The great thing about smoothies is the ability to pack a lot of healthy ingredients into a drink. The bad thing is most smoothies that are commercially available are high in calories and low in quality.
Smoothies make a great afternoon snack, too. Especially the time of day when you’ve just gotten home from work, you’re not ready for dinner, but your body needs a little “something.” Or an afternoon snack when you know you are not going to dinner for a while but want something that tastes pretty good.
I like making smoothies, because with them I know I can get into my body the things that I may not get in my daily diet. It allows me to pack in some healthy components, and here are a few things that I keep next to my blender that are important to my morning routine.
Fiber is material that the body does not digest in the guts. It helps keep people “regular” – and that means it will bulk things up. Fiber was once thought to prevent colon cancer, but that is not true. What it can prevent is diverticulosis (a disease of the colon where sometimes we have to perform a colostomy and remove part of the colon). Fiber can also prevent hemorrhoids (and if you have them it can help get rid of them).
The American Dietetic society recommends adults get 21 – 38 grams of fiber a day – and most get less than half of that amount. The best sources of fiber are vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains. Fiber adds bulk to the diet – and can make you feel satisfied for a long period of time.
I like adding fiber to supplement my diet, and there are a whole bunch of these products on the market. Some of them can cause gas – so I prefer those that do not – like Citrucel. Adding Citrucel to a smoothie gives me a boost of fiber and “keeps me going.” This type of fiber is called methyl-cellulose. It is found commonly in plants – and your body doesn’t digest it, but it acts as a broom to clean things out.
Flaxseed is a grain that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, that may help reduce the risk of heart disease. These are healthy fatty acids that help reduce total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. Think of your blood vessels like plumbing. Over time they get clogged with things like low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Think of Omega-3 fatty acids as the Drano for your plumbing. While you want to avoid putting things in that will clog those arteries, you also need some help getting rid of old bad habits. The whole grain is not always digested – so I prefer ground flaxseed. I typically add a tablespoon of this to the smoothie.
Protein isn’t always needed in a smoothie- especially if you are getting enough protein from your regular diet. But if you need some protein, a whey based protein is helpful. I use a product called Unjury. This is a medical protein that you can purchase online. We use that because it is the tastiest of the proteins out there (based on a taste test of my patients). It also has no added calories. Some of the flavored proteins also add a bit of different tastes to the smoothie, and the protein gives the smoothie a nice consistency and flavor.
Artificial sweeteners are either the saving grace of America, or the cause of evil. My basic take on sweeteners is that you should use natural food, and not artificial sweeteners. The first issue with artificial sweeteners came to light when cyclamates were found to cause cancer in rats. So in 1969 cyclamates were taken off the market. Saccharin was the next agent, but many didn’t like its after taste. Then came aspartame (Equal). This had no bitter after taste and became the favorite until someone started a rumor that aspartame killed ants, and was originally used as a rat poison. This is untrue on both counts. First, aspartame was developed as an artificial sweetener and second, it does not kill ants (I tried it, as have a lot of others – sadly it doesn’t work).
Splenda does contain calories (because of our FDA regulations it is allowed to be listed as “zero calories” but it is not). Splenda has 3.36 calories per packet (1 gram). It tastes like sugar- is made from sugar – and is generally easy to deal with. Two other sweeteners have joined the market in the United States. Stevia is a product of several plants and was recently approved as a food additive in the United States, and Truvia (a proprietary blend of Stevia made by Coca-Cola and Cargill the Pepsi produce it PureVia). These are essentially all the same. There are some other sugar-alcohols like Xylitol that work.
The issue with artificial sweeteners has been getting used to the sweet taste, and increase in appetite. In rats that are consuming artificial sweeteners, there is an increase in their body weight over time as they increase the amount of food they consume. Not that we are rats, but avoiding the sweet taste is important. And it’s no accident that while many of my weight loss patients consumes large quantities of “diet cola,” they still consume a lot of calories to go with the diet soda. It is also no accident that once our patients get off artificial sweeteners, they do much better.
Overall, avoid the artificial sweeteners. But when it comes to smoothies, you can add just a bit. Want to know what’s even better than Splenda (which I only use for very tart berries) ? BLUEBERRIES – a great natural sweetener.
There is nothing like a smoothie to start the day, and sometimes when I first walk in the door from the office. Waking up after a night of sleep means you need some fluid – just like after a long day of work! So having a smoothie is quick and easy. The addition of some protein powder and fiber makes this a great start to the day (or end of the day).
1 ounce of Vanilla Whey (I use Unjury from unjury.com – it is a medical protein)
1 cup of frozen strawberries
4 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of sugar free Citrucel (fiber supplement)
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of Splenda
Blend in a blender until smooth. It makes two servings
144 calories, 22 g protein, 0.1 g fat, 0 cholesterol, 4.15 gm of fiber
A word about blenders: There are lots of them on the market. Get a good one. Most professional chefs have a Vitamix in their kitchens at home and at work. They are expensive, but they are worth the extra money, and they have a wide range of things to do besides crush ice for the margarita.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.