We’ve added whole food green smoothies to our Juice Bar pre-made shelf. These drinks offer multiple servings of organic, raw and unpasteurized greens and fresh or frozen-fresh organic fruits and berries. Blended with reverse osmosis filtered water, all have the addition of one or more superfoods to strengthen their nutritional profile while tasting much more like a treat than a mouthful of kale.
Why ruin a perfectly tasty fruit smoothie with a bunch of salad? Basically, we could all benefit from more greens... a lot more greens. With more valuable nutrients than any other food group, few calories and little fat, greens are like leafy multivitamins. The problem is, to most of our palates, they taste like them too. Beyond creating a perceived need to add salt and fat in the form of dressing, this apparent lack of deliciousness leads to another problem: we tend to not chew them properly.
What is properly? When it comes to fresh, raw greens, properly means a lot. Leaves need to stand up to the elements, making their tough cellulose structure difficult to break down by stomach acids alone. If one fails to meticulously masticate, much of the nutrient will pass right through the stomach and intestines unabsorbed. Chewing each bite to liquid is the first step in assimilating all the goodness greens have to offer. For most people that is nearly impossible and almost never enjoyable. While cooking food can help to soften tough vegetable matter making digestion easier, it can also causes a loss of some of the beneficial nutrients like folate, chlorophyll, magnesium and other water soluble vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Blending greens accomplishes this mechanical breakdown more completely than we are able to with teeth and cooking alone and causes little or no nutrient loss. However, it is still important to chew each sip of smoothie in order to mix it with saliva, exposing it to the digestive enzyme amylase and beginning the breakdown of starches into smaller carbohydrate units.
Blending yields another benefit as it leaves less work for the stomach with a reduced demand for hydrochloric acid production. Healthy stomach acidity is an often overlooked part of overall health. Most minerals like calcium, zinc, iron and the B-complex vitamins require adequate HCL levels in order to be absorbed at all. Beginning the digestion of proteins, HCL is not just responsible for preparing food for the small intestine, but it is also our body’s first line of defense against all harmful microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, parasites and their eggs that enter through the mouth.
Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) is quite common and becomes more prevalent with age. The parietal cells in the stomach that produce HCL can also be worn down prematurely by over-consumption of fats and proteins as well as by heightened overall stress levels and chemical exposure. Blended green smoothies need less breakdown by HCL, making good use of what we have available and taking some of the strain off of its production, often leading to a renewed ability to create adequate amounts of digestive acids. In one small study 66 percent of participants with hypochlorhydria showed improvement in production of HCL after one month of daily green smoothie consumption.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of whole blended greens is not what they put into us, but what they help to take out. Nearly all the waste produced by our body ends up in our large intestine. Dust, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, as well as our own dead cells, are all sent into the colon for disposal. Greens are one of the best sources of insoluble dietary fiber, which our body depends on to deal with all this detritus. Under a microscope, insoluble fiber looks like a sponge, and that is exactly how it behaves, absorbing much more than its own weight in toxins. While the recommended daily minimums for fiber are between 25 and 30 grams, the average American consumes less than half of that. Like cleaning the whole house with one little sponge, that tiny amount of fiber simply cannot accomplish the job well.
In addition to insoluble fiber, the fruit in green smoothies contains a good amount of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber’s gel-like consistency improves elimination by increasing the volume of bulk in the colon and also binds together cholesterol in the small intestine, taking it out of the body and effectively lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. One of the best sources of soluble fiber is chia seed, which you will find as an ingredient
in all of our green smoothies. Worth an article all its own, chia seed is a rich dietary resource. A complete protein, chia seeds contain high levels of 18 amino acids and are also the most concentrated plant source of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. In addition, chia’s soluble fiber and high viscosity vegetable gums slow gastric emptying and reduce the rate at which sugars are digested, helping to even out blood sugar and prolong the energy release of foods consumed with chia.
Green smoothies are easily made at home, although a high-speed blender is a big help with processing tough, fibrous greens like kale and parsley. Start with some sweet fruit like a banana or mango and perhaps some antioxidant rich berries or a cored apple. Add a handful of baby spinach, romaine, or other leafy green and enough water to blend, then blend it for at least a minute or two per serving. There is really no “wrong” recipe, but keeping it simple may be easier to digest in the beginning. Also while they are extraordinarily healthy, the cruciferous vegetables like kale, collard greens, watercress and bok choy can be hard for some to digest. Lightly steaming them first can help, or just use another nutritious green. It is also good to vary your recipes as plants high in one nutrient may be low in another and vice versa.
Of course, you can always stop by the Co-op and pick up one of ours. While green smoothies will keep for up to three days, we try to make just enough to sell out by the end of the night, so more are made fresh each morning. Also, as the summer progresses, keep an eye out for new recipes incorporating a wide array of local and seasonal greens and fruits.
Possibly the easiest way to incorporate large quantities of healing, nutrient rich greens into your diet, green smoothies make a great first meal of the day. Making extra gives you a healthy snack to consume later that, in addition to feeding you real food, can lessen the desire for an unhealthy snack or a huge dinner. Youmay notice over time your tolerance for greens steadily increasing. Most people report a change in their palate, finding themselves much more attracted to greens and other healthful foods, while slowly losing cravings for processed or sugary foods and stimulants.
If you are interested in more information, or a good source for green smoothie recipe ideas, you may want to take a look at Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko available in the Health and Wellness section of the store.