Sunday, March 3, 2013

First Step towards Eating Raw: Green Smoothies

First Step towards Eating Raw: Green Smoothies Okay, now I do understand that food, when eaten raw, claims to work unparalleled miracles for my mind and body(!) and is also lighter on our planet. I am also aware that there is a lot more to the raw food world for variety and nutrition than just the regular produce I see at my local grocery store. But what is the simplest thing I can do to start reaping the benefits of this regimen with minimal effort and time?

Fortunately, there does exist a "5-minute breakfast" in the raw food world. It is called a Green Smoothie. Whether or not this is a new menu item for you, this article discusses, in great details, why it is a key ingredient in our daily food palette. By the end of it, I truly hope to convince you to start your own one-green-smoothie-a-day routine for real.

To allure you into reading further, here is a picture of my VitaMix jar from one of these mornings.

In the jar: apple, purple kale, lemon, and alfa-alfa sprouts.

A "Complete" Meal

What would the nutritional chart of our ideal meal look like? It'd have to be rich in fiber, contain the recommended doses of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and be low in fat and carbs. All this while keeping sugar low and, most importantly, still tasting delicious.

We absolutely need to care about getting enough fiber in our diet. Among other things, it helps control blood sugar, keeps bad cholesterol low, regulates bowel movement, keeps us full for a longer time (so we don't pile on empty? calories every hour), and thereby, helps us maintain an optimal body weight. A fiber rich meal in the morning keeps us full until lunch but does not weigh us down like many oily and greasy commonly preferred processed breakfast foods.

The best sources of fiber are natural, plant-based foods - vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts. (Animal products are not rich in fiber - bad news for hardcore meat eaters.) It is also worth noting that most fruits are not particularly rich in fiber (berries and a few others being an exception). When we juice an orange or apple, we essentially get concentrated sugar (with a small amount of vitamins/minerals). That's why The Holy OJ and AJ are not proving to be good accompaniments to the American breakfast table =).

While consuming fruits in their juiced form alone is not healthy, whole fruits offer a wide array of nutritional value. Additionally, they taste great, often beating vegetables that have an equally good nutritional profile. When grown organically, many fruits can be eaten with their peel on; most peels supplement the nutrition that their fruits offers (and reduce prep time).

Why Add Greens?

If I say "Green is Life" and leave it at that, you'll probably roll your eyes and skip the rest of this article. So here is the elaborated version: greens are nutritionally very dense, calorie for calorie. They are rich in almost all essential minerals and vitamins, including proteins. Pull up the nutritional profile of the most common green leafy vegetables - kale, spinach, collard greens, romaine lettuce - using your favorite search engine and take a look yourself. Here's my favorite one - kale. The darker the green color, the richer the nourishment.

If you're into the evolution theory, you might be curious to know what primitive man ate all these centuries before the Industrial Revolution came and trampled on our food preferences beyond resemblance with our ancestors. It is interesting to know that chimpanzees, our closest kin, consume 40% greens in their diet. Since their food pyramid has been far less modified than ours, there are reasons to believe that that's how many greens we really need in our diet (I'm looking at you, USDA!). Not sure if this also how we got to the 60 to 40 ratio of fruits to greens for smoothies, as a general rule of thumb.

So, after all this ado,
Essential Morning Meal => Fruits + Greens
But where does a smoothie fit into the picture?

Why Make a Smoothie?

All the nutrients that the greens possess are stored inside the cells of the plants, well, of course. These cells are made of cellulose, one of the strongest molecular structures on the planet. (It is this tough material that helps plants to survive outdoors.) For valuable nutrients to be released, these cell walls need to be ruptured. These wall are not ruprured unless we masticate our greens very well. Failing to do so jams our digestive system and makes greens unpalatable for the longer term.

Once again, an evolution-enthusiast reader would agree that our jaw muscles have frailed over past several centuries as we started eating cooked and other heavily processed foods. We biologically evolve to adapt to changes in our environment; we simply no longer need strong enough teeth and jaw muscles to masticate on rough fiber as our next of kin, chimpanzees, do!

So we resort to blending to do the "chewing" for us. Thus, is incarnated, a smoothie.

Another advantage of eating a blended food in the morning is that our digestive system is still waking up and we need to function at full throttle to get through our busy day. A holistic meal like this releases tremendous amounts of nutrients and energy in the body without engaging the digestive system heavily to break it down.

Have you ever juiced a celery and had to clean up the tangled mess of long, strong threads stuck in the juicing auger? That's fiber. It is the pulp left behind by our juicer when we juice fruits and vegetables. We saw the benefits of a fiber-rich diet above. In fact, it is the presence of fiber that makes a smoothie a complete meal.

Finally, in a nutshell,
Fruits + Greens => Blending => Green Smoothie (a holistic meal)
Now let's spend some time on getting started on green smoothies.

Delicious green smoothie recipes

These are some of my most favorite green smoothie recipes. (Yes, I'm very partial to kale.) Blend approximately 60% fruits, 40% greens, and water to the desired consistency to enjoy these combinations.

Apple + lemon + kale
Strawberry + banana + romaine
Pineapple + kale
Pineapple + parsley
Orange + banana + parsley
Kiwi + banana + celery
Banana + kale

orange + banana + parsley green smoothie
A Note on Equipment

Buying a VitaMix is not a precursor to making smoothies at home! A personal blender does just fine, in the beginning at least. I had to run my personal blender for much longer to blend the ingredients well. As I started enjoying these smoothies and they became an essential part of my everyday routine, I was motivated to invest in a VitaMix.

Green smoothie resources

  • Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko
  • Green Smoothie Recolution by Boutenko, again
  • Countless books on for {green smoothie recipes}

Next Steps

I will be writing a follow up post to revisit green smoothies to talk about many other ingredients that can be added to them for further enrichment, variety, and taste. In a second post, I'll be talking about all the positive changes these have brought in my life. For now, this extensive treatise should suffice to generate some serious interest in this promising breakfast option. To good health for everyone!

  • 12 Steps to Raw Foods: How to End Your Dependency on Cooked Foods by Victoria Boutenko
  • Rigorous online reading...

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