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Step up your smoothie game
Smoothies (or shakes) are a very popular breakfast option for people who need a quick on-the-go meal they can make in less than five minutes. Whether you are a busy mom, are rushing between the gym and work, don’t know how to cook, or you just don’t feel like making eggs and bacon that morning, it is always nice to have an easy, convenient option available. It doesn’t involve much planning ahead; you need very little equipment, and zero cooking skills, and there are so many options you will never get bored with your creations.
But just like everything else that is marketed by the fitness and health industry, there is a downside to smoothies. Don’t get me wrong, I like to make a smoothie from time to time as a meal replacement when I am busy, lazy, or don’t feel like chewing steak and salad. But smoothies have to be done right in order to be considered a healthy option. Let’s take a look at all the reasons why your smoothie might need an upgrade in order to serve its original purpose: to be a nutrient dense, nourishing meal replacement.
SMOOTHIE PROBLEM #1 MACRONUTRIENTS
Imagine a standard, basic smoothie recipe for example one banana, a handful of fresh or frozen berries, a splash of orange juice, one or two dates to sweeten it up a bit, a few ice cubes, and maybe a pinch of cinnamon on top. Even though these are all natural (and therefore healthy) ingredients, this blend is just a slightly healthier version of sugary soda. If you remember our series about sugar (if you haven’t read it yet, now is a perfect time to do so), you understand that chronically elevated blood sugar levels cause a number of problems in the body. While berries, orange juice, and dates are packed with fructose, banana adds a high dose of starch in the mix (which rapidly turns into glucose). The amount of sugar in this type of smoothie equals one full size pack of Skittles.
Yes, it does include a lot of vitamins (and maybe even some fiber from the fruit), but it doesn’t change the fact that it is full of carbohydrates, and is mostly sugar. Our body needs all the macronutrients carbohydrates, protein, and fat to create a full meal. In order to function properly, our brain, skin, organs, really the whole body, needs these nutrients in balanced ratios (these ratios vary from person to person, based on your own metabolic needs). That is why each of our meals should include all three of them in ratios that match our genetic heritage. Smoothies, as we see them most of the time, are almost never well balanced with these macronutrients, and vitamins from fruits will not make up for that, even though they are very important. There are also many pre-made smoothie formulas on the market that usually contain some kind of artificial sweetener, food coloring, and other unwanted chemicals, so they should definitely be avoided. I will explain how to do smoothies the right way, but first lets examine two more important downsides of liquid meal replacements.
SMOOTHIE PROBLEM #2 PORTION CONTROL
It is generally recommended to eat slowly and mindfully. It takes up to 20 minutes for the brain to receive the satiety signal from the digestive system. We can all agree that we eat to get satiated and nourished, not to make the stomach explode. There is a huge difference between feeling full and feeling satiated from our meal. After a well balanced nourishing meal, we should feel light and energized, not exhausted and needing to unzip our jeans in order to give our stomach more space. When we eat too quickly (and/or come back for a second helping), we consume too much food before our body has a chance to get a satiety signal from the brain. We tend to overeat, and when there are no other nutrients than carbohydrates, we certainly don’t get satiated. So we eat or drink more, until we get physically full, so we can’t eat anymore. And that is another problem with liquid food we are able to consume a lot of it because our body never gets satiated from just liquid carbohydrates. This is very closely tied to the last issue I would like to cover here how does drinking our meals affect our digestion?
SMOOTHIE PROBLEM #3 PROPER DIGESTION
Smoothies are very often recommended to people with digestive issues. If you do your smoothies right (and I will tell you how to do it), this is in fact true. Digestion actually starts in the mouth when you chew, it is called mastication. The saliva production starts with the very first bite, and as you chew, you break down the food into smaller particles. This is what we have teeth for breaking down food, mixing it with ptyalin enzymes from saliva that are used to break down and digest carbohydrates.
Our teeth changed as humans evolved and the shape they have today is based on the fact that we started chewing tougher foods like meat, dense vegetables, roots, and leaves. Our digestive system is made to chew, so we should do so. Chewing keeps our teeth healthy and strong and the longer you chew, the more digestive enzymes are released in the mouth, making further digestion in the gut easier, which you want to support as it is a very energy demanding process. Smoothies and blended soups are amazing options for elderly people who cant chew but still need nutrients, as well for little babies that don’t have teeth yet, but for people with a strong and healthily functioning set of teeth, chewing is a very important part of the digestive process. Even if you make a perfectly balanced smoothie, it should not replace every meal of the day, every day.
HOW TO FIX YOUR SMOOTHIE
There is a way to balance your smoothie in order to use it as a proper meal replacement. It is understandable that cooking a full breakfast isn’t always an option and a good smoothie is not a terrible thing to turn to on those days. Some people use coffee to suppress their hunger, and even though caffeine has that effect, it is not the healthiest thing in the world feeling hungry means needing nutrients and we should never ignore those signals. We need nutrients to function, move, think, drive, work, play with kids, and live our lives to the fullest.
So all we need to do is add those other two macronutrients to our smoothie recipe. Yes, it is that simple. Adding protein and fat from quality sources turns your shake into a solid meal replacement! Some vitamins are fat soluble, so adding good fat like avocado, coconut milk, nut milk, or nut butter not only makes those vitamins more available to your body, but also gives you more satiety (we already know fat is twice as satiating as protein or carbohydrates). If you tolerate dairy, you could also choose to add heavy cream to the mix.
For a protein solution, the easiest thing you can do is add some grass-fed collagen. It is flavorless, so it is not going to alter the taste of your smoothie. If you can eat dairy, try kefir or yogurt. Adding raw eggs from free range, pastured chickens is an amazing option too it will not change the taste and egg yolks are packed with healthy fats and many key micronutrients. Commercial protein powders are not an optimal choice, as they are usually very processed and contain a lot of sugar and chemicals. If you prefer to keep a Vegan or Vegetarian diet, ZoeTein is a wonderful option to consider.
Get rid of dates, honey, or agave as a sweetener, and train your taste buds to enjoy the natural sweetness of fruit and coconut milk instead. Lower the amount of sugar and add more nourishing fats and protein. You can even add a handful or two of raw spinach, romaine, or beet greens (it does not affect the taste too much, and will blend in best if you blend the greens alone with some liquid before adding your other ingredients), pick fruits that are lower in sugar (like berries), or learn to love vegetable smoothie variations with some kale, cucumber, or beet root! They might look weird in color, but they taste amazing and are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. Adding a splash of apple cider vinegar supports digestion as well (just don’t combine it with dairy) and added collagen will help with gut healing.
MAKING THINGS EVEN EASIER
Of course not everybody owns a smoothie maker or a blender, and there is not a garden full of fresh raspberries available to everyone all year round. There is a perfect option even for those of you who only possess a blender bottle (and even if you don’t own one, you can surely find a jar with a lid somewhere). Advancium and ZoeTein are two of the best complete meal replacements without any chemical additives, artificial colorings, or sweeteners. These superfood blends are full of nutrients that will help you get through the day with stable energy. They contain enzymes, herbs, minerals and vitamins, seaweed extracts, probiotics, fiber, healthy fats, and amino acids to improve your mental and physical performance.
ZoeTein is more suitable for people with physically demanding jobs or those who have a very active lifestyle, and it is a Vegan friendly protein source. Advancium is perfect for those who need more mental sharpness during the day, like computer programmers, lawyers, or designers or anyone who wants to overcome the afternoon energy slump without reaching for caffeine. Depending on your preferences and needs you can just pick one of these blends, mix with water or your favorite fruit juice for better flavor, shake well and drink. You can also add them into your smoothie for an extra boost.
TIPS ON TOOLS AND RECIPES
At home I use a regular inexpensive blender like this one, but there are plenty of special smoothie maker options that are very affordable, like this one. If you are looking for a good shaker bottle, you can get a very basic one or this fancier one with a separate container for your powder, that way you can always carry just a pre-measured serving with you and add water later. Use your imagination to come up with delicious smoothie blends, or get inspired by others! Check out this gut healing recipe or try one of these. The options are almost endless! While it is preferable to chew your meals in order to digest them properly, as long as you keep your smoothies nutritionally balanced, there is no problem with replacing a meal with them from time to time, as a breakfast, or quick on the go snack. Enjoy them as part of a well balanced diet that has been dialed in specifically for your metabolic needs. Please ask questions, and share tips and recipes in the comments section below.