The best dietary change I ever made (green smoothies, anyone?) … and how to start 2013 with healthy habits!

3 servings of fresh fruit

5 servings of fresh vegetables

Daily

This is the recommendation you will get from most health institutes, such as the United States Cancer Institute, regarding how much fresh produce you should consume per day. And for good reason – you don’t have to look far to find positive links between a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and good health.  Despite plenty of contradictory nutrition information out there, I’ve never heard a recommendation to cut down on fruits and vegetables.

But even for the most disciplined of eaters, getting the recommended amount of fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult.

Starting off the New Year, I wanted to tell you how I significantly increased the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables I consume by making one easy dietary change (creating a new habit, really) and hopefully I can provide some ideas for a fresh and healthy start to 2013!

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Most of us start the New Year thinking about what we want in the future and reflecting upon the past. For a lot of us, food and diet top that list. I love food (obviously), but not just for the sake of eating food, or cooking, even.

I love food because I like knowing the connection it has to my body and spirit. I feel good when I eat well. I am happy when I spend time preparing and eating food with loved ones. I want to know about the connection between food, environment, and culture. Food has so much more to do with my life than simply being something to sustain my existence.

Being healthy (physically and emotionally) are my priorities. But I’m not a dieter (as in, cut out a bunch of stuff completely). I live my life namely under the mantra of moderation – moderation in just about everything I do, and this blog is a reflection of that philosophy. I eat sugar, butter, cheese, and on and on. I enjoy wine. I also exercise regularly and eat primarily whole, non-processed foods. It’s a balance and I’m convinced it is the best “diet” solution for the majority of people that don’t suffer from health issues that require more strict dietary regiments.

After trying to become “healthier” by cutting out meat entirely, or cutting sugar and bread, or a myriad of other things that are touted as “bad,” I finally realized that I felt the best when my entire life encompassed moderation. This blog is a reflection of the food lifestyle that works for me: cooking with whole foods and eating a variety of foods in moderation (cookies one day, tofu and salad the next).

I’m writing today, though, for anyone out there that wants to start some new healthy habits that last; because I’ve gone through this process, of really thinking about how I want to live my life in relation to food. I’ve seen a fair share of people that have a love-hate relationship with food: restrict themselves, then gorge, then guilt, then restrict … it’s a horrible cycle.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

First, I’m going to tell you about the biggest, best dietary change I ever made and how it led to many healthy habits down the road.

About a year or so ago, I was thinking about how I could improve my morning routine. I leave the house really early and I’ve never been hungry enough to eat a good breakfast. For years I basically had coffee and maybe granola or a fruit bar. To make matters worse, I was working at a school that required a stressful, loud, and what amounted to about a 15 minute lunch “break.”  I didn’t feel good, had low energy, and spent my mornings hungry.

Then I stumbled upon a book called Crazy Sexy Diet written by Kris Carr. She wrote it after surviving cancer and changing her lifestyle as a result. Again, the “diet” that works for me is moderation, and although this book promotes a vegetarian lifestyle, I read a lot of books that focus on a particular diet and take pieces from each. I really think that’s the key in building healthy habits – find what works for you, from a variety of sources, and build your own happy, healthy habits!

Okay, back to Carr’s book – she really promotes juicing and “green smoothies.” I had heard about green smoothies – those made with fruits and vegetables – but I had never tried them.

I decided to give it a shot. I had a blender, so I didn’t need to buy any expensive equipment.  I experimented … figured out what types I liked and how to make them at the right consistency.

Now I enjoy a green smoothie every day on my ride to work.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Not only does it require very little in terms of change, particularly if you already eat a fair amount of fresh foods, but you don’t need special equipment (as opposed to juicing), clean-up and prep is easy, and just like coffee, your breakfast is portable.

Smoothies are created in blenders so you are basically pulping fresh produce, which means you are getting a ton of fiber, not to mention all the nutrients found in fresh produce. Not only is it an incredibly easy way to get in extra fruits and vegetables, but the fiber cleanses and provides satisfaction you won’t get in the average cereal or toast breakfast.

I love knowing I basically had a small salad first thing in the morning. But, that’s the thing … these don’t have to taste like salad through a straw (which I know some of you are thinking right about now)! Once you experiment a little with consistency and taste, you will see just how delicious they can be.

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Here’s how to get started:

  • You need a blender, preferably a high-powered one (that can crush ice, etc). A lot of smoothie folks and books will recommend blenders that cost more than a car payment. I have an Oster that I’ve used for several years and it works just fine! (UPDATE: I’ve updated my blender to a Ninja. Much more powerful than the Oster I had, but not nearly as expensive as the Vitamix I would love to buy.)
  • If possible, buy organic produce. You definitely want to try to buy organic for the produce listed as the “dirty dozen” because they have the largest amount of pesticide residue. You can get this list as an app for your phone to help with shopping! If this becomes a habit (yay!) you may want to look into local farmers’ markets or a CSA to get more affordable produce.
  • Experiment with consistency by choosing how much frozen v. fresh produce you want. I don’t like smoothies made with all fresh ingredients. I like a mix of fresh and frozen because I like mine cold and a bit thicker. The recipes below will give you an idea of how I mix fresh and frozen produce.  Besides the consistency, using frozen produce lets me keep a lot of produce I may otherwise toss. If I know I can’t get to it before it spoils, I simply freeze it. I freeze tomatoes, greens … just about anything and I put them in individual serving Ziploc bags or wrap in foil to pull out for smoothies.
  •  If you’re new to this, start with mild greens like spinach and romaine. Spinach is my favorite and is usually the main green in my smoothies. It is mild, sweet, and blends well. If you choose hardy greens, like kale or chard, remove the tough stems before blending and chop well. Cucumber is another great vegetable – the juice is refreshing and the taste is extremely mild.
  • Experiment with fruit to vegetable ratios to find the taste you prefer. If you’re just starting out, or trying to get kids into smoothies, you probably will need at least a 1:1 vegetable to fruit ratio.  I aim for a 3:1 vegetable to fruit ratio in most of my smoothies, but even if you have more fruit at first you can make nutritious smoothies nonetheless.  Next time you see “green smoothies” at the store, check the ingredients and you’ll see the main ingredients are high-glycemic, sugary fruits that aren’t being balanced properly with good greens. To get the most from your smoothies, aim to balance fruits to vegetables and mix up your fruits so you don’t only use high-glycemic fruits. For example, I love frozen bananas in my smoothies (creamy potassium!), but I try to balance that with plenty of low-glycemic, non-sugary fruits & vegetables so I don’t have a sugar overload in the morning.

Best Low-Glycemic, Nutritionally Dense Fruits (GI 55 or lower)

Berries, Apples, Pears, Cherries, Figs, Peaches, Grapefruit, Plums, Orange, Kiwi, Pomegranate, Lemon, Apricots

Moderate to High Glycemic Fruits (GI 55+)

Mango, Banana, Papaya, Pineapple, Watermelon, Raisins, Dates, Cranberries, Melons, Grapes

For more information about the glycemic index, see: The Montignac Method and University of Sydney’s Glycemic Index.                                                      

  • You have a much better chance of sticking to a new habit if you make it easy – I wash and cut my produce on the weekend and every night before bed I set out my cutting board, cup, straw, and anything else I need to make it easier in the early morning hours. Keep your blender on the counter if you can. If you can’t wash your blender right away, make sure to soak it or you will have a heck of a time getting it clean!

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Some of my favorite “morning salad” smoothie recipes:

*These usually make enough for 1 large (32 oz.) or 2 small (16 oz.) servings. You will have to experiment to find your perfect portion and ingredients are approximate. If you want more spinach, more blueberries, whatever your heart desires … add it! I tend to go a little crazy with kiwi.

*I use a mix of frozen and fresh produce to get a chilly, creamy consistency. If you do the same, put the fresh produce at the bottom so the heavier frozen produce weighs it down and helps blend evenly.

Instructions

All smoothies have two essential ingredients: fresh/frozen produce and a liquid base. You can also add nut butters, fresh herbs, spices, flax seed/oil, protein powder, etc. as nutritional flavor bonuses!

Wash and chop all ingredients.  Peel any inedible skins. I also suggest peeling skins from non-organic produce, especially if it’s listed on the dirty dozen.  All of the frozen fruit I list below I can buy organic from Wholefoods or other local natural foods stores. Cranberries I buy fresh in season and freeze – one of my favorite  ingredients! I don’t use dried fruit in my smoothies.

Blend all ingredients until smooth, using your favorite liquid to mix. Start with about ½ cup of the liquid you want to use and add more if needed to create the consistency you desire.  Some recipes have a liquid included in the ingredients or suggestions. Otherwise, use whatever liquid you prefer.

As far as liquids go, some people just use water. I’ve found I like almond or coconut milk the best. Some of my recommendations:  coconut water, almond/rice/coconut milk, filtered water, 100% organic juice blends. I don’t recommend dairy products in green smoothies.

Green Supreme Smoothie

½ peeled cucumber

1 green apple

1 kiwi

1 small bunch spinach

*Coconut water is great in this one and provides electrolytes for a post-workout smoothie, but any liquid will do.

Red Punch Smoothie

½ peeled cucumber

½ red pepper

1 small bunch spinach

¼ cup frozen cranberries and/or cherries

¼ cup frozen mango

100% organic cherry juice to blend

Banana-C Smoothie

1 frozen banana

2 carrots

*Almond milk is great in this  … chilly and creamy!

Rainbow Smoothie

½ peeled cucumber

½ red pepper

1 carrot

½ green apple

¼ cup frozen strawberries

¼ cup frozen peaches

Basil Lemon Bomb

Couple bunches basil

1 small bunch spinach

1 lemon (peeled and white pith removed)

6-8 ice cubes

Blend with purified water

Cranberry Orange Dream

¼ cup frozen cranberries

1 orange (peeled and white pith removed)

¼ cup frozen mango

1 red pepper

Peachy-Pear Green Smoothie

½ cup frozen peaches

1 pear

1 small bunch spinach or romaine

½ peeled cucumber

Berry-dise

½ cup frozen mixed berries

¼ cup frozen pineapple or mango

1 small bunch spinach or romaine

½ peeled cucumber

*I like this with coconut water.

Blue Watermelon

½ cup watermelon chunks

¼ cup frozen blueberries

1 small tomato, or ¼ cup cherry tomatoes (frozen or fresh)

1 small bunch spinach or romaine

½ peeled cucumber

Green Machine

1 kiwi

½ avocado

½ cup frozen mango

1 frozen banana

1 small bunch spinach or romaine

½ peeled cucumber

Kale Berry Super Smoothie

1 frozen banana

½ cup frozen strawberries

4 kale leaves, stems removed

½ peeled cucumber

I hope you enjoy your green smoothies! If you have any combinations you love, please share.

Building Healthy Habits

Are you making New Year’s Resolutions? I do every year. I’m one of those people that really likes needs goals. When I started drinking green smoothies, after a lot of reading and thinking about the dietary habits I wanted to focus on, I created goals for myself for ideal breakfast/lunch/dinner habits. I wrote them down so I could remember them when I created my recipe lists and when I prepared food for the work week. For some people, this really helps.

If you’re interested, I’ve attached a chart to help you out:

Healthy Habits Goal Chart

It’s in Microsoft Word so you should be able to open it up, paste it to a new document, and edit it. You will see the goals I have for each meal, snacks, and for general physical and emotional health. I list goals and then ideas for meals (helps with shopping). I keep this chart in the same area I write my recipes and grocery lists. It helps. If you’re so inclined, take a look at mine and then work on creating your own. Hang it on the fridge, stick it in your purse, near your grocery lists … whatever works for you.

I obviously eat much more variety than what’s listed, especially for dinner, but the lunch and breakfast ideas are really important for me during the work week. They remind me of what I aspire to prepare to have a super healthy breakfast/lunch during my work week. At night I allow much more variety and on the weekend I get to splurge. It’s the balance I love and it works for me.

Remember, you don’t create healthy habits in a matter of days. It’s a journey to finding the lifestyle that makes you the happiest and the healthiest. I certainly don’t always eat according to my written goals, but they guide me in my decisions and as a result I’m creating healthy habits I hope to have for life … a long, healthy, happy life. You can do the same. Here’s to your best year yet!

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8 thoughts on “The best dietary change I ever made (green smoothies, anyone?) … and how to start 2013 with healthy habits!

  1. Noelle Markus January 3, 2013 / 1:49 PM

    In my opinion, this was the most informative and inspiring post I’ve ever read on your blog, thank you so much!

    • thequickanddirtycook January 3, 2013 / 2:25 PM

      Thank you for the kind words! Not only does it feel good, but it helps me figure out how I can best provide posts readers love. Take care!

  2. Rachael January 3, 2013 / 3:30 PM

    This was a great blog post. I have been eating fruit-only smoothies for years and this is going to help me kick it up a notch by adding veggies! This is great because I am trying to lower my glycemic intake, so I really appreciated that info as well. I would love to know why you avoid yogurt with green smoothies – I don’t want to cut it out because it is the only way I like to eat yogurt, but I have heard that it can be hard on digestion. If it feels okay for me, do you think it would be okay to add yogurt to some of your smoothies? Thanks so much – this is awesome!!

    • thequickanddirtycook January 3, 2013 / 7:58 PM

      Hey Rachael, I’m so glad you found this helpful! In general I try to keep my breakfast vegan & gluten free. Although I am not intolerant to either, I’ve noticed I feel better this way. I think a vegan lifestyle is extremely healthy if done right, but as I’ve stated, it doesn’t work for me. I do, however, try to limit my animal products and for green smoothies I don’t find it necessary to use dairy because you get a lot of calcium from plant sources and if you use a milk substitute like almond milk, you are getting even more. That being said- if you like yogurt and it feels good for you – GO for it! Thick Greek yogurt would probably be your best bet for a creamy smoothie. Just stay away from high sugar fruity yogurts, especially if you’re trying to lower your glycemic intake. Take care!

  3. Natalie Rella January 3, 2013 / 5:08 PM

    Q&DC! What an edifying post…and a perfect first taste of what this blog has to offer (pun intended)! I officially have two new apps on my iPhone, a Healthy Habits template to work with, inspiration and know-how for moving away from coffee and a granola bar for breakfast, and great ideas and resources for the J.O.B. I’m trying to get at UF 😉 Thanks, Woman! I’m looking forward to what’s to come…

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