World’s Healthiest Smoothie?
Updated: Mar 26
Where do you get your calories? Your phytonutrients?
by Richard Aiken MD PhD
Green leafy plants generally have a very high nutrient to calorie ratio. This is related to the high surface to volume ratio in leaves – the sun’s energy is more available for nutrient manufacture. However, generally leaves are rather tough and bitter, a protective defense developed by immobile plants. That’s a tough reality as the leaves of plants can provide an excellent variety of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, and a vast array of phytonutrients.
Luckily, we don’t have to rely on leaves for our entire energy source; that would take a great deal of chewing time. Although that is precisely what our primate ancestors did for nearly 85 million years (see our new book The New Ancestral Diet).
But we don’t have that kind of time anymore, am I right? But given the powerful health benefits, how can one consume a significant amount of green leaves? The answer is food processing to assist with the chewing: smashing between stones (mortar and pestle for great pestos), cooking (laying in sun, roasting, baking, boiling, etc.) or my favorite: high speed blending.
There are some negatives to mechanical blending of fruits, green leafys and other vegetables in that the extreme disruption of cells not only releases the nutrients but allows an increased rate of oxidation of the antioxidants – but here is an important “biohack” to avoid nutrient loss that I researched “in my garage” titled Minimization of Oxidation Reaction during High Speed Blending; this is a critical consideration if you use high speed blending. I will illustrate that later in this offering.
Even so, I have found it difficult to eat more than about one pound of leaves per day (that is about seven cups of raw chopped kale, for example, providing about 200 calories). This is partly because gathering time from the garden is significant and storage is rather a problem unless you shop every few days. And leaves don’t freeze very well (although frozen spinach and collard greens, as examples, can be found in some supermarkets). So, as much as you like the idea of being “powered by kale,” it ain’t gonna happen.
Epic smoothie recipe for health and happiness
Okay, so we have to gather fruits and veggies from somewhere. Fortunately, most ingredients can be from organic frozen sources (fruits and non-leafy veggies). Plus many “superfoods” – nuts, seeds, dried leaves, stems and roots, can be stored at room temperature.
My goal is a meal that is fast to prepare and has maximum nutritional impact, with high nutrient to calorie ratio. Smoothies such as detailed here can fulfill those criteria. (note: sip and swirl in your mouth – like a fine wine – to activate the important digestive enzymes there; I make this as a morning post-workout recovery drink and there is enough left over to provide sips during the afternoon – a controlled release nutrient biohack that eliminates the need for lunch). Once home, for supper I typically prepare what I call a Buddha Bowl, consisting of whole plant based foods such as wild rice, beans, garlic, onions, spices and herbs and chopped green leaves).
My smoothie recipe usually has fresh leaves, lots of frozen organic fruits and vegetables as the base and 11 other super ingredients (see below). As the preparation of this can still be a wee bit time consuming if done individually, I make a dozen or so preparations at a time, vacuum seal and freeze. Then for a fast super smoothie, I just add to the frozen concoction fresh green leaves (first citrus and water as I shall explain later), place in a blender (I use a Vitamix) and bingo, a most nutritious meal in a snap!
Fruits and non-leafy vegetables
For my smoothies, I primarily use a frozen source for fruits and vegetables, although if I happen to have other non-frozen ingredients in the fridge (especially if they are becoming aged), I’ll throw them into the blender. For this recipe, I chose the follow fruits and vegetables shown below.
The fruits I use here (shown on the left) are a mixture of organic frozen strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries from Chile and marketed by Cascadian Farms; package contents are 10 oz (284 gm) so about enough for two cups – I use one cup per smoothie.
The organic frozen vegetables are from the same distributor, consist of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and zucchini. Again one package is 10 oz (284 gm) and makes two cups, one of which I use for each smoothie.
The rest of the ingredients are non-frozen. I chose them for their variety of phytonutrients – they are all truly “super”:
Non-frozen superfoods for smoothie
Here is a list (no particular order) for this epic smoothie – I’ll explain why each was chosen later.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)
Ashwagandha (roots of Withania Somnifera)
Maca root (Lepidium meyenii)
While some some evidence suggests that this plant may be helpful for enhancing physical performance and alleviating mental fatigue, as is the case with most plants, in particular herbs and spices, there are no definitive double blind placebo-co
ntrolled prospective studies that clearly demonstrate its efficacy. However, it is loaded with phytonutrients such as polyphenols. It is supposedly adaptogenic, meaning that it does its good deeds without disturbing normal biologic functions.There are some claims that indicate use not only for stress and anxiety but also for depression; I’m working on fully exploring those claims; I’ll report on that at a later time.
I’m not even sure if it is an herb (plant leaf, stem, or flower used for flavoring or medicinal use) or a spice (same as herb but a root). Various alternative names include “root,” such as the “red root” and the powder here is a deep red so I assume that it is primarily a root and therefore technically a spice.
My source for this is from Bulk Supplements (www.bulksupplements.com) – I order from Amazon and guided in my selection in part by happy consumers who have tried it and like it on some basis. Rhodiola Rosea 3% Salidroside Powder (100 grams) costs about $18. I use a little less than one eighth of a teaspoon, about 300 mg. I’m unsure of where this was harvested although it can grow on cold rocky slopes in the USA; it has been suggested to assist those living in very cold stressful environments such as Siberia and northern Europe. It has a shelf life of 3 or more years.
On the left is a picture of the addition to my smoothie ingredient bowl.
There are many claims concerning the health benefits of Ashwagandha root but most all of them are concerning reduction of adrenal stress (anxiety) and reduction of inflammation; there are many peer reviewed studies, including systematic review summaries, that are rather convincing. Positive influences on neurodegenerative diseases such as cognitive decline and dementias are suggested. Again, more on this in a later communication.
It is likely helpful to ingest this substance after exercise, particularly endurance workouts or heavy lifting (supposedly helps to stimulate muscle recovery).
Also this Ayurvedic has been used to help treat insomnia.
On the left is a picture of my addition to the superfood mixture. The amount used here, suggested by the literature studies, is one half of a teaspoon, about 1600 mg.
Maca has been cultivated and grown high in the Andrean Mountains of Peru for thousands of years.
Like Rhodiola, it flourishes in extreme environments of freezing cold winds, strong sunlight, and high elevation (over 10,000 feet). There does appear to be a correlation between plants that survive in stressful circumstances and the adaptogen effects that such plants have on the human body and mind.
The root of the Maca plant has been used for centuries as a nutritive substance that raises the body’s state of resistance to disease by increasing immunity to stress while remaining nontoxic to the recipient.
The shelf life is an amazing seven years. Maca is powerfully abundant in amino acids, phytonutrients, healthy fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. This superfood allegedly has the ability to increase energy and stamina, working directly on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.
Once again, there are some indications of positive effect on mood and I am searching the literature for substantiation.
On the left shows the addition of two tablespoons of Maca powered root, the “premium” combination of Peruvian sources from this recommended source.
You are more likely to have heard of this one. Turmeric is a spice with perhaps the highest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of any culinary spice – or herb. An active component of turmeric is curcumin (the pigment responsible for the bright yellow color of the spice), which may have natural antidepressant qualities and has been shown in animal studies to protect neurons from the damaging effects of chronic stress.
The literature is quickly mounting support for mental health enhancement.
Turmeric suppresses pain and inflammation similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. The mechanism of action is similar without the potential side effects. The health benefits derive, as for Rhodiola and Maca, from “xenohormesis” – a biological principle that explains why environmentally stressed plants produce bioactive compounds that can confer stress resistance and survival benefits to animals that consume them.
A selection, suggested from the literature, of 1 gram, equal to one teaspoon is used here. On the left is a picture of my grating of a turmeric root used in this smoothie but this is so color intense (one should use gloves; otherwise your hands and fingernails appear yellow as a very heavy smoker). On the right is the quantity added to our mixture.
I am confident you know of this food and that it is most beneficial to health. There is certainly no doubt that this food is an excellent source of essential omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (known as ALA), the basic building block to other omega-3’s such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
These fatty substrates are used in several critical constructions of neuronal constituents and thus important in proper functioning of the brain.
The other major source is certain algae, a dilute source with contamination and harvesting challenges. One could eat fish the fish livers that sequester the fatty acids form algae but that detoxifying organ contain many toxins that are unfriendly to humans, notably mercury.
Certainly much research has indicated the mental health benefits to consumption of flax seeds that I shall summarize in a later offering.
On the left I use one tablespoon of flaxseed that contains easily a daily recommended dose.
Black pepper has an ancient history of being a highly desirable but expensive spice. It has even been used as a currency.
The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology reported that the compound piperine in black pepper increases the cognitive function of the brain and helps beat depression. Other studies agree, although as yet not fully accepted. Piperine helps the body absorb curcumin and therefore enhances its antidepressant effect long-term, according to studies on rats conducted in India. There may be similar absorption assistance given to selenium, vitamin B12, and beta-carotene.
Because of its intense taste, it is typically used in small quantities and for our smoothie we use just a few “pinches” as shown to the left.
Impressive research exists that supports a positive effect of nutritional yeast on stress and related immune function resulting, for example, in a decrease for the susceptibility to the common cold. Beta glucan fiber, found in baker’s, brewer’s and nutritional yeast, helps to maintain our body’s defense against pathogens. And this is extended to improvement in mood states, related to immune vitality and emotional vitality. For endurance athletes who place significant stress upon their bodies, regular ingestion of this substance is recommended.
We use here one heaping teaspoon of Bragg’s nutritional yeast. This has a nutty, cheesy flavor as opposed to Brewer’s yeast that is quite bitter. This product is fortified with vitamin B12, an interesting pairing of nutritional fungal and bacterial sources.
Research conducted in Japan shows that rooibos, or “red tea”, possesses antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity. Rooibos is especially rich in the super-antioxidant compound quercetin. Rooibos is a source of two comparatively rare antioxidants, aspalathin and nothofagin. Aspalathin helps to modify hormones in the body and reduces the output of adrenal hormones, thus reducing stress and helping to inhibit metabolic disorders. The antioxidant nothofagin demonstrates significant anti-inflammatory activity and neuroprotective functions.
Note this is a tea, so why not buy teabags, add hot water and drink it? Well that’s fine but much more expensive than bulk purchase. While the process of preparing, serving, and sipping tea can be an art, we are here merely interested in the nutrient value – and efficiency of preparation. Steeping in hot water extracts water-soluble components of the plant and that which enters into solution if the fibrous cell walls are sufficiently disrupted by the heating process. As a food, the entire leaf can be eaten and all nutrients consumed. By the way a bio-hack to optimize antioxidants in tea is found in my article Synergism of Tea Plant and Citrus for Optimum Health.
A dose here suggested from literature studies is one teaspoon.
Another herbal “tea “, Hibiscus flowers are beautiful showy red flowers that are harvested and dried as most teas. This plant contains bioflavonoids, which are believed to help prevent an increase in LDL cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. The research is quite clear on these effects. It may work by boosting nitric oxide production, generally an advantage for cardiovascular activities.
Again, why bother to make “tea” with this food and limit the nutrient availability when you can eat it!
I use here a heaping tablespoon for our super-mixture.
The third “tea” is Green Tea, or just “tea”. Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. It comes from an evergreen called Camellia sinensis. “Green” tea merely refers to the natural state of the Tea Plant; in the United States, the preferred tea is “black” tea, a less healthy oxidized version. Green tea offers incredible health benefits but is consumed mainly for its psychoactive ingredients: caffeine and l-theanine. The stimulating effect of caffeine is modulated by the calming effect of l-theanine.
Tea is very rich in polyphenols, accounting for up to 30% of the dry weight of tea. Tea has positive effects on cognitive functioning beyond the stimulating effect from caffeine through possibly enhancing short-term plasticity in the pare-frontal brain areas.
Drinking green tea is associated with reduced mortality due to many causes, too many to mention here but includes lowering blood pressure, oxidative stress, and chronic inflammation.
Raw unprocessed cocoa is one of the richest antioxidant foods in the world. Studies indicate that cocoa has an effect on carbon dioxide levels that affect blood vessels and improve blood flow. This has positive implications, for example, on reducing the risk of stroke.
Any form other than raw contains typically added fat and sugar and is to be avoided.
Let’s add a tablespoon of cocoa (also termed cacao) nibs.
Ingredients combined, evacuated, and frozen
Below are pictures of our dry mixture (left); also adding it to the vacuum bag (picture on the below right)
Next a cup of the frozen fruits and a cup of the frozen vegetables are added (below)
Then the bag is evacuated (below). A ten-day supply was generated as shown below on the right.
How to blend in order to maximize nutrition
The first step to blending any fruits or vegetables is to create a pH environment that slows down the oxidation of the critical anti-oxidant phytonutrients with disruption of the cellular contents as happens in all forms of processing, including high speed blending. I have referenced above the science behind this in my article Minimization of Oxidation Reaction during High Speed Blending.The need is to provide a low pH blending fluid and citric acid in the blender prior to the introduction of the fruits and vegetables (this inhibits the activity of polyphenoloxidase that assists oxidation).
The rest of the contents of the smoothie can now be added without fear of reducing the nutrient value by the high speed blending. Go ahead and blend at the highest speeds for as long as you wish. I like “smooth” smoothies so I typically add plenty of filtered water and blend at the highest setting for about 30 – 45 seconds.
Next I take a heaping cup of frozen chopped spinach. and add that to the pH adjusted solution.
Finally the addition of the vacuumed sealed super-nutrient mixture that was prepared and frozen earlier.
The mixing of all ingredients is shown to the left (my foot, lower left, is “grounding” – hey, can’t hurt). The whole mixing process takes about 5 minutes.
To your health
Note my “green smoothie” isn’t green, instead has a reddish brown color. That is a result of the berries and most of the super herbs, spices, and teas that have a red or brown color. Not pretty perhaps, but pretty great nonetheless.
I welcome comments and suggestions. Think you can beat this smoothie for health impact? Let me know!