When green smoothies are made mindfully, erring on the side of less is more, and sugar content is kept down they can provide a naturally energizing boost to your day. But in our smoothie-crazed society it's easy to overcomplicate the recipe, adding more ingredients and more complex combinations than we would otherwise eat on a plate in whole food form. Digesting food is the most energy-draining activity in our body, and our digestive system can become overly stressed when asked to digest too much or too many different types of food at once. From personal experience I know this to be true - when I've made my smoothie too complex, added too many healthy fats, or too much fruit/dates I feel sluggish and lethargic afterward.
So in an attempt to get back to the basics of green smoothie making I'm sharing with you my Nourished Green Smoothie recipe and a few tips to keep in mind for a truly energizing smoothie. But most importantly, as we all metabolize and assimilate foods differently, I encourage you to take this information and adapt it to your body's needs by really tuning into how you respond after drinking a smoothie. Note how you feel energetically and emotionally, both immediately after drinking and 2-4 hours out, and adjust accordingly.
The LowDown on Caffeine Lows
In this Food as Energy series I'm excited to share three not-so-obvious nutrition topics that I've honed in on over time as having an influential impact on my energy levels. And I hope that by sharing these topics with you, it may also help you identify ways to improve your energy. Caffeine is the first (and most obvious) topic. With the weather getting warmer, green smoothies are the perfect segue into the caffeine debate. With their slow-burning, blood sugar stabilizing, and therefore energizing effect on body and mood, they can be a great replacement for that morning cup of coffee or afternoon soda for anyone trying to cut back on caffeine.
Caffeine, especially in the form of coffee, is very controversial. As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach it is my job to give you a more complete picture of such topics so that you can decide what is best for you.
Pros of Coffee
Many studies have proven the antioxidants in coffee* have a protective effect against some forms of cancer and other diseases. Furthermore, for some people coffee provides the main source of phytonutrients, especially antioxidants in their diet, and taking away coffee would mean taking away a very essential protective dietary component. But for the rest of us who have a fairly healthy and balanced diet (which I'm assuming you have if you're following here), we are likely *and preferably* getting the majority of antioxidants from whole fruits and vegetables. Therefore coffee should be treated as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.
*Note: The pros I am talking about here concern clean caffeinated beverages such as black (preferably organic) coffee and green and white teas. Coffee beverages such as lattes filled with dairy and sugar do not have the same health benefits, and soft drinks and artificial energy drinks should not be in our diet at all.
Cons of Caffeine
While I don't negate coffee's benefits, the negative effects of the high amounts of caffeine in coffee (let alone the high concentration of toxic chemicals found on conventional beans that the majority of us are using, which is another post all together) are rarely addressed in these studies. Excess consumption of caffeine is detrimental to sustaining energy levels long-term and aging well, which I've detailed below.
- Accelerates brain aging: Our brain, like the rest of our body naturally ages over time. And our diet and lifestyle behaviors can either accelerate this aging process (smoking, drugs, excess alcohol/caffeine, lack of exercise, etc) or decelerate it (exercise, healthy diet, stress management).
- Promotes loss of bone density: Large amounts of caffeinated beverages can leach calcium from bones. Calcium is a mineral essential for bone health and warding off osteoporosis.
- Encourages adrenal fatigue: Adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate metabolism, blood pressure, immune response, and respond to stress. Caffeine stimulates our adrenals and gets them working in a way they would not work naturally, which can lead to exhaustion and disrupt the natural rhythm of hormone production and regulation. This can result in depressed mood, fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances, and a higher susceptibility to illness.
- Weakens immune system: Caffeine is highly acidic and irritating to our gut. It can thin the lining of our stomach overtime, thereby compromising the integrity of the immune cells found in the lining and weaken our immune defenses.
- Compromises sleep quality: Even if we can fall asleep, caffeine can affect our sleep quality and load. Among other things chronic lack of sleep can result in elevated insulin, increased appetite, difficulty managing weight or weight gain, and increased cortisol levels and difficulty managing stress and anxiety.
This is not about all together removing something that brings us joy and pleasure. It's about finding a way to enjoy the highest quality possible and in moderation. It is also about choosing to drink it because it's pleasurable, not because we are dependent on it to wake up in the morning or get through the afternoon. Here's a quick self-check: If you can skip your morning coffee for a day or several without experiencing withdrawal symptoms or feeling you need it to maintain energy, you've found the right balance.
Green Smoothie Basics
- Follow the ratio 2 vegetables: 1 fruit OR have twice the volume of greens as fruit - this ensures you're getting the alkalizing and blood sugar stabilizing effects
- Include a healthy fat to help you absorb fat-soluble nutrients (nuts/nut butter, chia, avocado, cold-pressed oils such as coconut or flax)
- Include acidic or sharper flavors such as lemon, ginger, fresh herbs to brighten and lighten the smoothie and in the case of lemon and ginger, to stimulate digestion
- Raw volume of food added to the blender should not be more than you would eat in one sitting had you kept the ingredients whole
- Enjoy smoothies at room temperature and on their own as a meal or snack.
The Nourished Green Smoothie
- 1 handful (~1 cup) romaine, chopped
- 2 inch piece English cucumber, chopped
- Thumb size piece ginger or more to taste, peeled
- 12-15 mint leaves
- 1/2 mango, peeled and chopped
- Juice from 1/4-1/2 lemon
- 2 Brazil nuts (or spoonful nut butter of choice)
- 1 cup (250 ml) water, or less depending on how thick you like your smoothie
- Add everything to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately.
- Hemp seeds
- Maca powder
- Chia seeds
*Substitutions: I like romaine lettuce (or little gems if you can find it) because it's super crisp and sweet. Plus it has a lower oxalate content, the naturally occurring chemical found in dark leafy greens that if eaten raw in excess can bind with calcium and other nutrients and potentially interfere with absorption. But spinach, kale, or a mix of any of the three work well too.
A small handful parsley leaves, cilantro, or a mix can be substituted for mint.