The Core Diet Blog

As we slip into the colder months, I often see a steady decline in the consumption of fruits and vegetables of many of my clients. While much of this can be explained by reduced availability, especially in the northern regions, it should serve as no excuse. When this is coupled with increased cravings for holiday treats and comfort foods, the athlete is sure to miss many of the vital antioxidants and phytonutrients necessary for fighting off those winters colds, supporting recovery, and general overall health. One easy, and often overlooked, way to ensure that you are incorporating these into your diet is with homemade power smoothies.

Step 1 - Choose a liquid base.

Water:While water will not provide any micronutrients to your diet, this option is inexpensive and can be ideal for the individual is looking to keep the calorie content down. Water is also a great way to thin out a smoothie, when it becomes too thick.

Juice:Avoid processed juices as these are not the same as fresh squeezed or those you juice at home. Many of these juices have been heat pasteurized, and contain only a fraction of the nutrients it once had as a whole fruit or vegetable. While juicing removes much of the fiber content from the whole fruit or vegetable, it's filled with those nutrients that commercial juices lack. It is best to use a combination of both fruit and vegetable juices, as fruit juices are very high in fructose. Although fructose is a natural sugar, a full glass of fruit juice simply gives youtoomuch of it.

Coconut Water:When you crack open acoconut, the liquid inside consists of water, natural sugars, and minerals. Unlike coconut milk, which is the meat of the coconut ground up with the liquid pressed out, coconut water is low in fat and calories and can be very tasty in smoothies! This is a great way for those who want to keep the calories down and the flavor up!

Dairy:Whether milk or yogurt, this is probably the most common liquid base used in smoothies today. If you are going to use either of these options, try to choose organic milk, and definitely unflavored Greek yogurt. But, if you are willing to step outside of the box, I recommend opting for a nut milk instead, due to their content of fatty acids, which help to control inflammation and cushion the joints.

Kefir:This creamy product is filled with beneficial yeast and probiotic bacteria and can be made from any type of milk, be it from an animal, coconut, rice or soy. It is loaded with vitamins, minerals and easily digestible complete proteins, making it a great choice for the lactose intolerant.

Nut Milk and Other Non-Dairy Milks:These dairy substitutes are minimally processed and, in my opinion, the way to go! Although these milks are lower in protein than their dairy counterparts, there are plenty of ways to increase the protein content. A big bonus, in my opinion, is that you can buy and store the unopened containers in your cupboard until ready to use. You can also make your own from scratch, if you have a high-powered blender, such as the Vitamixâ. Keep in mind that all of these milks come in different varieties, so be sure to buy the unsweetened, plain versions. My favorite, and also one of the most affordable, is the Whole Foods 365 organic line.

Soy Milk:When trying to avoid or eliminate dairy from the diet, many people seem to choose soy, first, over nut milks. This may be due to soy milk's higher protein content, but may be more a factor that many don't know that nut milk even exists! Due to the fact that over 90% of the United States' soybean crop is genetically modified, it is still debated as to whether or not soy-based products are actually healthy! I recommend choosing only organic soy-based products, in order to avoid this debate.

Step 2 - Adding main ingredients: fruits and vegetables.

Vegetables:Choose any combination of fruits and vegetables, but try to keep the ratio a little heavier on the vegetable side. At a minimum, use a 1:1 ratio to keep the sugar content down. It will require a powerful blender, but when adding greens, blend them into your liquid base for a smoother consistency. Your other option is to juice them first as stated above.

Fruits:Use frozen! Of course you can use any fresh fruits, but there are some advantages to using frozen, especially during this time of year.

·Higher nutrients(or at least equal) to fresh fruits. This is because they are picked at their peak when fully ripened before being frozen. This is not always the case with fresh fruits.

·Cheaper!Frozen is always less expensive, especially when buying in bulk.

·Always on hand.You do not have to worry about relying on keeping fresh fruit available, because they will not go bad in the freezer. So stock up! Since there is not much variety or availability of fresh fruits, during the winter months, frozen is the way to go.

·Natural thickening agent.If you do not have a high-powered blender, you know how difficult it is to blend ice into your smoothie to make it thick. Frozen fruits will do the trick!

Step 3 - Sweeten it up.

Fruits, whether fresh or frozen, will provide your taste buds with plenty of sweetness. Here are some additional ingredients that can really help to add some flavor to your smoothie.

Bananas:Fresh, or frozen, bananas will always add quite a bit of sweetness to your creation.

Dried fruits:Dates and other dried fruit will add an abundance of nutrients, fiber, and the great concentrated flavor that dried fruits have. Use them in moderation, as they tend to raise the sugar content substantially.

Agave nectar: A sweetener produced from several species of agave including the Blue Agave and Salmiana Agave. Agave is sweeter than honey, but less viscous and made up primarily of fructose and glucose. A single tablespoon on Blue Agave contains about 16 grams of carbohydrates sugar, with a lower glycemic index than table sugar. Although this is a better option than using table sugar or artificial sugars, I would recommend only using it occasionally, and letting your taste buds get used to the genuine sweetness of fruits.

Superfruits:See below for information on these great options.

Step 4: Spice it up.

Herbs and spices.These potent sources of antioxidants willadd a warm flavor to your healthy smoothie recipe.Although all spices are good sources of antioxidants, according to the ORAC scale (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), the richest are:

Top ten:Cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, tumeric, vanilla beans, sage, parsley, and nutmeg.

Step 5: Adding in the "super".

Although there is not an official definition of "superfoods", it is generally used to describe a food or food product with an extremely high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Some of the more popular ways to create superfood products include:

Green Superfood Powders:

In just one teaspoon, these highly concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids give you the equivalent of three servings of dark, leafy green vegetables. They are the perfect option for those who don't have a powerful blender or juicer, or who do not like to eat their greens on a daily basis!

  • Chlorella
  • Spirulina
  • Green field grasses
Exotic Antioxidant Superfruits:

These superfruits areavailable as concentrated juices or powders, and will add a ton of antioxidants and phytonutrients to your smoothie. Their natural sweetness is just a bonus!

·Acai

  • Goji berries
  • Mangosteen
  • Noni
Nuts, Roots, and Seeds:

Although you will be adding some extra calories to your smoothie, the added value of omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, protein, minerals, and vitamin E. These additions will help to keep you full longer, due to the satiation effect of fats, as well as give your smoothie a nice texture. Try grinding them up in a coffee grinder or food processor before adding them to your blender - this will help maximize absorption.

  • Nuts:almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios. You can also use a tablespoon of high quality, raw nut butter.
  • Seeds:Flax, Hemp or Chia seeds
  • Maca root
  • Raw cacao (chocolate)
Step 6: Make it a meal.

Protein:Adding a protein source to your smoothie will turn it into a complete meal. It will also minimize the impact on your blood sugar, if you made a primarily fruit-based drink. Here are a few other ways to get a good dose of protein:

  • High quality protein powder - such as whey, hemp, or rice
  • Raw organic eggs

Coconut oil:This oil will give your smoothie a rich, creamier texture. Use this sparingly, and if you have already added in some nuts or other fats, I may save it for another day. Although loaded with some key nutrients, such as its high source of medium-chain fatty acids (lauric acid), it is still high in saturated fats and can easily contribute many calories to a smoothie. (Note - because coconut oil is solid below room temperature, it may not work well in colder smoothies.)

Fiber:The best way to incorporate your recommended amount of daily fiber (21-38 grams) is through fresh fruits and vegetables. But, during these winter months when availability can be a challenge, in some regions, the following fiber sources may be your next best option.

  • Psyllium husk
  • Oat bran
  • Wheat germ
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Ground chia seeds

During this festive time of year, when it's one party after the next with endless varieties of holiday treats, it can be very easy to fall off of the nutritional wagon. Fruit smoothies are an excellent way to reign yourself in, and stay on track, while you navigate this celebratory time of year.

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