The popularity of making home-made smoothies and juices is at an all time high in North America and Europe. Vitamix® is now a household name, once forgotten vegetables such as kale and beets have taken over as the peas and carrots of the 21st century, and we all have that friend who has made it their mission to spread the gospel of the 10-day juice cleanse. But for those new to the world of liquid meals, you might be wondering, “What is all the fuss about and how do I get started?”
To start with, these beverages are excellent vehicles for taking in your body’s daily quota of fruits and vegetables. Current nutrition recommendations for the average adult include eating 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Many people have found that eating this quantity of produce is a challenge, however drinking it is relatively easy. It requires no cooking, no chewing and there are no pots and pans to clean up. Fruits and vegetables are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and water—nutrients your body needs to function at maximum capacity and stay healthy. It is not surprising then that when you start fueling your body with these essential dietary components, you start feeling like a new and improved you. However, man cannot live on fruits and vegetables alone, which is why just pureeing your produce is not an appropriate replacement for a meal.
For those who want to make the transition from “beverage” to “meal” there are two other nutrients that are essential in your smoothie: protein and fat. Your body needs protein to build, maintain and repair all of its tissues and organs, to fight off invading viruses and bacteria, and to transport vital substances (like oxygen) from one part of the body to the next—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Fat, contrary to popular belief, is also a necessary part of our diet. Fat stores energy (so that our ancestors didn’t starve during times of famine), it protects our organs and keeps us warm, it helps us to absorb certain vitamins, and it is an integral part of our body’s cells. When incorporated into a dish or meal, both nutrients also help keep us feeling full for longer and ensure calories are adequate to sustain us until our next meal.
Most people would agree that the notion of throwing in a can of tuna or a few tablespoons of cooking oil with your spinach, celery and apple doesn’t sound all that appetizing. The key is finding vegetarian protein sources—many of which are also a good source of unsaturated (aka, healthy) fats—as these flavors tend to compliment those found in the plants you are using as your smoothie base. Examples of protein and fat-rich add-ins include nut butters (e.g. peanut, cashew and almond butter), tahini, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, milk/plain yogurt (cow, goat or soy), kefir, silken tofu, and avocados. There is also the option of purchasing a protein powder (unsweetened ideally) if none of these appeal to you.
Whether smoothie-making becomes your new breakfast regimen or just an easy-to-prepare snack on a hot summer day, the final key to getting the biggest nutrition bang for your buck is to be aware of the sugar pitfall. Store-bought smoothies and recipes that call for adding sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, sweetened yogurt, sherbet, and commercially-produced juice should all be avoided lest you risk turning a healthy, nutritionally-balanced breakfast into a decadent dessert.