Most of us have a lot of things we’d like to turn around in our lives, but figuring out what area to start with, and how to implement that process, can be overwhelming so we push it off until tomorrow….or the next day or the next. Implementing lasting change in even just one area requires the intention of making our self a priority, commitment, focus, and energy, none of which we have a surplus of if we aren’t healthy. Deciding to make a change to improve your health often begins with a health issue. My story began that way. My (oldest) daughter had a skin rash that popped up when she was 8 months old and for a year and a half the only “solutions” I got from our pediatrician and a pediatric dermatologist were antibiotics and topical steroids, which treated the symptoms but didn’t address WHY she had this problem in the first place. This was the early 1990s, before people ate for health, rather than just weight loss, or food was considered to be medicine, so information was hard to come by. I finally stumbled across a book that said most skin disorders are the result of nutritional deficiencies (or sensitivities such as wheat and dairy), commonly omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, so I started supplementing her with fish and flax oil. I needed a way for her to be able to swallow those oils and that’s how I started creating smoothies. Within 2 weeks, her rash was all but gone. More on smoothies in a bit….
You literally are what you eat. That can be a beautiful, or a very scary, thing! The nutrients that are the result of digesting the food you eat become the building blocks for every cell in your body, as well as provide information to those cells for how they should function. When you eat food that has been processed, and is overloaded with sugar and chemicals, not only does your body not recognize this as food, and is starved of the nutrients it needs, but the sugar and chemicals often contribute to the destruction of the lining of your gut, block biochemical pathways vital for proper physiologic functioning, trigger blood sugar instability, alter your mood and your ability to focus, and wreck havoc with your hormones.
Did you know you are not the only inhabitant of your body? The definition of microbiome (according to Webster Dictionary and assorted scientific journals) means-“a community of symbiotic microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses and the genetic material they harbor) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body, primarily in the gut”. There is an entire world of micro flora living in your gut that is directly responsible for maintaining your vital functions and overall health. In fact, there are 100 trillion microbes in your gut, compared to your 10 trillion human cells, making your body simply a vehicle for your microbiome. The microbiome is responsible for aiding in digestion, producing certain vitamins, regulating your immune system, and protecting you against disease producing bacteria. An imbalance in the micobiome has been linked with GI conditions such as irritable bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and systemic manifestations of disease such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, weakened immunity and systemic inflammation which, in turn, has been linked to heart disease, auto immune disorders, degenerative neurologic disorders (such as Alzheimer’s), and cancer. WOW!…that’s a lot to process, I know! Your digestive system literally provides a barrier against the outside world that you ingest every day, in every bite…and it is only 1 cell thick! Many factors contribute to the health, or destruction, of your microbiome, and the 1 cell thick barrier that protects you from foreign matter, including your diet, stress, medications, and toxins just to name a few. Taking care of your gut, through healthy diet and lifestyle choices, allows your gut to take care of you. So let’s do it!
Food is so much more than calories (fuel). It quite literally is medicine. The human body is not designed to utilize artificially produced, or genetically modified, foods or the chemicals that color and flavor them. The overabundance of processed carbohydrates in the Standard American Diet (SAD) has lead to your body preferring glucose, rather than fat, as its (too readily available) fuel of choice. Glucose will allow you to move through your day but, over time, not without its consequences. Chronically elevated blood sugar leads to brief energy surges followed by crashes, resulting in cravings for another quick sugar fix. It also predisposes you to insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, inability to lose weight, mood swings, sleep disorders, an imbalance in your gut microbes, brain fog and dementia, systemic inflammation, autoimmunity…scary shit!
The quality and composition of the food you eat is more important than the actual number of calories (not to say you should be consuming 6000 calories/day unless you’re Michael Phelps!). All calories are not created equal. Obviously, 100 calories of French fries will have a very different effect on the body than 100 calories of vegetables. Not only do you get more food when you eat 100 calories of veggies but you get a plethora of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber along with complex carbohydrates and, yes, in many cases, protein! With the French fries, you get simple carbohydrates that are quickly converted to glucose in the blood, along with generally over-heated, over-used, unhealthy fat.
Digestion is hard work. In order for your body to effectively digest what its been fed, it needs to be able to focus its attention on doing just that. Too often you’re eating on the run, or eating while multi-tasking, or you’re snacking all day so the body never gets a break from digesting. Don’t start shaming yourself….we all do it. But when you know better, you can do better!! As a result, the food isn’t thoroughly digested, resulting in decreased extraction and availability of the nutrients from the food. In response to your resulting low energy and brain fog you reach for more caffeine and sugar and energy drinks, am I right?! (P.S.- those pre- and post- workout supplements will NEVER give you the results you’re looking for if you aren’t feeding yourself well to begin with and allowing your body time to digest! You can’t get blood from a stone!)
Providing your body nutrient-dense food, and maintaining a stable blood sugar, are the foundations for gut health, and allows you to function optimally every day so you have the energy and motivation to make better choices in other areas of your life. Who wouldn’t benefit from more of that? How you start your day is how you live your day. By sacrificing yourself right out of the starting gate, you’re setting yourself up for a day of nutrient deficiency, energy depletion, and mood swings, not to mention the fact that you’re not making yourself a priority in your own life (which is a whole other topic!). Starting your day off with a nutrient packed breakfast can make all the difference-in how you feel, how you perform, how you interact-and it doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming.
When Jamba Juice appeared on the scene in 1990, launching the smoothie revolution, their mission was “leading people in the world to healthy lives”…with the priority “to provide healthy food and bring happiness to everyone”. News flash!—not all smoothies are created equal either! A “small” (16 ounce) JJ may contain more than 40gms of sugar, and total carbs up to 43 grams! For women, the recommended MAXIMUM amount of sugar/day is 25gms, so in just that 1 smoothie you have consumed almost double your sugar intake for the day. Although JJ smoothies may have “real” ingredients, the most prevalent ingredient is fruit juice from concentrate. This adds a lot of sugar your body doesn’t need. All this to say that smoothies made from juice, an overabundance of fruit, and flavored yogurt are not what your body needs!
There are many healthy ways to start your day but I love to start every day with a homemade smoothie. The dry ingredients can be laid out the night before so the morning prep process only takes a few minutes. You get an easily digestible, moderate calorie, powerhouse that will fuel your body for hours, and maintain your blood sugar so you don’t hit that mid-morning slump, and embarrass yourself at work! If necessary, you can take it on the road, although I recommend taking time to enjoy what you’ve created for yourself before heading out the door. Remember, making yourself a priority is part of this process!
Here is my foundation for a nutrient dense smoothie:
- Protein powder: I suggest staying away from soy or whey based powders because dairy and soy are among the most common food intolerances. If you’re vegetarian, choose a plant based protein powder from organic, non-GMO ingredients; if you’re not vegetarian/vegan you might choose a collagen based powder, but make sure those sweet cows are free range, humanely raised, and haven’t been loaded up with antibiotics or other chemicals against their will. Look for a powder that delivers at least 20 grams of protein/serving. You should be able to recognize the ingredients on the label without the use of a dictionary…if not, shop on! Beware of added “natural flavors” and sugars/sweeteners…Stevia is common, and fine, but some people don’t care for the after taste. Try using an unflavored protein powder and sweeten it with Lucuma or monk fruit powder, both of which are plant based, completely natural sweeteners that won’t affect your blood sugar or leave a weird taste in your mouth.
- Nut milks or coconut water: Great options for your liquid. They all contain significantly less sugar/carbohydrates than juice, so won’t affect your blood sugar, and the milks contain varying amounts of protein and healthy fat. Buy organic or make your own. It’s simple to make but you need the right tool for the job! Many people have strong opinions about their blenders. I love my Vitamix and it was worth every penny! I’ve tried a variety of other “high performance” blenders and none compare to the Vitamix…just sayin’ (I have no affiliation with Vitamix…this is just a personal opinion.).
- Fruit in small amounts: I suggest using a low glycemic fruit such as 1/2 cup of organic berries. **Keep in mind that, although fruit in and of itself is not harmful, it is high in naturally occurring sugar so should be limited to just 2 servings/day. You definitely don’t need an entire fruit salad in your smoothie!
- Veggies/greens: I like to put spinach and cauliflower in mine. The cauliflower is high in fiber, and provides antioxidants to defend against cancer, choline that is essential for learning and memory, and is absolutely undetectable in color and flavor. I buy organic and lightly steam it before freezing it, so I always have some on hand; the spinach adds protein, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, iron, and has other health benefits, without changing the flavor of the smoothie…but it will turn the smoothie a lovely light shade of green. Lots of people enjoy kale, celery, or cucumber in theirs as well. Spirulina or Chlorella is also great to add. These are algae that are considered to be “super foods” because of the nutrient blast they pack-protein, vitamins, minerals, omegas, fiber-they’ve got it all! Beware that a little goes a long way!
- Herbs and spices: Such as cinnamon, cayenne, cilantro or parsley (depending on whether you prefer sweet or savory).
- Healthy fat: adding part of a whole avocado, or a Tbsp of coconut oil, will give a creamy consistency to the smoothie while helping to protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation.
- Fiber: Chia, flax, and psyllium. Most people don’t come close to getting enough fiber in their diet each day. Fiber helps regulate your appetite and aids in elimination. Constipation should never be the reason you’re having a bad day! While you’re learning to add in more vegetables, try sneaking some fiber into your smoothie as a baby step. One suggestion if you do–you may need more liquid and want to drink your smoothie right away, as it will thicken quickly.
- Ginger or turmeric: Can spice things up a bit and have potent anti-inflammatory properties. I use a curcumin (the active ingredient in Turmeric) supplement that is blended with black pepper and a fat because it is more bio-available than raw turmeric.
- Medicinal mushroom powders: (Such as Turkey Tail, Maitake, Shitake, Cordyceps, Reishi, and Chaga) are anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-aging, immune boosting, and have regenerative properties.
- Matcha green tea powder: Offers potent antioxidants without the caffeine buzz, thanks to l-theanine. **This is also delicious as a warm beverage. Less than half of the caffeine in a regular cup of coffee!
Smoothies are a great way to sneak several servings of veggies in at the beginning of your day. People grossly overestimate how many veggies they eat in a day. One salad at lunch is not enough, especially when most salads consist of iceberg lettuce, and fewer veggies than cheese and unhealthy dressing. The recommended daily servings of vegetables are conservatively 7-9 (up to 13!) depending on age, gender, physical activity and the overall health of a person. If you measured that many servings into a bowl you would be amazed at the quantity! You’ve got to eat veggies for breakfast too…
What does 1 serving look like?
- ½ cup raw fruits/veggies
- 1 small whole apple, orange, or banana
- 1 cup leafy greens
- 1 small bell pepper
- ½ cup berries
- ½ cup cooked squash
A lot of people wonder about the difference between blending (smoothies) and juicing. Juicing can be a delicious way to occasionally enjoy some veggies, and fruit, but the quality of the juicer determines the nutrient content of the juice. Also, juicing removes the fiber from the vegetables and fruit, and the fiber is beneficial to your microbiome, while helping to slow the absorption of the sugar from the fruit, which in turn helps to stabilize your blood sugar. If you’re doing a short term cleanse, or just giving your gut a rest but still want some high quality vitamins and minerals, juicing can be great but eating whole, or blended, vegetables and fruit gives you the whole food, and all those magnificent micronutrients that work together.
How you start your day can have a powerful effect on your entire day, from a nutritional perspective as well as a personal one. Making yourself a priority is the first step toward making lasting changes in your health and, by feeding yourself in a way that provides the essential building blocks your body needs, you’ll have the energy you need to successfully navigate through your busy day. Pick and choose from the building blocks I’ve suggested and see what works best for you. If you’re completely new to smoothies, start simple. If you’re already doing smoothies, mix it up a bit with some new ingredients. Don’t be afraid to experiment! As long as you’re using high quality ingredients, and fresh organic fruits and veggies, you can’t get this wrong. Congratulate yourself for making YOU, and your health, a priority, and celebrate the fact that one small step can lead to amazing possibilities.