This is my third and final post on whole foods, plant-based eating/nutrition – read my previous two posts here and here. This post was inspired by Admiral William McRaven’s commencement address at the U. of Texas, Austin; often called the “Make Your Bed Speech”. Admiral McRaven, a former Navy Seal, outlines ten lessons he learned from Seal training which have the potential to change your life and make a better world. His first lesson emphasizes making your bed each morning as a successful first task and he sums up with “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed”.
Admiral McRaven’s speech got me thinking about prioritizing early morning tasks from a health promotion perspective. What morning task has the most powerful influence on our health and well-being? Of course it’s debatable, but I suggest a whole food, plant-based breakfast should be number one.
From a health promotion perspective, improving breakfast is low-hanging fruit! Pun aside, breakfast is the most nutritionally compromised meal of the day since it’s often overlooked, rushed or minimized. With few exceptions (e.g. oatmeal), popular breakfast food choices lack a whole foods, plant-based influence. Many are devoid of plant nutrients (phytonutrients), antioxidants, vitamins/minerals and fiber. Many are full of sugar, refined grains, bad fats, and in the case of bacon/sausage, outright carcinogens. So ask yourself: Should I waste 33% of my daily food choices?
Many common breakfast foods contribute to diabetes, heart disease and cancer – our big three degenerative “lifestyle” diseases that kill most of us. Plant-based eating – hopefully starting with breakfast – changes us at the level of our genes to combat the big three killers. The more successful we are with implementing a plant-based eating strategy, the more we change our internal environment to conditions which switch on healthy gene expressions and switch off unhealthy ones to promote health and prevent degenerative diseases.
A blended “green” smoothie which includes berries, veggies and leafy greens is an easy way to implement a whole food, plant-based breakfast. With this simple breakfast strategy you front-load your daily plant-based nutrition by condensing large amounts of phytonutrients into a compact, quick and delicious package.
If you’ve new to blended green smoothies, you might think veggies and leafy greens would be off-putting first thing in the morning – that’s exactly what I thought before I tried it – I was not initially enthusiastic. But when I cautiously sipped my first one, I was very surprised how the sweetness of the berry fruit masked any bitterness or green flavor from the veggies and leafy greens. As a green smoothie newbie, it also helps to use milder flavored greens like spinach, baby kale and micro greens. I’ve also learned that some form of citrus –lemon, lime or orange pulp/rind – helps minimize green, grassy flavors and brightens and heightens flavor interest. Another taste tip is to add fresh mint leaves and ginger root.
The basic green smoothie recipe is veggies, fruit and leafy greens in varying proportions; and there are many options for the plant foods you choose. I call my personal breakfast smoothie a “rainbow shake” because I try to include veggies, leafy greens and fruits from every color of the rainbow, like the headline photo above. The Mayo Clinic has a “starter” recipe here, but I encourage you to keep researching and experimenting to fine-tune your own personal plant-based blended “green” smoothie.
If you’re interested in choosing green (or rainbow) smoothie foods for maximum nutritional value, an easy guide is Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s ANDI nutrient density food scoring system mentioned in a previous post – an incomplete list of foods ranked by ANDI score is here. For deeper background, I found Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die very helpful for ingredient ideas and the health promoting reasons behind ingredient choices –and check out his new companion cookbook as well. Also home in on Dr. Greger’s short videos on NutritionFacts.org which are prime resource material for ingredients which personalize to your particular health needs, situations or concerns. And of course you can Google “green smoothie” or “fruit and vegetable blender drinks” for other ideas.
To improve green smoothie texture, satiety, protein/fat content, fat soluble vitamin absorption, and broaden phytonutrients exposure, try adding ingredients like soft tofu, ground flax seeds, other seeds, nuts and unsweetened soy or almond milk.
Some people add plant-based protein powders to their green smoothies – although not a whole food, this may be a reasonable option in some situations. Dr. Fuhrman, however, notes that condensed plant protein powders can have potential health-negative effects (e.g. increased IGF-1) which are similar to animal proteins. He instead recommends adding sunflower and hemp seeds and Mediterranean pine nuts for their protein content and nutritional benefits.
Other tips for the best plant-based breakfast smoothie experience include: a) sip slowly, if that’s possible; b) use a straw (hopefully re-useable); and c) rinse your mouth out with water right after you finish sipping.
Two modern high-speed blenders which are very popular with the plant-based smoothie world are Blendtec and Vitamix. But I have been using an inexpensive Oster blender for some time now and it’s worked fine.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I consider Dr. Michael Greger a super star of plant-based nutrition. Here are some links to short videos on his website NutrtionFacts.org which relate to fruit, veggie and leafy green smoothies: