Smoothies are a fun (and usually, delicious) way to enjoy all sorts of foods and superfoods pureed into one easy-to-drink beverage. But despite their popularity over the years, smoothies should be enjoyed with caution - and in some cases, avoided entirely - especially when it comes to women's hormonal health.
Chinese Medicine nutritional therapy has a lot to say about the temperature and method of food consumption, and smoothies fall right into a controversial category when using food as medicine. This post will explore the risks associated with regular smoothie consumption, and offer my step-by-step guide for healthfully incorporating smoothies into your healing strategy.
Personally, smoothies and I go in phases - where sometimes I enjoy them almost daily and then I can go months at a time without them. Many of my clients enjoy them regularly as they are a quick and easy way to boost nutrient dense foods into their already busy lives, plus it allows for the inclusion of the sometimes not-so-palatable foods like kale into a tasty treat.
Two Vital Reasons to Be Wary of Smoothies
So what's the problem with smoothie consumption? There are two main causes for concern when it comes to smoothies, according to Chinese Medicine, and both directly impact female hormonal balance.
- Disrupt Metabolism Smoothies, especially when prepared out at restaurants and cafe's, are often packed with fruits and even juice as their base. While these may be "whole foods," there is a lot of sugar involved and this directly impacts both hormonal and metabolic balance through blood-sugar highs and crashes. Many women use smoothies as a "meal replacer" to help with weight loss, and these high-calorie beverages won't help with the end goal.
- Disrupt Digestion The inclusion of cold, raw, and certainly frozen foods is incredibly hard on the digestive system, especially during colder months or in a cold environment (such as cold-air-conditioning). It takes extra energy to process those types of foods, leaving less energy for healing work in other areas (such as hormonal imbalance or adrenal fatigue), and possibly even causing imbalance elsewhere. Consuming a frosty smoothie, even if the ingredients are low-glycemic and nutrient rich, can tax the body if consumed under inappropriate circumstances (including environmental factors and time of day).
Eight Ways to Healthfully Include Smoothies
The importance of digestive balance and sugar-intake on the female endocrine system, including energy levels and deep sleep, is of utmost importance. Fortunately, there are a few tips from Chinese Medicine that might allow you to enjoy the occasional (or frequent) smoothie in your nutritional routine. The ultimate factor to strive for is balance, and honoring where your constitution and healing level is at, so you can incorporate the best foods for your unique situation.
- Don't Smoothie at Breakfast After fasting all night, the digestive system responds best to a gentle wake-up with warm, cooked food. The endocrine system responds best to a low-glycemic wake up, such as a protein and fat. A smoothie offers neither of these - save it for a mid-morning snack or meal later in the day.
- Thaw Your Frozen Ingredients Place your frozen berries, fruit or greens in the basin of your blender at least one hour before you intend to eat your smoothie, allowing them to come up to room-temperature. It will still be a primarily raw-food, but takes the frozen element out - a useful tool for women working with hormonal imbalance, digestive distress or trying to lose weight...and for anyone during the winter months. Then, be sure NOT to add additional ice to your smoothie!
- Use Cooked Ingredients While it probably doesn't make sense to cook most smoothie ingredients (or, you'd just make soup!), you can utilize pureed butternut squash or pumpkin in smoothies, which would need to be cooked and are inherently nourishing to the spleen/stomach (digestive tract). Simply add the pre-cooked pumpkin at room temperature to your blend.
- Add Warming Herbs/Spices Warm up the cold-nature of a raw-food smoothie by adding warming herbs to support digestion. Ginger, turmeric, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and cardamom are all excellent choices. You can use dried or fresh herbs, depending on availability and preference (and start small - a little goes a long way with these delicious but strong flavors!)
- Always Add a Protein Protein should be a part of any smoothie, being careful to avoid synthetic protein-isolates (like whey, rice or soy). If you intend to replace a meal with your smoothie, then you must add a significant protein - ideally, one from an animal source. Dairy is an OK choice (such as full fat yogurt or kefir), as are adding pastured raw egg yolks, nuts or seeds. My favorite food-based protein-powder is Beef Collagen.
- Always Add a Fat This will help to regulate blood sugar, along with the protein, as it slows the digestion of the sugars from fruits/juices included in the smoothie. Additionally, many fruits and vegetables contain fat-soluble vitamins and this will enhance their absorption. Nuts, nut butters, seeds, coconut milk, coconut oil, ghee or full fat dairy are fine options.
- Focus on Nutrient-Dense, Low-Glycemic Bases and Fruits I recommend using whole fruits (low-glycemic, such as berries or half a pear, banana or apple) as the "sweetener" for your smoothie, and avoiding juice entirely. Oftentimes, simple water is enough to bring out the sweetness of the fruits. My next favorite liquid is coconut water, which still has a significant sugar content, but less so than juice and also offers up a host of minerals and electrolytes to enhance hydration - great to include during pregnancy!
- Monitor Smoothie Size It can be all too easy to fill a blender up with ingredients and wind up with an extra-large serving. Instead of gulping it down, save the smoothie in your fridge to enjoy over a few days as a tonic. Or better yet, add fewer ingredients and enjoy a 12oz smoothie as a nourishing snack.
Simple Smoothie Recipe
Below is my current go-to for a great pick-me-up in the late morning or mid-afternoon. This smoothie can be altered to your tastes, but offers a host of endocrine benefits for women with the inclusion of flax and chia seeds (which also manage constipation), provides nutrient rich protein, hydration from the coconut water and anti-inflammatory/circulatory benefits from the berries. Enjoy!
- 1 Cup Frozen Cherries or Blueberries (brought to room temperature)
- 1.5 Cup Coconut Water
- 1 Tbsp Flax Seeds
- 1 Tbsp Chia Seeds
- 1 Scoop Vital Proteins Collagen Powder
- 1 Scoop Greens Powder (your favorite one!)
- 1 Date or 1/2 Banana, optional, for added sweetness
- 1/4 tsp Ginger, optional
Puree in a high-speed blender and enjoy immediately. Because of the seeds, this smoothie will thicken significantly as it stands. Makes about a 12-16oz serving.