There are many reasons I recommend a smoothie or blended drink to clients. Often this is simply to move them away from drinking loads of juice that discards the fibre present in vegetables and fruits; so important to slow down the release of their carbohydrates as simple sugars into the bloodstream. Having more bulk and less sugar also helps support good gut health, as too much juice can also contribute to an imbalance of gut bacteria and affect digestive, immune, hormonal, skin and mental health.
A smoothie is a great way to ensure more vegetables are included in our diets and acts as a great vessel for other goodies all in one delicious package. We can add in many things that we might want to take but prefer not to swallow in pill or capsule form.
Personally, I also find them a great way to use up some of those vegetables and fruit needing to be used up….
There are many high power blenders on the market now, but whether you choose a Nutribullet, Vitamix or just a normal blender, you’ll need at least 600w power to deal with the dense plant fibres. There are plenty of reviews on the market if you’re looking to buy – I have a Nutribullet myself as it was good value and does the trick!
Whatever you buy, follow the instructions for that model, so that you are ensuring you adhere to their guidance on maximum capacity and making sure the liquid part covers the solid. This will keep your blender working for longer, with continued efficiency and create a blend you can actually drink.
This is the most important part of a healthy smoothie and the one that separates it out from the more sugary, fruit-based version. Yes fruit is healthy, but beyond a happy 2-3 portions eaten in its whole form, we can easily plough in too much fructose – fruit sugar – which can raise uric acid levels, overburden the liver, upset beneficial gut bacteria and even cause inflammation. Getting accustomed to your smoothie being less sweet and more reflecting of the high mineral content of vegetables is a good health change in itself, as can help you enjoy sweeter foods less and therefore avoid them more!
So start with a base of whatever is in your fridge and prioritise organic here to not add pesticides into the mix – see the very useful Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list to see which vegetables and fruit tend to be sprayed most with toxic chemicals and which are safer to buy non-organic.
Here are some of my favourite choices, but of course your taste will lead you too:
- two sticks celery for potassium
- ¼ cucumber for hydrating minerals and silica for skin health – very refreshing
- handful of rocket, watercress, spinach
- 3-4 leaves pak choi
- half a fennel bulb
- avocado – (yes I know it’s a fruit, but it didn’t fit in the sweetening list either!) – makes smoothies very creamy, but you may need more liquid
You’ll notice that kale isn’t on the list… that’s not to say I don’t like the lovely green stuff; I am a big fan of the cruciferous family of veg and their high immune-supporting sulphur compounds (glucosinolates) but they are much better cooked to break down their goitregenic effect which can hinder thyroid function. You can of course add some in, but don’t overdo it… See more on this and my comments in this article.
Yes we do need to get used to the more bitter tastes of vegetables, but we do also want our smoothie to be palatable enough that we want to make it because we get the brain reward of both the taste and the knowledge that we are caring for our health. So choosing a sweet part that provides the right balance is the key to keeping up the habit of smoothie drinking:
- Raspberries or other berries for liver support – I always keep bags of berries on the freezer, so easy to do now with online shopping and I really want to have these most days for circulation support that feeds memory, heart health and tissue regeneration; raspberries are mentioned first as they are highest in ellagic acid that supports phase 2 liver detoxification.
- An apple, but prioritise organic as apples are sprayed with many pesticides if not.
- Other fruits like apricots, plums, watermelon etc to about 1 portion – a palmful.
- ½ teaspoon Manuka or locally produced raw honey – on the rare occasion I don’t have frozen berries to hand I’ll add about ½ a teaspoon of really good quality honey; worth paying for and support your local beekeepers so you are receiving the immune-supporting effects of ingesting the pollen from your local environment, said to help hayfever sufferers in Spring.
- Blueberry or other berry concentrate – I always have in BlueberryActive concentrate and depending on how I’m feeling I may add this instead of honey. I also sometimes have the CherryActive if sleep is an issue as it helps promote melatonin levels. There are also powdered berry blends available like the one by Naturya.
- Banana – often gets a bad rap and yes, high in natural sugars but also contains the fabulous soluble fibre inulin, tryptophan to help the mood-supporting neurotransmitter serotonin and potassium to help our ability to calm the nervous system and support heart health. Personally tends to make a smoothie too sweet for me, but I might add a little.
- Cinnamon – see more info below, but always helps sweeten without upsetting blood sugar levels.
All fruit can be sliced or chopped and then frozen to be added straight into your blender. This is great to be able to save fruit before it goes off, buy organic in bulk and eat local produce out of season.
Most protein powders state add in a scoop or two of a measure around 1-2 teaspoons, so read the label and remember you don’t have to add that much. It is better to find an amount you find palatable and therefore will stick with. I tend to have a few handy, some days I have collagen, some greens. You don’t need to be prescriptive about nutrition, it’s important it doesn’t move towards neurosis and feelings of dependence on certain foods. Also variety fits in with how our ancestors would have lived – changing their nutritional intake based on what they could find!
- Green powder – there are many of these on the market, often a blend of green algae sources like spirulina, chlorella and wheatgrass – they are nutrient-dense with pH balancing and detoxification supporting properties. This means they can increase the capacity of detoxification pathways creating a bit of feeling ‘worse before better’ so a good idea to build up slowly to the maximum dose on the label, especially if you’ve been stressed, having lots of sugar or alcohol or feeling fatigued, headachy or run-down. You can also get a bit of a bowel clear-out as they change your gut environment for the better – this can feel quite good if you’re prone to constipation!
- Collagen powder – not for the vegetarians this one as usually comes from bovine sources, (often gelatine), poultry, marine sources (like shrimp) or egg, so do check the quality and provenance of the source you choose. For the omnivores, it is this very animal source that gives collagen the amino acid profile to support our own connective tissue formation and healing – for skin, bones, muscles and joints. Also a good source of glycine, an amino acid that also works as a calming neurotransmitter and aids our ability to stay asleep. It is low in serotonin producing tryptophan though.
- Whey protein powder – not for the vegans this one as from dairy sources but a quality brand will help your immune-modulating capacity, as long as you’re not dairy intolerant. It can help a smoothie be a credible meal replacement by reducing levels of the hormone ghrelin that tells your brain you’re hungry. Whey is a great sports protein as has shown to help building and repair in that all-important 15 minute window after exercise. It also helps to stop the reduction in our most fundamental antioxidant and detoxification support glutathione, which can be reduced by stress and exercise. Low levels can increase inflammation and reduce our ability to fight off invaders like bacteria and viruses.
- Ground almonds or linseeds – lovely vegetarian mix of protein, essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6 oils), soluble fibre and some starchy carbohydrates for energy; as well as the nutrients magnesium, zinc and vitamin E to name a few.
- You can also use hemp or pea protein – better as a general protein source and good choices for vegetarians and vegans. These can be better tolerated by those with general intolerances, sensitivities and digestive issues but it is always best to play around and trust how you feel.
It’s best to pick a pure protein and add in your own flavours, rather than buy a sports type formulation that can have lots of nasties added – look at labels and if there’s a long list of ingredients and they sound like they’re chemicals produced in a lab, they probably are and their full effects in the body may be unknown!
You can add in any therapeutic element that feels right for the day or for your body needs. I tend to have many options available and mix around:
- Soak golden linseeds (dessertspoon) overnight for gut healing and lignans for female hormone balance – soak in enough water to cover and include any liquid to not lose the valuable hormone-balancing compounds. Fantastic for those who need help with regular bowel movements or need to support their gut mucosa, where movements may not feel complete, clean or satisfying.
- Ginger root – circulation, immunity, taste – peps up a very green vegetable palette.
- Cinnamon for blood sugar balance – mimics the effects of insulin, a good natural ‘sweetener’ that doesn’t raise blood sugar levels, high antioxidant effect.
- Matcha green tea powder – immune modulating, high antioxidants, blood sugar balance
- Bee propolis – immune modulating, high antioxidants, antimicrobial
- Coconut oil – supports metabolism, immunity and weight loss but needs lots of liquid.
This is the all-important part to be able to pour your creation down your throat, rather than spoon it in like baby food, although that is sometimes a good option and go all the way and you start experimenting with mousses! You can always add more in as you go along and mix and match for taste and consistency:
- Water – simple, cheap and hydrating – good to filter where you can, the new simple charcoal filtered bottles are very useful
- Coconut water for mineral balance – naturally hydrating as has the same mineral profile as our own plasma; in fact said to be used in war times as a successful transfusion fluid! This isotonic effect can help recovery from stress, performance in exercise and
- Coconut milk for healthy fats – the MCTs (medium-chain tryglycerides) it contains are saturated, but as plant sources we cannot store them as fats and they boost our metabolic rate instead. They are also potent immune-supporters and shown to be cancer protective. Avoid from tins, make up from a block instead or you can now buy in pouches. It is thick, so experiment with other liquid ratios alongside.
- Apple juice – can be a sweetening alternative, but choose freshly juices and cloudy, where you get the digestive and hydrating presence of the soluble fibre pectin. As high in sugar can be used 50:50 with water.
Here’s one I prepared earlier…..
The photo reel above shows (rather badly!) left to right, one of my favourite combinations:
- Mix of pak choi and celery for the veg part and you can see generous chunks of fresh ginger root, which I have an extremely high tolerance too!
- I had put these on top of a generous handful of organic blueberries
- Covered over with coconut water
- Blended into gloopy goodness
I don’t tend to have these everyday just for practical reasons. It probably works out about 3-4 times a week, but you can see from my descriptions that I’m not a measuring or regime kind of gal….
Most of all, play around, experiment and don’t feel too precious about your creations – some will be fabulous, some otherwise, but you’ll always be giving your body and mind something nutritious, hydrating and with the feel-good factor of self-care that helps reduce cravings, compulsions and other negative health cycles.