Monthly Archives: June 2014

Is Your Smoothie Harming You?

Smoothies are all the rage. They are touted to increase energy and be low in calories,
but are they really as healthy as they are cracked up to be?  It really depends on the ingredients, how they are made and whether or not they are consumed as a meal or a supplement.

Too Much Fruit In Your Smoothie Can Lead to Weight Gain

smoothieIf you are choosing lots of fruit to put in your smoothie –  especially strawberries and bananas – and a much smaller ratio of vegetables, then you could be doing yourself a disservice.  First of all, strawberries are second on the list of the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables high in pesticides if you are not buying organic.  Do you really want a heavy dose of pesticides when you are drinking these to be healthy?

Secondly, fruits are nature’s candy, so they are naturally high in carbohydrates.  If you are making your smoothies with bananas then be aware that they are naturally high in carbs, especially if they are really ripe – the riper the banana, the higher the sugar-raising glycemic index.  One large banana can have as many carbs as a large McDonald’s french fry.  Even though you may be getting lots of vitamins A and C, you are also getting a lot of natural sugar that can spike your blood sugar.  Depending on what else you are adding or having with your smoothie your blood sugar rise could be causing your pancreas to release extra insulin.  The presence of too much insulin makes our bodies store the extra sugar as fat.  Over time, this could lead to weight gain and even diabetes if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes and tend to carry your weight around the middle.  Smoothies made this way are not “free” calories and they do not make a complete balanced meal.

Other Components to a Balanced Smoothie if it is a Meal

If you are making your smoothie as a meal then be aware it should contain some protein as well as some healthy fat.  According to Douglas Paddon-Jones of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in an interview with David Schardt from the Center of Science in the Public Interest, people should aim for about 30 grams of high quality protein per meal.  In the April 2011 article on Staying Strong, this should come from good quality protein sources like fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy.  If you are making your smoothies from just fruits and vegetables and intend them to be a meal, then you are not getting all the nutrients your body needs and your are probably starving two hours later.

Your smoothie should also contain a little bit of fat in order to help you absorb all those nutrients and to help keep you fuller longer.  Fat helps with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.  fruits and especially vegetables like kale and spinach are really high the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K some you wouldn’t want to just eat your kale and not absorb all those antioxidants!

What Does a Balanced Smoothie Look Like As A Meal?

The right smoothie should contain about a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit and aim for about 25-30 grams of protein as well as some heart healthy fat that you can find in seeds and nuts.  It should contain organic ingredients depending on your choices using the dirty dozen list as a guide.  So if you are going to use strawberries, you should buy organic – same with spinach. Obviously this could get quite expensive unless you have your own source!  When I can’t pick fresh veggies from my garden I like to use frozen veggies and berries – they are flash frozen immediately after picking maintaining most of their nutrients and lasting several weeks in the freezer.  I like to use broccoli and kale since they are much lower on the pesticide list, not requiring me to buy organic, and they are good sources of antioxidants, fiber and potassium.

I would also choose fruits that are lower in carbs like berries, especially raspberries since they are also low on the pesticide list. If you are going to use a banana then keep it to half a banana if you are adding other carbs to your smoothie or consuming some along with your smoothie.

Next, you want a good protein source. You could add a good organic protein powder like GNC whey protein powder that is made up of whey protein concentrate and isolate, delivering 24 grams of protein per serving and only 4 grams of carbs.  Or, if you are more of a purist then you could use plain, fat-free Greek yogurt that delivers 3 times more protein than regular yogurt which is much lower in carbohydrates and has healthy probiotics.

Lastly, for balanced nutrition in your smoothie you need some healthy fats.  I like to add ground flax seeds since they are a great source of Omega 3’s but you could also add some walnuts or peanut butter depending on your tastes.  I have experimented with several combinations and I think I have the right balance now that delivers about 350 calories, 45 grams of carbs, 5 grams of fat, 31 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber – and it tastes delicious!  I have this for breakfast several days a week, it’s very portable and I’m getting 2 cups of super healthy veggies, a cup of super healthy fruit along with a good amount of protein and fiber.  Now that’s how to make a smoothie!  If you want my recipe, email me at


Pain and Pleasure Drive Our Actions

hawthorn branch

The Hawthorn tree has lovely flowers but also has thorns – even nature combines pain and pleasure

During my last week’s yoga class my instructor brought up the Buddhist concepts of aversion and attraction, or pain and pleasure.   Yin yoga lends itself naturally to these buddhist principles as certain held postures push us to our limits of pain and are then released in waves of sensational pleasure.  These concepts can be applied to other aspects of our lives.

Buddhism views human nature as being mostly driven by these two impulses – aversion and attraction.  These two areas represent pain and pleasure and it is our human nature to run away from pain and towards pleasure.  In Buddhism there is no “good” or “bad”, just that some things give us greater pleasure and other things give us greater pain.  Furthermore, our emotions distort reality, so our assessment of pain and pleasure is filtered through our emotions.  For example, I might decide based on a few conversations that I do not like someone because of a series of events that skew my reality.  If I had a conversation with a gentleman, and he had a similar morning to mine – too rushed and feeling overwhelmed with the day responsibilities, I might decide that I don’t like that person because of my  negative emotions.  Similarly, I might go to a buffet starved and feeling deprived because I have been on a diet, see all the desserts and look past the vegetables as my urges for the tasty morsels dominate my thoughts.  It’s not that I don’t like vegetables, but I LOVE desserts and I haven’t had one in a long time.

Liberating Ourselves From Pain and Pleasure

Buddhism believes that when we can liberate ourselves from attraction and aversion we can become more spontaneous and authentic.  We will no longer be controlled by our habitual perception of things.  A person who is ruled by pleasure or desire is not free to express his own creative nature.  Desires interfere with our happiness.  The goal is to decrease our selfishness of our desires, stop those things that may harm ourselves or others, in order to find true happiness.  In other words, giving in to our desires causes suffering which keeps us from finding authentic happiness.

Letting Go of Pain and Pleasure

The desire to let go of our impulses is the first step.  By shedding light on what drives our behavior we become aware and enlightened.  While holding a yoga pose I notice that my body starts to shake, some of my muscles begin to ache and my brain tells me to let go.  I also am aware of how my shoulders tend to tense and my face grimaces when I’m uncomfortable, so I try to soften them.  Even though I still have pain during the pose I begin to shift my thoughts on what does not have any pain.

So how can I can I extend my yoga experience into other aspects of my life?  When I notice my negative filter while talking to someone, I tell myself to let go of these thoughts and to just focus on the words spoken and seek clarity where there may be confusion.  When I have a craving, I notice it briefly and then I try to think about something else.  I notice that cravings pass after a few seconds.  I put another thought in my head.   Furthermore, I try to keep my home environment safe – meaning I keep things that cause suffering like potato chips, cookies, and candy, out of the house.  I realize that they may cause short-term pleasure but it is far more outweighed by the negative thoughts of undermining all the good work I have done.  My actions are far from perfect, but I like to gain insight by what drives my behavior so that I can be a more authentic, happy person.  I know that is where lasting happiness lies.