Adam's Corner

Smoothies 102

You put stuff in a blender. You run the blender. 30 seconds later, you have a healthy breakfast.

But what, exactly, should go in the blender? Last month, I listed four foundational ingredients that ought to be in every smoothie: protein powder, frozen fruit, fish or flax oil, and greens powder. This month, I’ll mention five more bonus ingredients. In case you’re worried, everything will taste just fine: you shouldn’t have to start your day with a grimace.

And if you want to skip talk of ingredients, and get straight to recipes, come in and ask for a copy of our “Smoothie Inspiration” recipe sheet.Bee Pollen: Strictly speaking, we should call this flower pollen. Bees don’t produce it; they just gather it. When they come back to the hive, the pollen is gently brushed off their legs by a pollen trap.  The bees don’t seem to notice the difference.

Pollen is a legitimate superfood, one of our most concentrated sources of general vitamins, minerals, and protective phytonutrients. All of the energy from the plant – all of its hope, all its biological imperative to create a next generation – is concentrated in its pollen.

If you go on the internet, you’ll see dozens of health conditions that people claim pollen can prevent, treat, and even cure. Personally, I don’t think pollen cures much. It’s not a medicine.  (Although it can certainly help seasonal allergies…) Pollen is about more than any specific health condition. It’s one of our best supplements for general health and wellbeing. I like to sprinkle a heaping teaspoon on top of my smoothie, just because it looks really pretty, and kind of gourmet – a smoothie garnish. Then again, I do the same thing with my oatmeal, berry cobbler, and even salad.

Maca Powder: This South American native has been called Ginseng of the Andes. Like ginseng, it’s a knotty, gnarly root packed with energizing and stress-relieving saponins.

Maca isn’t a stimulant. It doesn’t give you that JOLT you feel with coffee. Instead, it gently and reliably adds to your energy reserves through the day. I hate to use unscientific jargon like that, where I simply say “it increases wellbeing.” But it’s true.

In one small study of post-menopausal Hong Kong women, a small dose of 3 grams a day of Maca was compared to placebo over 6 weeks. There was no measurable difference in immune function or hormone levels between the groups. However, the Maca group did experience a decrease in blood pressure, and an improvement in mood.

(There’s a good reason why the researchers here looked at hormone levels. A fair amount of research has shown Maca to increase “sexual energy” in both men and women. So of course you wonder, is it some sort of crazy hormonal stimulant? Again and again, it appears not to be. Whatever benefits it has – on energy, mood, and general wellbeing – appears independent of the male or female endocrine systems. Whatever benefits it has on sexuality is probably secondary to general wellbeing. It certainly won’t turn anyone into a  crazed maniac).

I suggest 1-2 Tbsp of the raw maca powder per shake, or 2-3 tsp of the gelatinized (predigested) Maca. It has a sort of nutty, earthy, ginseng-like flavor. It’s a nice complement to bittersweet or caramel-y flavors like banana, chocolate, dates, and nuts.

Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are a wonderful source of fiber, of healthy fats, of protein and iron. But what really makes them special is that they’re fun.

Much of the fiber in chia seeds is in the outer seed coat.  So when you soak them, the outside bit hydrates and forms a sort of “force field” around the seed. What you end up with is something that looks a little like frog eggs, and tastes like nothing, and has a texture you will… either love or hate. It’s filling, and an excellent addition if you want your smoothie to help you lose weight.

Cacao Powder: Cacao is just a different way of saying “chocolate.” It’s pronounced Ka-COW. (And Raw Cacao is sort of pronounced “Rocket Cow.”) In theory, the terms chocolate, cocoa, and cacao can be used interchangeably. In practice, cacao usually refers to higher quality, less-processed foods.

So, why cacao in your smoothie? First of all, chocolate is delicious. Also, little-known fact: raw, unroasted cacao is a fermented food.

Cacao is also one of the best things we can eat to maintain smooth, elastic, healthy blood vessels for circulation through the body and the brain. Here, looking for a raw cacao makes a big difference. Heating the cacao during processing destroys in the range of 90% of the heart health-promoting flavonols.

Cacao is also one of our most powerful antioxidant foods – stronger than an equivalent amount of blueberries, pomegranate, or acai. Again, getting a raw cacao is important. .

Finally, cacao is a rich source of fiber and magnesium.

I suggest adding a tablespoon or two to your smoothie. Or however much tastes good. I especially enjoy smoothies made with cacao, banana, pecans, and vanilla. Or cacao, dates, coconut and cardamom. Or frozen cherries, cacao, and vanilla.

Coconut: The coconut is one of our richest and most versatile foods, packed with protein, fiber, minerals, and fats – and every little bit of it is good stuff.

The two things that really make coconut special are its potassium and its healthy fats. Potassium is needed to counterbalance sodium. The more we eat salt in our diets, the more we need potassium to prevent water retention and spikes in blood pressure. And coconut is just about our richest source of this mineral, more so than even bananas and avocados.

As for the fats, coconuts are mostly composed of healthy MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides). Compared to other fats, they burn faster (more energy, less weight gain), and promote lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They have minor anti-yeast and anti-viral activity. Plus coconut fats have what the food technologists call a wonderful “mouth feel.” There’s something about the texture that makes you want to lick your lips.

In summer, coconut oil is liquid at room temperature. In winter, not so much. If it’s solid, you can spoon a Tbsp or two into a mug and microwave it for 20 seconds, then add to the running blender. Even better, look at a pure MCT oil, which is basically coconut oil filtered in such a way as to concentrate the MCTs – which, when they’re alone, stay liquid at room temp.

Probiotics: For all the good that probiotics do us – regularity, immune health, assisting the liver in detoxification, etc., etc., etc. – smoothies are a great way to add them. If you’re already doing a green drink with a good probiotic, don’t bother. Otherwise, a quarter-teaspoon or two of a simple, unflavored probiotic powder is a great way to get these healthy little bacteria into your diet. If you add the probiotics and then let your smoothie sit, they’ll start to ferment. But drink it up in 20-30 minutes, you won’t even know they’re in there.

Adam Stark

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