important is that your smoothies promote health. They should not just provide a boost from too much natural sugar or pump up on protein. Smoothie medicine optimizes fiber content along with providing sufficient amounts of prebiotics and probiotics.
There are lots of fiber sources perfect for smoothies, but here are three of my favorites.
- Chia Seeds: High in fiber with a good protein profile like quinoa with all of the essential amino acids (so you don’t need to combine with legumes), chia seeds are also higher in omega-3 fatty acids than flaxseeds. They contain phytochemicals, phosphorus and manganese, calcium, some vitamin C, and traces of potassium, boron, and sodium.
- Flaxseeds: Probably the most scientifically studied of all edible seeds, flax or linseed is a potent super food. Flax contains lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant properties necessary for health. Flaxseed contains as much as 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. They also have omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, vitamins B-1, B-2, C, E, and carotene, along with the minerals iron, zinc, and trace amounts of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.
- Rice Bran: One of the original super foods, rice bran contains an amazing number of nutrients including antioxidants, phytonutrients, phytosterols, tocotrienols, carotenoids, vitamin E complex, gamma oryzanol, and B vitamins. It boasts an array of minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc; plus it’s packed with omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
These high fiber choices are not the only ones. Also consider hemp seeds and oat bran, as well as other seeds and nuts. Pumpkin seeds are worth trying. And don’t neglect the classics like muesli and old fashioned rolled oats.
Fiber Content (grams of fiber per tablespoon)
Chia Seeds 7.4
Rice Bran 2.0
Adding seeds and grains to your smoothie not only adds grams of fiber. When you soak chia and flax seeds in liquid, they expand and become gelatinous. This sticky gel soothes the gastrointestinal tract and adds a prebiotic effect promoting healthy bacteria colonization. It also adds substance to a smoothie so you feel fuller and more satisfied, like after you’ve eaten a meal.
If your chia, flaxseeds, or muesli are not ground, they will be not blend well and will be too harsh on your intestines. The solution is to soak them the night before. Place the muesli, chia or flaxseeds in a small bowl and cover with rice or almond milk, or pure water. Refrigerate overnight. Soak nuts overnight as well. One teaspoon of seeds makes about a tablespoon from expansion.
How to Sweeten in a Healthy Way
Don’t add bananas or lots of fruit because of the high fructose content. Berries, however—fresh or frozen—make for a high antioxidant boost.
Don’t add honey or agave syrup for the same reason: they are high in fructose. Instead, consider adding Yacon syrup. A Peruvian super food, Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is mostly composed of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are not easily absorbed by the body. This means Yacon does not raise glucose levels. It’s semi-sweet with a low glycemic index, with amazing prebiotic properties to boost friendly bacteria—probiotics that are necessary for gut health. Add a dash of probiotic powder to turn your high fiber smoothie into an optimal wellness beverage.
Benefits of Yacon
- Regulates friendly intestinal flora
- Reduces constipation
- Helps prevent colon cancer
- Improves calcium and magnesium absorption
- Helps manage cholesterol
- Contains glyconutrients that boost the immune system
- Contains antioxidants
- Contains up to 30% FOS
- Rich in antioxidants
- Helps prevent blood sugar disorders