We're in the middle of the Terrible Trifecta of weight gain holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. It's easy to forget your healthy habits when you're faced with a seemingly endless supply of sweets, cordials and late nights. C'mon, it's the holidays after all. Live a little.
And I agree—unless that "living" is actually killing us. And it just may.
Most of us will gain weight during this time of year. If you're already at a healthy weight, you'll gain about a pound, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. If you're already a little pudgy, that figure balloons to about five pounds gained from Thanksgiving to New Year's according to research published in Nutrition Reviews. The really bad news? Most of us will never lose those extra holiday pounds. Commence crying.
But we can undo some of the damage. During the holidays, we're munching on junk food and less likely to eat fruits and veggies. No, office party fruit punch doesn't count. In fact, add a quarter inch to your waist or thigh circumference for every glass you imbibe. (How's that for a festive image? Try to shake that one out of your head during your next party.) Back to the matter at hand: eating more fruits and vegetables. I recommend starting your day with them. In fact, I received so many e-mails and Facebook messages about my breakfast fruit and veggie smoothie ("Like" me on Facebook and join in the conversations), I decided to go ahead and give you a few more details.
Picking your veggies
I pack my 64-ounce Vitamix blender with spinach nearly every morning. You need a high-quality blender to make a high-quality smoothie. Vitamix is it. I don't work for them or receive any sort of endorsement, although I'd be more than happy to open my mailbox and see a check next week. I've tried all the blender brands, and this brand holds up. Plus, you can do cool things like mix nut butters and craft nut cheeses. I am literally drooling as I write this.
With the blender ready, you need to pack lots of veggies in to keep the sugars down (rookie mistake that will blow you up like a Macy's Parade balloon). Baby spinach is my favorite, but feel free to experiment with kale, chard, and any other leafy green. You'll settle on baby spinach—trust me—but play your own MythBusters game with the blender first. It's fun. Just don't blame me when you blast a hole in someone's house.
My dad likes broccoli in his morning blend, but he also ate some really nasty grub in Korea during the war so I never trust his taste preferences. As an aside, everyone always remarks how good their mother's home cooking was. I don't. (Sorry, Mom, but it was you who forced me to always tell the truth. Note to self: Teach my kids it's okay to lie about how wonderful their parents are whenever writing columns to be read my gazillions of people.) My mother apparently cooked to match my dad's tastes or something akin to what a goat would find delectable and tried to pass it off as "good home cooking." I don't know how we survived. Then again, growing up with fried okra passed off as a vegetable was pretty sad.
Packing in your green
So, pack that blender full of baby spinach. By pack I mean push down with your hand until the spinach is fairly tightly packed. Don't repeatedly jam it with both fists as you work out your culinary issues with a mother who filled your plate high with fried okra. It's probably too tight when you break the unbreakable blender. With your head. Thanks, Mom. You know it's just right when it takes a few seconds for the liquid base to reach the bottom of the blender.
Finding your fluid
The next most important step is to add a liquid base. You have plenty of options. My favorite is hemp milk. Yes, that hemp. No, you don't smoke this smoothie. There's no hemp joke you can tell me I haven't heard before. If you'd like to try, post it on my Facebook page. Did I mention my Facebook page yet?
A neat thing about hemp milk is, you can store it in your cupboard for long periods of time. I start out with three to four ounces of hemp juice and then add a little more to make my smoothie the desired thickness as I blend.
Don't expect any kudos for your careful smoothie work. I get no respect from my wife when I'm tending to my juicing duties. I try to explain it's as much an art as a science, but she just tells me to clean out the litter box. Or live in the litter box, I can't remember which.
If hemp milk's not your bag, try almond milk or rice milk. Coconut water ("It's like drinking an IV!") and dairy milk are also fine (although not at our house—that's another column). You can also buy chocolate coconut water, which my kids love after a run. Heck, you can also use plain old water. Try different combinations, but pay close attention to calories and nutrients. For my money, hemp and almond milk provide the best value, nutrition, and taste.
I also add acai juice (liquid or frozen), cranberry juice, or pomegranate juice. Not much—maybe two to four ounces each. Avoid adding fruit juices (orange, apple, etc) as they add unnecessary sugar and calories.
Picking your fruits
As a general rule, I tend to pick fruits that are in season in my area. Because I don't live in South America this time of year, that means frozen fruits during winter. Frozen fruits will be higher in nutrients or equal to fresh fruits, so there's no nutritional penalty if you must pull your fruits from your freezer. Fruits are frozen when they're ripest (highest in nutrients), which may not be the case with fresh fruits (can you say spoiled strawberries?).
You can also often save some bucks by buying frozen fruits in bulk. Plus, you can't blame anyone but yourself if you run out because they don't spoil ("Gee, honey, I wanted to eat those raspberries but they went bad. I'll just have to eat this candy bar instead." Yeah, I was at your house.) Frozen fruits also help thicken your smoothie and I personally prefer a chilled smoothie in the morning, especially post-workout.
I insist on mainly eating organic fruits and vegetables, especially those that commonly have the highest levels of pesticides. I recommend you find and eat these organic foods: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes. The same should go for your patients, if you recommend these as pet snacks to your clients.
You can also add dried fruits such as goji berries or dates, but go easy. Remember that fruits add sugar, and sugar calories can add up quickly. Keep the fruit-to-veggies ratio around 1:1. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries (not too many) are all in constant blender rotation at my house. I freeze peeled bananas and add one to two to help sweeten the slurry.
OK, so you've got spinach, hemp milk, frozen berries, and bananas. So far, so good. Now let's get a little wacky and super-healthy and kick it up a notch.
Boosting your smoothie power
To boost protein and other goodness in my smoothies, I often add a three-in-one powder mixture. I mix one-third each of cacao powder, maca, and hemp protein in a large container. Then I add two to three heaping tablespoons of that to my breakfast smoothie.
If I'm in the mood for a little more chocolate-y taste, say as a dessert in the evening, I'll add a wee bit more cacao. Be careful with this powerful nutrient—too much and your super-smoothie will turn super-bitter.
I add the half- to one-teaspoon of camu for added antioxidants and phytonutrients. Chia is another common ingredient rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. Lucuma powder is an Incan superfood that's also a good sweetener if your taste buds are interested. Lucuma is rich in antioxidants, carotenes, and vitamin B3. I also often add a teaspoon of Spirulina pacifica or Green Vibrance when the mood strikes me (typically once a week or so). My daughters claim to be able to taste it—and they don't like it—so experiment with other sweet fruits or add a little more spinach to offset the taste.
Saving some money
Making super-healthy meals like these protein-rich smoothies can get expensive. Fortunately with a little planning, you can significantly reduce the cost. Here are some tips we use to keep our food budget in line:
Local food co-op and farmer's markets: By getting on a regular order list and shopping locally, we've found we can save big bucks on several items.
Pick your own: During season, we visit area organic farms and pick fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. I love that our kids understand where their food comes from. I think every child over age 8 should read The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids.
Big-box retailers: Shopping for organic frozen fruits and spinach can yield significant savings. Remember: Spinach spoils quickly so stock accordingly.
Amazon Prime: For $75 a year, you get free two-day shipping, $3.99 next-day delivery, and free streaming of lots of movies. I joined the first week it launched in 2005 and couldn't be happier. Most of the products in this column are eligible for free Prime shipping. This saves a ton of dough when it comes to shipping heavy and bulk items such as hemp milk and bulk powders.
Amazon Subscribe and Save: For staples such as hemp milk, powders, and nutritional supplements, we use Amazon's Subscribe and Save program for an additional 15 percent off. You can set up delivery intervals (e.g., every 1 to 3 months) and adjust as needed (skip next delivery or send additional delivery now).
I've assembled many of my family's products, supplements and my favorite books and exercise equipment in this Amazon list. These are the best prices I've found. Check them out, and send any of your favorites to me to add to the list.
Try my morning super-smoothies for a week and tell me how you feel. Share your favorite smoothie recipes. This is just a glimpse into the wonderful world of food processing. The Wards take fruits and veggies VERY seriously—and so should you. If you'd like, e-mail me and maybe I'll post some of our exotic smoothies and raw-food cocktails (beet-sake martini, anyone?).