6 Ways To Winter-Proof Your Smoothie For Better Gut Health & Digestion
It's no secret that I'm a green smoothie enthusiast, to put it mildly—my friends and family make fun of the eagerness with which I gently encourage (OK, force) them to start their day with a veggie-filled glass. Smoothies have been my go-to breakfast every day for the last seven or eight years; while they vary in ingredients and flavor profiles (sometimes I feel piña colada-y, other days I channel more of a chocolate-covered strawberry vibe), some blend of greens, healthy fat, protein, and fruit has served as the fuel for my day (and my impetus for getting out of bed) for close to a decade. I haven't yet found another breakfast that allows me to eat, before noon, more greens than most people eat in a week—or one that takes so little time to prepare.
In the summer, drinking a smoothie feels like a no-brainer. You're sweaty, maybe a little dehydrated. The last thing you want to do in the morning is turn on your stove.
In the winter, though, readers often tell me that drinking a smoothie feels counterintuitive. Smoothies, as most people know them, often conjure up images of an icy, frozen beverage—the opposite of what incites cravings on cold winter days.
The secret? Just because you're drinking a smoothie doesn't mean it has to be the same smoothie you'd drink in June or July. Like the rest of your diet, smoothies can—and should—reflect the changing seasons. Here are a few secrets I use to make my smoothie winter-worthy:
1. Scale back the frozen elements.
While I never drink super-cold drinks—enough doctors have told me it's hard on digestion, which already tends toward sluggish in the morning—in the winter, I take extra care to bring my smoothie closer to room temperature. "Our internal temperature is 98 degrees; therefore, when we consume food that is much lower—say a frozen smoothie or ice cream, which is below 32 degrees (freezing temperature), our body has to emit a great deal of extra energy to bring the temperature of that food back to our internal organs," explains Sahara Rose, an ayurvedic expert and the author of the best-selling cookbook Eat Feel Fresh. "Our bodies are capable of doing this, but this process takes away from the energy that could be utilized on digestion."
If I use frozen fruit or vegetables, I leave them out on my counter while I'm brushing my teeth or getting ready for the day, so they're mostly thawed when I put them in my smoothie. I forgo ice entirely, using avocado or chia seeds to thicken watery smoothies instead.
2. Blend really well.
I mean really well. This accomplishes two things: It warms up the resulting smoothie slightly (see point one) and it makes it easier to digest. Blending something is essentially like pre-digesting it—you're essentially chewing your food a million times with blades instead of teeth. By letting your smoothie go for a while in the blender—think a minute or even more, depending on what type of blender you have—you're ensuring that much of the digestive work is done for you, giving your system a break. This is important during all times of the year (the chlorophyll in greens is tightly caged in fibrous cell walls) but especially in the winter, when we crave warmer, more easily digestible foods.
3. Chew your smoothie.
Always, always chew your smoothie. Digestion starts in the mouth, where digestive enzymes in saliva mix with your food, beginning the process of breaking it down and assimilating its nutrients. If you're not chewing, though, you're not creating the opportunity for those enzymes to mix with what you're eating—so chew your smoothie, even if people give you weird looks for doing so (I consider it a teaching opportunity, but I'm also not the coolest)! Sometimes I find it useful to put a small amount of crunchy food on top of the smoothie, as an instinctual reminder to chew. A bit of flaked coconut, chopped nuts, or some cacao nibs does the trick.
4. Use warming spices.
"Spices, such as ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and fennel seed, have been used in ancient ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for their digestive benefits," explains Rose. "Ginger rekindles the digestive fire; cardamom gently increases digestive fire without being too warming; cumin removes air (gas, bloating, and constipation) from the system; coriander increases production of digestive enzymes and bile flow; fennel strengthens the digestive fire without aggravating pitta and helps with nausea, cramps, and flatulence."
Spices are the oft-forgotten superfoods. I'm always confused when people load their smoothies with crazy adaptogenic powders, but forget the superstars sitting in their own pantry. In the winter, I use a heavy hand with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. I'll also add a pinch of cayenne or black pepper. In addition to their ayurvedic benefits, the spices are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and contribute to drool-worthy flavor profiles like Mexican Hot Chocolate or Cardamom Cherry Pie.
5. Embrace seasonal flavors.
You don't need to fill your smoothies with summer fruits—instead, reach for whatever is actually in season at the moment. Fall's apple harvest can be combined with cinnamon and hemp milk for a delicious pumpkin pie smoothie; the same can be done with squash (pumpkin pie, anyone?). In the winter, I love leaning on citrus for vitamin C and a bright, zesty flavor, a much-needed dose of sunshine in a glass.
6. When in doubt, go warm.
If one of the increasingly common snow-pocalypses has hit your town and the idea of drinking even a lukewarm smoothie doesn't sound appealing, well, don't drink it. Food should be pleasurable, and if you're forcing yourself to consume something, it's not healthy, no matter how many nutritious ingredients it contains. In those periods, I'll often find myself leaning on the smoothie's more intrinsically cold-weather appropriate cousin, soup. I'll make myself a green soup, typically in a large batch, and then warm it on the stove to sip from a mug over the next few mornings. I still minimize prep and maximize vegetables, and I start my day feeling high on the hygge-meter.
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