HOW'RE THOSE New Year's resolutions going? Back in January, I challenged myself, and you, to double our fruit and vegetable intake by the end of 2012. And as of this month, I pretty much already have.
OK, partly that's because my total for fresh fruit has historically been pitiful. But I also had a powerful ally that gave me confidence: a Vitamix high-speed blender.
In just a few months, I've had so many fruit and vegetable smoothies that I've already passed my 2011 total. Have these healthful drinks turned me slim and fit and trim? Uh, we'll get to that.
But first, it's not exactly breaking news that smoothies have been gaining in popularity and market share. You can get one on practically any corner in Center City. Starbucks and McDonald's sell them. But I knew smoothies had truly arrived with the publication a couple of weeks ago of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Smoothies.
This book by Bo Rinaldi evangelizes for the health-promoting power of green smoothies but never goes over the top, sticking to sound nutrition science. Smoothies, he notes, are a great way to get a smorgasbord of phytonutrients in an easily digestible form that tastes great. As long as, you know, you make sure it tastes great. To that end, the book is stocked with 150 recipes ranging from the everyday to the exotic, all with front-loaded info on key nutrients per smoothie. (Find one here.)
Two caveats: While the mantra is that smoothies are quick and easy, set aside time to get the process down. The prep, mixing and cleanup may take some time before you find your groove. And then there's the lack of chewing.
In January, the Happy Herbivore blog touched off a mini-tempest by citing Caldwell Esselstyn (the Forks Over Knives doctor) dissing smoothies compared with eating whole fruits and vegetables. Chewing, you see, stimulates our digestive enzymes; not chewing allows plant sugars to go straight into our system, potentially causing a spike in glucose. There also may be some loss of effectiveness in finely pureed fiber.
But as Rinaldi points out, you can mitigate the first by "pretend[ing] to chew for just a moment" as you start sipping "to ensure the most complete digestion." As for getting the fiber and vitamins in a smoothie, in my case that needs to be compared, realistically, with not getting them at all. For me and probably many others, the benefits we get from smoothies do not replace whole, intact foods, but rather, zilch.
Choosing your ingredients
The archetypal green smoothie may be the blend of kale and apple — one for diverse nutrients (kale packs legendary vitamin power, though its cousin spinach is also very potent and popular), the other for a tart sweetness to round off the leaf's bitter edge. These two alone are enough to make a basic smoothie.
From there you might lean more in a vegetable (i.e., savory) direction by adding parsley, spinach, tomato, onion, garlic and cucumber, or you might head more for the sweet fruit effect with frozen strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mango, cantaloupe and banana. In general, you get a better bang for the calories with vegetables, because fruits, while also nutrient-rich, also tend to be sugar-rich.
Again, I don't eat a lot of doughnuts, so if I can get fruits in a tasty though caloric form, for me that's a net gain. Your mileage might vary. For now my best signature smoothie is fruit-based — bananas, strawberries and blueberries with just a hint of kale (see it at philly.com/fruitsmoothie). You'd be surprised what you can add kale and spinach to for an extra vitamin kick.
Although Vitamix is the well-loved pioneer in home high-speed blenders, there's also Blendtec, which I haven't tried but has its own fervent partisans. You can use an ordinary, lower-speed blender, but Rinaldi cautions that you should layer ingredients more carefully so you don't burn out the motor.
If there's one argument for springing for a high-speed blender, it's ice cream. A handful of pecans and almonds, some agave nectar, vanilla and spice combine with a tray of ice cubes to create an out-of-this-world dessert treat in about 30 seconds (recipe at philly.com/nutsorbet). Technically it's a sorbet (no dairy products), but your tongue will scream "ice cream!" That's because the fat in the nuts has been pulverized along with the ice crystals to generate a smoothness not far from butterfat.
Once I mastered this simple, scrumptious concoction, all hope of Vitamix-based weight-loss was also pulverized. But don't worry: Little by little, I'm going to start adding kale to it!
"V" for Peace: Will Tuttle, the widely acclaimed author of The World Peace Diet, will give a talk, "Being Healthy and Saving the Planet" from 1-3 p.m. May 26 at Essene Market & Cafe (719 S. 4th St., 215-922-1146, essenemarket.com.