Smoothies are a great way to get a lot of goodness and nutrients in and can bulk out a meal that’s otherwise not nutrient-dense enough or not big enough. I often advise my clients in my health coaching sessions to add a nutrient-dense smoothie to their breakfast to stretch them out until lunch time to avoid the need to snack a couple hours after breakfast and to give our digestive system a good long break in between meals. It works every time. Smoothies can also be a convenient “breakfast on the go” when time for a sit down meal is not an option.
I have been making and drinking smoothies as part of or as my family’s breakfast for over 10 years almost every day. But not all smoothies are created equal. In my health coaching sessions I see many well-meaning people put some things into their smoothies that are not the best option or down right No-Nos and today I want share with you 4 things that should never go into a smoothie:
1. the whole egg
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Egg yolks can be eaten raw and are a powerhouse of nutrients. I call them nature’s multivitamin pill. Throw in as many as you want in your smoothies especially if you are not eating eggs separately and especially if you want to sneak in some eggy goodness into your kids if they are not otherwise keen on eggs. Egg whites on the other hand MUST BE COOKED and must not be eaten raw as a general rule. To find out why, and the consequences of regularly eating raw egg whites, refer to one of my earlier blog posts here.
2. raw leafy greens
Green smoothies and green juices have been all the rage for a long time now and are viewed as the ultimate holy grail of healthiness in the wellness industry. I’m not a huge fan of them for regular consumption. Firstly I’m a wholefoods advocate so I prefer to consume the whole of a piece of produce rather than just the juice of it as you lose the pulp (which contains fibre) and often antioxidants in the juicing process. As Anthia Koullouros in her book “I am Food” so eloquently puts “your digestive system is a first class juicer, extractor and blender”. Well said!! Giving up juicing 10 years ago saved me a heck of a lot of time, money and washing up, not to mention reducing fructose intake that wreaked total havoc on my digestive health.
If you are consuming the whole of a piece of fruit or vegetable (as you do when making a smoothie as everything is blended up and consumed together) you are consuming all necessary component parts of it as nature intended BUT you need to make sure that certain foods are properly prepared to maximise nutrient-density and minimise anti-nutrients. Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, rainbow chard, collard greens and silverbeet contain oxalates and other naturally occurring anti-nutrients that bind minerals in the body making then unavailable to be absorbed and properly digested. Cooking reduces these anti-nutrients! So if you want to add kale, spinach, rainbow chard or silverbeet to your smoothies, you should cook them first eg steaming or sauteeing. I personally prefer to eat my cooked leafy greens drowned in lemon juice and seasoned with sea salt, cracked pepper and fistfuls of fresh chopped herbs and shaved reggio, rather than adding them cooked to a smoothie.
Raw leafy greens like raw kale and collard greens are also high in goitrogens. Goitrogens suppress the function of the thyroid and inhibit the uptake of iodine. For people with hypothyroidism this can potentially worsening their condition. Pregnant women in particular should be careful to not overconsume raw leafy greens high in goitrogens because a developing baby needs adequate levels of thyroid hormone. For more info on raw veggies and thyroid read this post by Chris Kresser or the article “Cleansing Myths and Dangers” in Wise Traditions Journal Spring 2015 p23.
3. soy milk
“Are people still drinking soy milk?!?!?” one of my besties recently asked me. Stand in the queue for a coffee at any café (organic or otherwise) and you will find that the answer is a resounding yes. I consumed it for 10 years back in the day thinking, once again, that it was a healthier option. The reasons why soy milk is not a healthy option are all set out in one my earlier posts on soy here.
Healthier options are whole full fat dairy milk, full fat yogurt or milk kefir (fermented milk ). These are all great options if you can tolerate dairy. If you can’t, opt for coconut yogurt, coconut milk or coconut water, or nut milks (though I tend to advise clients to go easy on the nut milks as it is very easy to overconsume nuts in this way with the consequences set out in one of my earlier posts here where the discussion was on nut butters but applies to nut milks too).
4. protein powders
There seems to be this belief among body builders, gym enthusiasts and athletes that if you train or exercise (however intensely or otherwise) you need to consume a “protein” powder because it is a guaranteed way to enhance athletic performance or without it your muscles will surely waste away into oblivion. Some people use protein powders as a meal replacement for fat loss. I think our society has become too protein powder obsessed truth be told.
Protein is certainly needed for growth and repair of muscles and other osteo-skeletal tissue, but eating 3 square nutrient-dense meals a day with about a palm-size of protein from real (natural and wholefood) sources per meal should give you all the protein you really need regardless of what exercise or training you are doing. Grass fed meat, pastured poultry, pastured organ meat, wild seafood, full fat pastured dairy (if tolerated), bone broth from the bones of pastured or wild animals and cooked pastured eggs- this is nature’s ultimate protein food!! This is the very protein that served us for millennium. If this was good enough for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to give them the sustenance needed to hunt down and kill a wild elk for dinner and to support their herculean displays of strength and stamina required to get through an ordinary day, then surely it would suffice the modern day homo sapien for a 1 hour cross fit training session at the local gym. Indeed I saw first hand when I was nutrition coaching for the Sydney Roosters in 2012 that sporting legends like Anthony Minichiello at the very top of their game didn’t touch protein powders despite their gruelling 6-8 hours of training per day. They just ate real food!
Most protein powders do more harm than good because of all of the synthetic amino acids and other processed and artificial ingredients they contain. Ignore all of the marketing fluff on the container and just be solely interested in what comes after the word “Ingredients”. If there is stuff in there that your great grandmother wouldn’t have eaten or wouldn’t have recognised, then as a general rule don’t touch it. Whey protein, pea protein, soy protein, hemp protein (and all the rest) are not wholefood sources of protein and are typically processed in such a way as to denature the protein and strip away natural goodness. Also, there’s a huge difference in terms of bioavailability of animal versus plant proteins. Animal proteins are more bioavailable than plant proteins across the board, but even for protein powders derived from animal proteins, the source and processing of the product needs careful attention to ensure that it is indeed a high quality product. I have observed that most people - even people who seem to tolerate dairy well- do not tolerate whey protein powders well, even on the cleanest brands (grass-fed, non-denatured whey that comes from pasture-raised cattle that aren’t given antibiotics or hormones), leaving them feeling bloated afterwards.
For clients who insist on having more protein pre and/or post training, I recommend a cup of bone broth (aka stock) which is high in protein and is easily digested to provide instant energy. Glucosamine (part of the glycosaminoglycan family of collagen bio molecules found in broth) is somehow able pass through the intestinal wall intact without going through all of the normal digestive processes therefore requiring little energy to digest. Once glucosamine gets into the bloodstream it targets cartilage and stimulates the growth of new healthy collagen which is found all throughout our osteo-skeletal system, thus building and repairing joints, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Compared to home made gelatinous broth, synthetic supplements are poor substitute as they do not house the entire extended family of glycosaminoglycans which home-made stock house, are processed and much more expensive.
If you feel you genuinely need to consume more protein above and beyond bone broth or other real food sources of protein that I set out above, or perhaps you are wanting something in a more convenient form, or perhaps you require additional osteo-skeletal support (eg for osteoarthritis, joint pain or osteoporosis) or need extra support for lacklustre hair, skin and brittle nails, or perhaps you are unable to easily digest real food sources of protein (eg coming off a vegetarian diet with low stomach acid or bile insufficiency), then in any of these cases I suggest Collagen Hydrosolate which is a single ingredient source of pure collagen made from collagen enzymatically extracted from the hide of pastured cows. Reputable brands include GelPro or Great Lakes. (We sell the GelPro brand at my retail store Broth Bar & Larder simply because it is Australian made). Collagen Hydrosolate comes as a tasteless powder and 1-2 tablespoons dissolves instantly in any hot or cold drink such as water or smoothies or can be added to porridge or hot meals. Containing high amounts of the amino acids glycine, lysine and proline, this is what I call a real non-nonsense protein powder. Hydrolyzed means “it’s partially digested and broken down into smaller peptides which are more easily absorbed across the gut lumen into the bloodstream, so that means it’s going to be more bioavailable than even beef that you would eat in whole form or beef protein powder that’s not hydrolysed” (source: Chris Kresser). It is absorbed within 30 minutes. Unlike gelatin powder, collagen hydrosolate will not congeal when chilled. In the long term, I do not recommend collagen hydrosolate as a substitute for wholefood sources of animal protein, but as a supplement to real food sources if you feel you need it. I personally add a tablespoon into my and my kids’ smoothies a few times a week. While collagen hydrosolate doesn’t do any harm, I don’t think that it is necessary to buy expensive protein powders and supplements if you just eat real nutrient-dense food. For a more detailed discussion on this, book into one of my bone broth workshops.
Ok so here is my smoothie recipe below for you to enjoy!
Wholefood Super Smoothie Recipe
Process the following with a hand held stick blender (I like Cuisinart brand) or stand alone blender until mixed well:
- Choose a base: 3/4 cup yoghurt (eg Meredith Sheeps milk) or home-made kefir (or coconut water, coconut milk, coconut yogurt for dairy-free smoothie)
- Choose a natural sweetener: ½ banana or 1-2 dates or 1-2 teaspoons of raw honey or maple syrup. These would not be necessary with coconut water which is already quite sweet.
- Protein booster: 1 tablespoon of frozen or refrigerated home-made gelatinous beef bone broth (tip: freeze beef broth in ice-cube trays and add 1 ice-cube per smoothie or buy my frozen beef broth cubes or frozen beef broth & spinach cubes if not eating green separately). If home-made beef broth not available, then 1 tbsp Collagen Hydrolysate (plain or Peruvian Superfood blend) sold at Broth Bar & Larder or online at GPA Wholefoods or GelPro).
- Add extra optional nutrient-density: 2 teaspoons shaved raw frozen livers, ½-1 tbsp extra virgin cold pressed coconut oil or Brain Octane Oil, 1-2 raw egg yolks (if not eating eggs separately).
- Choose a flavour:
Chocolate: ½ - 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
Vanilla: ¼ teaspoon vanilla bean powder
Cinnamon: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder and pinch of nutmeg
Berry: 1/4 cup of frozen or fresh berries
Mango: flesh of 1/2 ripe mango (fresh or frozen)
Lime & Mint: juice of lime plus handful of mint leaves (use with dairy-free base)