Sunday, September 09, 2012

Green for Life

My breakfast has been channeling Dr. Seuss for so long that my children actually ask to have a few sips of my green smoothies every day.  How can you not be entranced by drinking something this color?  It's like living in a cartoon.

A healthy, life-giving, energy-fueled cartoon.  They exist, I tell you.

Last summer, during a period of digestive not-right-ness, I started doing some research about cleanses and detox meals and the like, hoping to restore my balance without resorting to a trip to the doctor.  Green smoothies kept coming up, and though they sounded bizarre and completely unappealing at first, the science made sense, and the amount of available information was so compelling that I gave it a shot.

I fell in love, of course.  Homemade fruit smoothies have long been my go-to breakfast during the warm/hot months (that would be eight months of the year in my part of the world), and finding a way to add in a serving or two of vegetables to the deal - without sacrificing flavor - was nothing short of a miraculous discovery to me.

Just a few of the tidbits of nutritional information that persuaded me to try a green smoothie and that keep me drinking them daily:
- Raw vegetables, with very few exceptions, contain higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals than do their cooked counterparts.  Ever eaten raw mature kale or chard?  Not awesome.  How then can you work some raw greens into your diet?  You guessed it... 
- The cellular structure of raw sturdy greens is such that we do not fully break them up enough to absorb all those lovely vitamins and minerals simply by chewing in our normal fashion.  Feel like chewing up each bite 30 times until it fully dissolves in your month?  No?  I don't blame you.  That's why blenders rock. 
- Having a hard time getting six servings of vegetables into your daily diet?  What?  You eat things other than vegetables (ahem - me too)?  Throw some into your breakfast, and you'll find you have had two servings before your morning snack. 
- Did you know that if you start your day with a super-nutritious, yet fully delicious, breakfast, you will be more inclined to continue eating healthfully all day long?  Don't believe me?  Try a little experiment.  Eat two doughnuts for breakfast tomorrow and tell me what you craved for lunch and dinner (and snacks) for the rest of the day.  On the next day, drink a green smoothie for breakfast and keep another record of what you craved for the rest of that day's meals.  Two gold stars says the doughnuts will drive you to a greasy lunch whereas a green smoothie will inspire a great big salad.  Seriously.
There is far more actual science behind the green smoothie movement than I can state without tripping up on words too big for me to properly tame.  Some of it seems valid, some of it resembles snake-oil medicine, and some is simply preposterous.  Here's the thing though:  with green smoothies, the worst thing that can happen is you'll have more regular bathroom habits and you'll sneak more vegetables into your diet.  Remember the Atkins Diet?  Right.  With that, the worst thing that could happen is higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and a higher risk of heart failure.

Still want to do some more research on your own?  As part of the 200-hour yoga teacher training program I am participating in, we recently read and discussed Victoria Boutenko's Green for Life.  It's a quick and easy read, written not by a scientist or dietician, but by a regular Lady of Awesomeness who decided to take charge of her family's health and who did enormous amounts of research to back her theory.  The information is presented well, though the testimonials at the end of the book may need to be taken with a grain of salt.

I have enormous respect for this woman.  We should all be so inspired to take the lead and do our own legwork before going to the medical community for pharmaceutical solutions.


TROPICAL GREEN SMOOTHIE (makes about 1 quart, enough for one person for breakfast and morning snack)

Beginners Note: You may want to start with spinach and work up to some of the heartier greens like kale and chard.  Also, if you find the smoothie to be too bitter, add a little more fruit and re-blend until the taste is more palatable.  You shouldn't have to eat something you don't like.

A note about blenders: I use a relatively inexpensive older model Oster glass jar blender that does a remarkable job making smoothies.  Smoothies will burn out the motor on uber-cheap blenders in a flash (trust me on this one).  Many people will swear you need a Vita-Mix, and I understand they are the bomb, but I am disinclined to spend $400 or so on a blender, so, you know, do a little research and see what would be best for your family.

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbs ground flaxseeds (optional)
  • 1 Tbs unrefined coconut oil
  • 2 cups tightly packed spinach (or my favorite - a mixture of baby kale and baby chard)
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple, or more as necessary
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  1. Place all ingredients into a high-powered blender, in the order listed above.  Starting with the softest ingredients at the bottom of the blender does help the blades to not get caught on the firmer ingredients.
  2. Process on high speed until very well-blended.
  3. Drink immediately - it's best very cold.  Store leftovers in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator and drink the same day if possible.


Anonymous said...


Do you think Chia seeds would do instaed of the flax? I credit your Mama crediting you for my discovery of the Chia seed. I just could not make flax work for me, though my horses benefit from it. I am in love with the Chia seed. I like to let it sit in sparkling blackberry juice (organic of course) and then drink or spoon them up. So thank you for turning your Mama on to them and thank her for blogging it!

Sarah Beam said...

I do like chia seeds, and they are highly nutritious. However, they tend to make the smoothie gel up rather quickly, and I don't love that. For now, I am still experimenting to see how to make them work best in a smoothie.

Chia seeds are lovely sprinkled on salads and stirred into rice or quinoa.

Anonymous said...

Any idea how much protein is in this smoothie? I love smoothies and never add sugar, but with all the fresh fruit, I still feel a sugar down and protein crave a couple of hours later. Trying to figure out how to get some protein in there. I can not do soy, and I am not opposed to dairy (actually love the stove), but am trying to cut back. Thanks!

Sarah Beam said...

If you drank the whole smoothie, and used spinach for the greens, there would be 4 grams of protein. Adding an additional Tbs of flaxseeds would add another gram.

Using kale (rather than spinach) would increase the protein to 7 grams total. Again, adding another Tbs of flaxseeds would add another gram, bringing the total to 8 grams.

Grinding a handful of nuts in the blender with the smoothie would also increase the protein. There are also commercial protein powders that could be added to the smoothie.

Anonymous said...

Wow...a fast response from a busy lady. Thank you ever so much!

Margo said...

More clear explanation of a green smoothie than I've seen - thank you.

I do love raw kale, actually - we had kale salad last night for dinner. The great thing about a kale salad is that it doesn't wilt under the dressing, so leftovers are no problem.

Unknown said...

Oooo I am going to have to try this! Always on the look out for a great smoothie recipe! I love chia seeds! When I add them to the Ninja with produce a lil yougurt and some juice or water, it makes for a healthy quick breakfast yum! Thank you! Love your blog :)