In my previous article, I wrote about the important role of fruits and vegetables in our diet.
Whole, fresh, ripe and raw, preferably organically grown, they are VIP players of bioactive nutrition, essential to a healthy diet.
Despite of our awareness of their potential benefits – we all know about their preventive actions against the risk of chronic diseases, heart disease and cancer – the consumption of fruits and vegetables is still insufficient for most of us today.
Smoothies, alongside juices, are an excellent choice as a way to increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables, and consequently increase the absorption of bioactive nutrients so necessary for our health.
Smoothies have a health glow about them and are a good foundation for a healthy breakfast or snack.
We can all benefit from adding a few extra colours to our plates, or glasses!
What is a Smoothie?
A smoothie is a blended creamy texture drink composed of raw fruit, vegetables, liquid (water, coconut water, non-dairy- milk, kefir, yoghurt), nuts, honey, vinegar, chocolate or nutritional supplements such as protein powder (vegetarian and organic is my personal choice), superfoods, and toppings (such as coconut and cacao nibs for example), it all depends on your personal choice and needs.
In fact, we can put nearly anything into a smoothie, the key to making it healthy is to strike the right balance of vegetables, fruit, protein and fat.
Embrace variety. Try to mix up the ingredients. Dietary diversity can be really helpful to ensure a well-rounded nutrient intake.
What is the purpose of a smoothie?
Like juices, smoothies are generally used:
- To purify and detoxify (see the article on juices and their effects on health)
- To complement a classic diet.
A well-rounded smoothie can be used as a meal replacement, providing many of the key nutrients such as fibre, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals among others. If eating a smoothie as a meal replacement, and in order to make it nutritious and healthy option, it’s important to make sure the smoothie contains a mix of foods that would be similar to a meal.
What are the benefits of smoothies?
Smoothies are a really great way to get in key foods such as the much-needed vegetables and fruit. Smoothies have great health benefits, one of the main being the fact that they retain their fibre, and are rich in vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
Some characteristics that differentiate smoothies from juices are:
Mixed fruits and vegetables retain all their fibre for healthy digestion (except in the presence of a digestive imbalance where fibre may be unadvisable).
Smoothies can provide a greater richness of nutrients because the fibrous pulp, the pith (white inner membrane under the peel of a citrus fruit) and the seeds of certain fruits (which contain countless virtues), are not necessarily removed.
It should indeed be stressed that if the fruits and vegetables are organically grown, we can keep the skin of some of them (which will be duly and carefully washed beforehand) in order to preserve their nutritional wealth.
Why is fibre important?
Fibre is extremely important for good digestion and therefore good health. They help slow down digestion, keep you feeling full longer and stabilize blood sugar levels. It also nourishes the bacteria (microbiota or intestinal flora) in our intestines, which play a key role in our overall health.
There are two types of fibre:
Insoluble fibres: They attract water to the intestines, add volume to your stool and stimulate the activity of your intestines, helping to maintain regular activity. It is found in foods such as cucumbers, celery, carrots, nuts and seeds, cauliflower, potatoes and dark leafy vegetables, etc.
Please note: this type of fibre is not recommended for people with irritable bowel or other specific digestive concerns, please seek advice if this is your case.
Soluble fibre: dissolves in water and slows digestion, has the property of lowering blood glucose levels and contributes to lowering cholesterol by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates and by nourishing beneficial bacteria in the gut.
They are found in foods such as oats, apples, carrots, peas, green beans and citrus fruits, berries, plums, pears, nuts, seeds, etc.
Fibre is often under-consumed, leading to adverse health effects. Therefore, consuming more blended foods (smoothie) may provide the benefits of whole foods.
Fibre is not the only beneficial element present in the pulp of fruits and vegetables.
Studies comparing the presence of photochemical substances – antioxidant compounds with potential anti-cancer properties – in grapefruit juice versus blended grapefruit concluded that the blended grapefruit (with pulp and pith) had a higher concentration of beneficial antioxidant compounds.
Another equally important advantage of the smoothie is that by mixing the fruit and vegetables, the resulting drink is of a thicker consistency, meaning that a lesser quantity enables a feeling of fullness more rapidly. The pulp, skin and fibre help increase the volume of the drink, filling you up and limiting your total potential caloric intake.
An ideal diet, would require most of the nutritional elements available, this is however quite difficult as we would need to eat vast amounts of veggies- not always easy- the great benefit of smoothies is that we can easily incorporate those big amounts and variety and reduce them to an easy to drink more manageable beverage.
What about protein?
Adding healthy fats and proteins can make a more nutritionally balanced smoothie. Good sources of protein include vegetable and organic proteins (peas, spinach etc. etc.), almond milk, avocados, Greek yogurt, seed oil, nut butters, and certain seeds.
What to keep in mind?
It is often mistakenly thought that smoothies are low calorie snacks, be aware that some smoothies contain more than 1,000 calories depending on their size and ingredients used.
It is best to assess your goals and caloric requirements to determine your specific needs.
When making smoothies at home, ensure you control your portion size.
Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, nut butters, yogurt and avocado provide more calories but increase nutrient density. Healthy fats are important for maintaining energy, hormonal balance and cell membranes. Smoothies also provide the fat-soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E and K.
Added sugars, such as syrups for example, provide more calories but most are nutrient deficient.
This is the main issue with most store-bought smoothies- you lose total control over quantity and quality of the ingredients used. Store-bought varieties may use artificial sweeteners, fruit juice, large amounts of fat or sweetened dairy products, contributing to higher amounts of sugar, fat and calories. Smoothie bowls can also contain large amounts of sugary granola and sweetened coconut flakes.
It is important to check the ingredient list and nutritional information label.
How do I make a smoothie?
There are several types of blenders, among them:
A Blender and/or Thermomix: grind and pulverize fruits and vegetables, it takes between 2 to 4 minutes to obtain a smooth and creamy smoothie.
The Vitamix or Magic Bullet: more powerful, they pulverize the products quickly and efficiently, generally in 2 minutes.
Blendtec is another great option.
Smoothies are snacks or meals that can suit almost any taste or dietary preference.
Their healthiness is largely determined by the ingredients used.
The most nutritious smoothies are made with whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt and healthy fats, while those with lots of added sugars are not as rich in nutrients and can contribute to negative health effects over time.
Smoothies that are high in antioxidants vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre which may even help with weight loss whilst keeping you full and nourished.
If you’re looking for a creative way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, smoothies may be the answer.
My personal stance:
Smoothies are a great way to get much-needed nutrients.
When hungry or in need of a snack, and have a choice between products of no nutritional value (chips, cookies etc. etc.) or a smoothie, keep in mind that a fresh and well formulated smoothie is the best ally for your well-being.
Once again, I would like to emphasize the importance of proportioning your ingredients in order to obtain balanced, nutritious and delicious smoothies.
For convenience and make life easier, you can, (and I do), make smoothies in the morning that will last for the rest of the day as well. In this case, it is important that this preparation be kept in an airtight glass container and in the refrigerator, if no refrigerator is available add ice cubes to the drink.
As with the juices, add a piece of lemon in the smoothies that you plan to drink later, the lemon will slow down the oxidation process.
If just starting to add smoothies to your routine, in order to reduce bloating, consider drinking your smoothie slowly (use a spoon or straw) allowing the drink to mix with the saliva- first digestive step. Both these actions _ slow drinking and salivary action will enable better digestion.