Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Going Green

Until I really started researching nutrition this past January, I didn’t truly understand that food is nourishment and fuel for my body and not something to be eaten out of convenience and boredom, when I 'm having a bad day or as something to do while I watch TV.  It took me a while to really grasp this concept, and even then, I knew it was going to be a challenge to change my eating habits.  

In order to “get healthy”, I would have to give up my daily Snapple Ice Tea (too much sugar), my butter spray (too many chemicals) and my nightly bag of microwaved popcorn (we'll get into my issues with corn and microwaves in another entry).  The bottom line… this wasn’t going to be easy.

I decided that I would start by eliminating the foods in my diet that didn’t provide any nutritional value.  This meant the Snapple and butter spray had to go immediately.  I replaced my morning Snapple with a small cup of black coffee.  It’s an improvement, but I know the coffee eventually needs to go too.  I replaced the butter spray with olive oil on breads, with coconut oil for cooking and with flax oil on steamed vegetables.  All of these replacements have actual nutritional value… a step in the right direction!

Next, I focused on processed "foods"… meaning pre-packaged foods with ingredients I can’t pronounce or preservatives that will allow these foods to last longer than I will.   If you take the time to read the ingredient list, you will be surprised what you find lurking in these foods.  Although it made sense to me that I should stop eating these processed foods, this step was harder because they made up a larger part of my diet.  I couldn’t just eliminate processed foods without replacing them with something else or I would have nothing to eat!

While having lunch with a friend (who happens to be a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition), I learned about green vegetable smoothies.  A green smoothie is a tasty and easy way to get all of the nutrients and fiber that vegetables have to offer.  I know what you’re thinking (because I thought the same thing)... "There is no way I'll drink a green smoothie!  First of all, it’s green and second of all, it can’t possibly taste good.”  I'll admit it, I was skeptical at first too, but then I tried it.

Here is my recipe:

½ cup water
2 large kale leaves (with stalks removed)
2 large swiss chard leaves (with stalks if they are white)
1 large handful of spinach
2-3 stalks of celery
1 medium cucumber with skin
1 sliced apple with skin
1/2 carrot
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tsp minced ginger (you can buy this in a jar already minced)
2 Tbsp crushed flax seed
1 tsp of coconut oil or olive oil
fresh basil
fresh cilantro
a sprinkle of celtic sea salt

Combine all ingredients and blend in your Vitamix*.

This recipe will make 2-3 cups of green smoothie.

I won’t lie to you and say that it tastes like a chocolate milkshake, it doesn’t.  But it’s really not bad!  I promise.  If you need to, you can add a touch of agave nectar or some strawberries to add more sweetness at first.  Once you become accustom to the taste, you can reduce the amount of fruit.  I try to keep the ratio at 4:1 (4 vegetables for every 1 piece of fruit) because, although a great alternative to what I was eating before, fruit contains more sugar than most vegetables.

Although I love the convenience of a smoothie, somtimes I want a “real” meal and don't want to just sip one through a straw.  On these days, I pour it into a bowl and eat it like soup.

To enjoy your green smoothie, you will have to do some prep work. This can’t be avoided, but I try to limit this time by shopping and prepping for 3 smoothies at a time. Here’s how:

1. Thoroughly wash and dry all vegetables when you get home, even if you buy organic. They may not have been grown with pesticides, but they can still harbor bacteria.
2. After washing, dry the spinach, kale and swiss chard in a salad spinner or with a paper towel. 

3. Remove the stalks from the kale.

4.  Tear or roughly chop the greens into smaller pieces. No need to take the time to cut them nicely and precisely because you're going to blend them up anyway.

5. Wash all 3 apples so they're ready to go, but don’t slice them until right before you blend your smoothie.

6. Wash and cut the cucumbers, carrots and celery.  I leave the skin on the cucumbers.  You can do the same with the carrots and celery, but I prefer to peel them. 
7. Juice 3 limes and 3 lemons. I squeeze the juice into a measuring cup and then pour it into a small pitcher with a lid.

Once I have done all of this, I separate the greens into 3 large zip lock bags (or Tupperware containers).  I add ½ carrot, 1 cucumber and 2-3 stalks of celery to each bag and then I put the pre-packed bags in the fridge.

When I'm ready for a smoothie, all I have to do is dump the bag into my Vitamix and add the remaining ingredients. 

I top it off with fresh cilantro and basil from my herb garden, blend it all together and in less than 5 minutes, I have a green smoothie or a bowl of real vegetable soup.  Green smoothies have really helped me to transition from unhealthy processed foods to an alternative that is chock full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. 

Think of my recipe as a guideline.  If you don’t have all of the ingredients above, don’t let that stop you from making a green smoothie.  No swiss chard?  Just add more spinach or kale.  If you don’t like basil or ginger, don’t put it in.  If you want to add a dash of cinnamon instead of salt, be my guest.  The point is to increase your vegetable intake and to replace some of those empty (and possibly harmful) calories with something healthy and delicious.

*This is the one caveat to making a green smoothie... you will need a Vitamix or a powerful blender.

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