Last week I wrote about smoothies, and received several questions about prepared beverages such as Ensure, Boost and Slim Fast. They are sold as “complete, balanced nutrition for everyday health”, but should you believe the hype?
Premade nutrition shakes promise lots of protein and nutrients, but take a good look at what is in them. Among the top three ingredients you will usually find sugar, a non-nutrient already over-abundant in our diets. Continuing down the list, you will find additional forms of sugar (such as fructose), as well as oil, water, milk or milk protein, and corn maltodextrin, a processed food additive used to thicken. The next 10 or so ingredients read as an alphabet of vitamins and minerals.
Now imagine taking a clear glass or jar, filling it halfway with water, and adding sugar, oil, corn starch, and powdered milk, topped off by a ground up vitamin/mineral supplement. Yum.
It’s understandable that you may want extra calories and fluids after a hard workout. For an active young adult, this is a valid concern, and I recommend you look for a premade beverage that is low in sugar and contains more natural ingredients (read more here). Even better, make you own with a high quality, low sugar protein powder and a variety of flavorful ingredients such as fruit, nuts, oats, and/or spices (20 recipes here).
But unless you are an active young adult, you likely do not need the extra calories that come from these bottles. If you want a snack, eat a cup of plain yogurt, a fresh nectarine, or a handful of nuts and your body will appreciate the healthful boost.
Just One Thing to do: Make your own protein shake with a base of water, milk or nondairy substitute, then add a scoop of protein powder and a banana or other fruit.
Doesn’t a cold smoothie sound good on a hot summer day? A smoothie is a thick, creamy beverage – with a “smooth” consistency - that is typically a blended concoction of fruit, dairy/dairy substitute, and ice. It is easy to make it nutritious, but just as easy to create or buy one that is more dessert than health food.
Store-bought and chain-bought smoothies average 5 teaspoons of sugar per cup, and most servings are 2 to 3 times that size. That’s a lot of sugar! It comes from processed fruit purees and juices (such as apple puree and orange juice) along with table sugar, honey and other sweeteners. The problem with the juice and puree is that they are handled in your body like the other forms of sugar; these sugars do not trigger you to feel full or satisfied as quickly as real fruit because they do not contain any fiber and are digested quickly. Some smoothies also contain frozen yogurt or ice cream, making them a milkshake in disguise.
If you are buying a smoothie, ask if they use only whole fruit and skip the yogurt or ice cream. Consider add-ins like protein powder, peanut butter or chia seeds if you don’t mind the extra cost, but skip the spirulina and guarana seed boosts which have no proven benefits. And unless you are an active young adult, keep your portions small.
An even better option is to make your own at home. Start with the basics:
Experiment with flavors and textures until you find your favorites, then start preparing a large batch to store in the refrigerator for later. A good tip to keep it fresh: add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the blender. Store in individual portion containers such as a small mason jar or cup with a lid, then you can grab one after a workout or on your way to work for a quick, and yes, nutritious, drink.
Just One Thing to do: Make your own smoothies with a fruit, vegetable and protein source for a healthy drink packed with vitamins and minerals!
P.S. This blog was longer than my intended 100-200 word length; sorry. I hope it was a quick read!
What if the best diet to keep you healthy, young, and protected from chronic disease isn’t a diet at all?
Forget the Keto, Paleo and Atkins plans. Eating more vegetables and fruits will provide you with antioxidants, those powerful little substances that are shown to prevent and/or delay cell damage. Cell damage occurs in our bodies from free radicals - unstable molecules formed naturally in all of us - from exercise, normal metabolism, sunlight, and environmental sources such as air pollution. These cause cell damage that contributes to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and eye diseases (NIH information here).
Antioxidants protect us from free radical damage, and they are easy to get in our diet from fruits and vegetables! The trick is to eat a variety of colors, and to aim for at least 5 servings daily. That means, for example, 2 fruits and 3 vegetables, or any other combination. If you can get up to 9 servings/day, even better.
Note: Antioxidant supplements are not recommended. They have not been found to be beneficial and they are sometimes outright harmful. Stick to foods.
For a more detailed look at antioxidants, visit my newspaper article here!
Just One Thing to do: Add a vegetable a day to your intake; once that is a habit, add a fruit a day. Aim for 5-9 servings/day of total fruits and vegetables.
If you have been reading my blogs, you already know I am a big fan of eating locally whenever possible (see April 22 blog). Summertime makes it easier with fruits and vegetables being grown closer to home.
A great option is to grow your own. I started with one potted tomato plant on my patio and added pots each year until I was brave enough to plant raised beds of veggies in my yard. No step is too small.
Another great option is to look for local farmers’ markets. Most towns have them at least once a week, and it is a fun opportunity to see a variety of foods grown and raised by your neighbors. It is also amazing how much better the vegetables and fruit taste when they are freshly harvested.
A third idea is to check your grocery store for a local produce table. My store has a whole counter of vegetables from farms within 15 miles, including cucumbers, tomatoes, greens, and summer squash. I always stop there before looking at the other veggies in the store.
Lastly, look for farm stands on your drive home. I love farm stands because you can stop and buy on a whim based on what is freshly picked that day. You usually get to meet the farmers and their family members, too, like at farmers’ markets.
Just One Thing to do: Stop at a farm stand or farmers’ market this week to buy some fresh, local vegetables and fruits!