Written by: Lynn Ogryzlo | Photos by: Jon Ogryzlo

I have been drinking a daily green smoothie religiously for as long as I can remember. Some people would think I’m a health fanatic, but as a food writer with little control over what food I eat or when I eat it, I think I would hardly qualify.

But, I love my green smoothies. The ingredients include two stalks of celery, a few sprigs of parsley, some wheat grass, protein powder, and a handful of spinach blended with some fresh spring water. Some people can’t handle the earthy green flavours, but I love it. It’s a quick way to start the day off right. Green smoothies are whole foods complete with fiber, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and plenty of protein.

“Smoothies are the best part of a new food strategy,” says Mary Muraco of Naturally Healthy, Health Food and Vitamin Store on Dorchester Road in Niagara Falls. Mary and sister, Anna Paladino field questions about healthy diets on a daily basis. “For people who want to eat healthier but aren’t willing to give up their favourite foods yet, smoothies are a great entry level course of action.”

Mary explains her “smoothie therapy” for customers who come into the store complaining of chronic fatigue, insomnia, overweight, muscle aches, and even for those who simply want to age healthier and gracefully. She has a different smoothie therapy for all of these health concerns. When it comes to results, Mary and Anna say that their customers describe a better sense of well being in a matter of months for simple ailments and within a year for more serious problems.

Smoothies are blended beverages made from fresh vegetables and fruit. They can include spring water, crushed ice, all kinds of milks, yogurt, or ice cream. There is no limit to the fruit and vegetable combinations you can use to make a smoothie. Try a yogurt and cucumber drink, or better yet, yogurt and melon. You can add an apple to a vegetable cocktail, or a handful of spinach to a strawberry banana smoothie.

Naturopathic doctor, Charlene Kush of the Wellness Institute of Niagara in Niagara Falls drinks smoothies 4-to-5 times a week, and gets her children involved in making their own favourites. “I highly recommend smoothies because people are so busy these days and don’t have the time to eat properly. Smoothies are quick, easy, portable, and they work to balance good nutrition with whole foods, carbohydrates, protein and fats.”

While Dr. Kush explains that all smoothies have different uses depending on what health concern a person is dealing with, she does have a simple smoothie she recommends. Ingredients include a cup of liquid (milk, juice, or water), a cup of fruit (fresh, frozen, or both), and 15-to-20 grams of protein powder. “This is a great meal replacement because you have the equivalent protein to 2 eggs or a chicken breast.” There are many variations to this simple smoothie such as less fluid for a thicker smoothie, or yogurt if you don’t want protein powder.

Smoothie

I learned that if I added fish oils, vitamins, and a handful of greens to my kids’ favourite fruit mixture, it would eliminate the mid-morning crash of sugared breakfast options (and they didn’t even notice). The theory here is that the fiber rich greens slow down the absorption of fruit sugars, providing you with just the right amount of energy and nutrition at a pace your body really loves. Dr. Kush goes further to explain: “adding super foods like fish oil, green powders, omega 3s, and flaxseed oil feeds the brains of kids for greater cognitive abilities, increases energy levels, and helps to reduce and balance weight.” She goes on to add: “protein smoothies (can) help repair body tissue, improve lean muscle mass, reduce food cravings, and are great for vegetarians, and an excellent way to get a few more fruit and vegetable servings into the day.”

When it comes to protein smoothies as a meal replacement, statistics have shown that our body will absorb four times the amount of nutrition from blended food than from food we chew. And because our body doesn’t have to break down the food in the stomach, it is easier to digest. You can in fact, replace two meals a day with a protein smoothie (get a doctor’s advice on the best smoothie strategy for you). Try it for breakfast and lunch, and enjoy a nice dinner in the evening. A great smoothie strategy fits into the busiest lifestyle because they’re so easy to make, they’re good for you, and they take almost no time to prepare.

Whatever smoothie you’re making, Mary, Anna, and Dr. Kush collectively say ‘it’s all in the blender.’ On their advice, I now have a beautiful Vitamix blender. My old blender would often leave chunks of apple skin in a fruit drink, or slimy parsley stems in a veggie drink. Vitamix is an industrial strength blender that whips up thick, frothy smoothies in seconds that are always perfect – even when you’re making smoothies in volume. Its special design ensures the optimal amount of nutrients with less oxidation than traditional blenders, and with a Vitamix I seem to be using less vegetables, seldom get separation, and it cleans itself! Yes, I love my machine as much as I love my smoothies!

Besides the standard fruit and vegetable smoothies that are on everyone’s mind, here are a few new healthy and yummy ingredients to experiment with. Put a fully ripe avocado in a banana yogurt smoothie: avocados have great anti-inflammatory powers. Add a small slice of ginger to a smoothie of pineapple and ice cubes. Ginger is a great soother for muscle aches.

For a dairy-free smoothie, make it with low-calorie almond milk. A Vitamix will make any milk from almond to soy to rice. To this fresh milk, add an apple, a handful of antioxidant-rich frozen blueberries, and some lightly steeped (cooled) chai tea. All fruit and vegetable smoothies are gluten-free, even an oatmeal smoothie. Yes, an oatmeal breakfast smoothie will keep anyone satisfied until lunch. Just add raw oatmeal to the Vitamix blender and blend it into a fine powder; now add some strawberries, blueberries, some apple and milk of your choice. Everyone loves this one.

If you have a sweet tooth, add lots of fruit to a green smoothie. If you want something a little edgier, you can add some cocoa powder to frozen sweet cherries and make it a nutritiously devious dessert. With the Vitamix, just add some ice cubes to this and you’ve got chocolate cherry sorbet instantly!

If you’re looking to start eating right and don’t know where to begin, Mary and Anna’s health food store is a treasure trove of ingredients and inspiration. If you’re looking to start a smoothie regiment for your health (and I highly recommend it!), you’re best to seek the help of a knowledgeable naturopathic doctor like Charlene Kush.

So am I recommending you make my green witch’s brew in the morning? No way! But if you want to, you can add half an apple to sweeten it up. Or you can do what my husband does; he adds a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of vinegar, and drinks it like a liquid salad.

[box type=”shadow” ]
Naturally Healthy Energy Smoothie

¼ cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
¼ cup mango, fresh or frozen
1 cup water 1 serving protein powder (hemp, rice, whey, soy, pumpkin, etc.)
1 tablespoon coconut oil

Blend berries and mango in water until well incorporated. Add protein and coconut oil, and blend for additional 10 seconds on low speed.[/box]

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer and international award-winning author of Niagara Cooks cookbook series and The Ontario Table. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments through www.lynnogryzlo.com.

For more smoothie recipes and inspiration, see http://pinterest.com/ontariotable/smoothies/

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If you want to try some smoothies before you start making your own, here is a list of some of the best ones in the region:

Commisso’s Fresh Foods
Niagara Falls

White Oaks Starbucks
Niagara-on-the-Lake

Teavana
Pen Centre, St Catharines

Yogen Fruz
Pen Centre, St Catharines

Mahtay Café
St Paul St, St Catharines[/box]

[box type=”shadow” ]Recipe:
Naturally Healthy Basic Smoothie

¼ cup pineapple chunks
1 tablespoon coconut milk
1 cup water
1 serving protein powder (hemp, rice, whey, soy, pumpkin, etc.)
1 tablespoon Udo’s Oil

In blender, mix pineapple and coconut milk with water. Blend well. Add protein and oil, and blend for an additional 10 seconds on low.[/box]