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The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.
Last week, we took a look at the differences between juicing and blending. Each have their own fantastic health benefits and serve different purposes. Today, we’re going green! Let’s talk about green smoothies.
So What is a Green Smoothie?
Green smoothies are made using a combination of leafy greens, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. They are blended until smooth in a blender, and you can use various liquids to help thin things out, so you’re not trying to drink a salad. Adding ice or using frozen fruits/veggies/greens will give it a soft-serve-like texture. Green smoothies can range from what I call “hardcore” (mustard greens and cilantro) to more mild (celery and cucumber). If there are greens involved, it counts!
What Does a Green Smoothie Do For Me?
“Compared to people who eat only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts—as part of a healthy diet—are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases. These diseases include stroke, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and perhaps heart disease.” – from the CDC website
Do you need to drink green smoothies to be healthy? Nope.
Do you need to eat a variety of fruits, veggies, and greens to be healthy? Yes.
Every arguing health camp out there agrees that eating your fruits and vegetables is important to your health, recommending 5-10 servings per day. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) “How Many Do I Need” calculator, I personally need 2.5 cups of veggies and 1.5 cups of fruit per day. Not a bad guideline. I don’t know about you, but even when I make an effort, getting in a good amount of veggies everyday isn’t easy for me.
That’s where the green smoothie can help.
You can blend up a mix of greens, veggies, and fruits and knock out a couple servings of fruits and veggies in a glass. Adding fruits can soften up the sometimes bitter flavor of raw greens, making it more palatable for picky appetites. If you aren’t getting enough fruits and veggies in your diet, adding a couple green smoothies a day may help you out.
How to Build a [Mild] Green Smoothie
Let’s have some fun building a green smoothie! What will you need? Greens/veggies, fruit, healthy fat, and liquid. If you’re new to blending your veggies, start with some of the milder greens. Try: 2 cups of raw baby spinach, 1 banana (frozen or fresh), 1 avocado (no peel or pit), 1 cup of other fruit (strawberries, pineapple, orange, kiwi, etc), 1 – 1 ½ cup liquid (water, coconut water, almond milk, or coconut milk), ice as desired.
Don’t have one of the ingredients? No problem! Substitute something you do have. Collards, romaine lettuce, and swiss chard are mild greens that will happily take over for spinach. I love avocado in my smoothie, and it’s a great way to use an avocado that is about to “turn”. If you don’t have one to spare, substitute another healthy fat. I like using coconut oil, but a small handful of raw nuts work well too.
How to Build a [Hardcore] Green Smoothie
Variety is the spice of life…and health! Switching up your normal produce will change the nutrients you consume, adding variety to your diet. For example, dandelion greens are 14% protein, high in calcium, rich in iron, loaded with beta-carotene, and B vitamins.They are also said to be great for detoxifying the liver. Start exchanging some of the ingredients in your basic mild smoothie with more nutrient dense options. Or maybe try cutting back on high glycemic fruits in favor of lower glycemic fruits. Bananas and pineapple have a moderately high GI (glycemic index- the lower a food’s glycemic index, the less it affects blood sugar and insulin levels) in the 60’s, whereas apples and berries have a low GI under 30.
Does It Matter Which Greens I Use?
Yes and No. Adding more greens, veggies, and fruit of any kind will be great for your health! If you just love blending spinach, go for it. However, not all greens are created equal, and each green has different nutritional properties. You can look them all up online and compare fiber, nutrients, minerals, protein…but that’s a bit of a headache. Thankfully, nutrient density has been beautifully simplified, thanks to the ANDI score.
You may have seen ANDI scores posted with the produce where you shop. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index”, and it’s a number from 0-1000+. It analyzes the: Calcium, Carotenoids, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, plus ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). The higher ANDI score, the more nutrient dense the food. Kale and collards top the charts with an ANDI score of 1000. Spinach scores high with 739. Romaine lettuce scores a 389. (Bonus: cocoa powder scores 589!) The ANDI score is a handy tool for selecting more nutrient dense foods, but don’t make it your only tool. You’ll notice that the healthy fats (avocado, olive oil for example) have a low ANDI score. Does that mean they’re unhealthy? No, it just means they are not nutrient dense. Their health-boosting power hides as healthy fats, which can’t be qualified as a nutrient.
Recipes and Tips
You’ve probably noticed that green smoothies are kind of popular these days. If you’re interested in mixing one up, start with the mild recipe above and tailor it to your tastes. You can change fruits, concentrations, liquids, and greens to make something you love. RawFamily has put together a video showing 15 Green Smoothies in 3 minutes. I liked this video because it shows you basic smoothie building technique, and they give you 15 great green smoothie recipes. I used something very similar to recipe #13 (1 cup frozen Blueberries, ¼ pound Spinach, 1 Orange, 1 cup water) as one of my first green smoothies.
Speaking of my first green smoothie…it did not go well. This was about 2-3 years ago, and I really messed it up. Since then, I’ve learn a few tips and tricks to successful green smoothie making.
Add the liquid first. If you place bulky produce or frozen stuff at the bottom, it will be harder for the blender blade to do its job. By adding the liquid before the produce, you’re giving the blades room to work.
Watch your speed. Keep the blender on low (or pulse) to break up larger foods or frozen chunks. Gradually increase the speed until you get a nice, even smoothie. Sometimes, I’ll have to turn the speed back to low to check for any remaining chunks.
Thin it out. The biggest problem I had was not using enough liquid. If your blades are turning but the smoothie isn’t moving, you need more liquid. Add a little more liquid slowly until the smoothie starts moving again.
Thicken it up. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes smoothies end up too thin. There are a few options for thickening up your smoothie: add ½ a banana, some avocado, or some more ice. These will add a little extra bulk to hold things together.
Taste it. When you think you’re done, give it a taste! If it doesn’t taste good, don’t ditch it. Add something to sweeten it up. Bananas, dates, pure maple syrup, or stevia will improve the flavor. Do whatever it takes to make the smoothie taste great! You’ve invested a lot of time and produce already, and it won’t do you any good if you don’t drink it.
The Blender. You don’t need a high powered blender to make green smoothies, but they really do a better job (I would hope so, considering the price tag!). However, don’t worry. There are a few tricks to getting leafy greens to blend better in regular blenders. Before adding the greens to your smoothie, chop them up. As you build your smoothie, start with the liquid, add your greens, and a little bit of ice or banana (thickener) before adding everything else. Blend the greens, liquid, and thickener until the greens are mostly blended, then add the rest of your smoothie ingredients. If all else fails, use less greens. If you find yourself in love with green smoothies and making them daily, you would probably really enjoy a fancy-pants blender. (Side note- most fancy-pants blender manufacturers have a reconditioned section on their site. It’s a great way to save money on a new blender purchase.)
How Big Is a Serving?
If we’re going to get deliberate in increasing fruits and veggies in our diet, we need to know what our goals are. So, how many fruits and veggies do you actually get in a green smoothie? Back at the CDC site, you’ll find a basic little guide for estimating your volume of veggies.
Here are a few examples of what is equal to 1 cup of fruits or veggies:
2 cups raw greens
2 stalks of celery
1 small apple
Let’s take a look at how many cups of fruits and veggies you’d get from the mild recipe above:
2 cups of raw baby spinach = 1 cup of veggies
1 banana (frozen or fresh) = 1 cup of fruit
1 avocado (no peel or pit)= 1 cup of veggies
1 cup of other fruit (strawberries, pineapple, orange, kiwi, etc) = 1 cup of fruit
Grand Total per Batch = 2 cups of veggies, 2 cups of fruit
Here’s the kicker, though…that recipe makes over 4 glasses (not cups) of smoothie. You would have to drink the whole batch of smoothie to take in all those servings of fruits and veggies. That’s a lot of smoothie!
Saving on Your Smoothies
Since smoothies use the whole fruit, I think it’s important to use organic produce when you can.
1. Prioritize your spending by choosing organic options for the “dirty dozen” list of produce: apples, grapes, peaches, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, spinach, pears, cherries, lettuce, and potatoes.
2. Shop in season. Apple season is here (yay!), making it an affordable time to buy apples. If you can subscribe to a local produce co-op, you will get a selection of in-season, local produce every week for a (usually) great price.
3. Don’t forget the freezer section! Organic berries, peaches, and spinach are available frozen…perfect for your smoothie!
4. Don’t let your fresh produce spoil. Any time your produce is about to turn, just wash it, chop it, and stick it in the freezer. You’ll start building a stash of frozen smoothie ingredients and always have something on hand.
I don’t mind eating my greens and veggies. For me, personally, snacking on a handful of spinach greens or kale chips is easier than going through the process of blending a smoothie and drinking 2-3 glasses of it. However, it’s a different story for my kids. If you (or your kids) are more likely to enjoy some green smoothies than eat veggies during the day, the green smoothie may be a game changer for you. The goal is to consume more greens, veggies, and fruit. As long as you’re working toward that goal, you’re doing something great for your health!
More greens! We’ve talked green smoothies, now what’s the deal with green juices? There are expensive juicing plans you can have shipped to your house, all promising everything from weight loss to detoxing. Is it hype? We’ll take a look at green juices, what they are, and what they can do.