By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Green smoothies, juicing, and fruit and veggie drinks of all kinds have become quite the rage in recent years. A Google search will turn up millions of hits, whole websites dedicated to green drinks and claiming all kinds of health results from acne relief to weight loss. Many celebrities have even jumped on the liquid green bandwagon.
I couldn’t be happier. Long before the green drink revolution, and to this day, I have been drinking blended greens several times a week as well as recommending the habit to patients. Why? It’s a fantastic, easy way to get a whole bunch of fresh, nutrient-packed, fiber-filled veggies and fruits in your diet every day.
Blending and Juicing Recipes
If you go online you can find every variation on a theme – thousands of recipes. My favorite ingredients rotate among kale, Swiss chard, parsley, cilantro, celery, broccoli, spinach, beets and beet greens, along with fresh ginger, pomegranate, and lemon. I like to vary the ingredients so as not to overdo it with one particular item or another. I’ll explain why in a moment. Consuming blended or juiced fresh greens with small amounts of fruit provides your body with an array of antioxidant flavonoids and carotenoids and stellar minerals – all good for your heart and arteries.
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
- My Sinatra-Smart Antioxidant Smoothie Recipe
- My Green Apple Smoothie
- My Best Detox Drink Recipe for Heart Health
- Chocolate Smoothie – no joke – blend up baby spinach, kidney beans, pumpkin, nut butter, banana and unsweetened cocoa powder, and thin with soy or almond milk or coconut water; add pure maple syrup sparingly to taste. This is great for kids who would not normally eat these ingredients in other foods (I would advise not making it in front of them).
Juicing vs. Blending
I like blending – as opposed to juicing – veggies and fruit because juicing takes the fiber out, whereas blending leaves the fiber in, which helps with detoxification and cleansing of the intestines. I have bought every blender and juicer on the market. I finally found a durable machine at a good price that works great and lasts. It’s a Cuisinart SmartPower 7-Speed Electronic Blender.
When making blends, I’ll add pure coconut water and often throw in one or two small servings of fruit for a tad of sweetness, such as some kiwi and berries. I particularly like kiwi fruit because it enhances health-promoting bacteria in the gut, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, and the coconut water provides a healthy liquid base high in potassium.
All this being said, juicing still offers all the other, non-fiber-related benefits of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables – just make sure to eat some nuts, seeds or cheese at the same time to help slow digestion down with protein and fat.
Oxalates and Kidney Stones
From time to time I have seen warnings from one dietary authority or another about the danger of consuming too many green leafy veggies because of the danger of forming kidney stones. The often maligned perpetrator is oxalate, a salt form of oxalic acid that binds up with calcium and other minerals to crystalize and form stones. Oxalate is found in all plant foods; spinach is the highest in oxalate. However, researchers do not believe that eating any specific food causes stones in people who are not otherwise susceptible.
That’s important to keep in mind. For individuals prone to form stones, exercising some caution may save a lot of agony. The prudent advice, if you are such a person, is to reduce your intake of dietary oxalates. As a cardiologist, this is the cholesterol story as well; your body naturally produces cholesterol.
Stone formers also need to be careful about calcium intake. Four out of five kidney stones involve calcium. Certainly watch your coffee, caffeinated-beverage, and alcohol consumption, as overconsumption has the potential to cause dehydration. People who do not drink enough fluids in the first place may also be at higher risk due to the fact that their urine becomes more concentrated. Therefore, it’s important you stay well hydrated – with healthy drinks!
Individuals with a hyperparathyroid condition may also be at higher risk. The parathyroid glands are located in the neck, and regulate the level of calcium in the body. If they produce too much hormone, the calcium level will rise, and increase the risk of stones.
While on the subject of thyroid, it is prudent to mention that cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, turnips, broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) are regarded as potentially goitrogenic. That means they contain enzymes that might interfere with the production of thyroid hormones in individuals who have an iodine deficiency. Such interference could result in an enlargement of the thyroid known as a goiter.
Here’s the way I see this issue. The protective anti-cancer properties of the cruciferous vegetable family are well known. Cooking or steaming such veggies reduces their potential thyroid effect. However, if you want to eat or drink them raw, I would follow my general recommendation of using a wide variety of greens, and not just the same thing day-in-and-day-out. That goes for chicken, oatmeal, or a green smoothie. Eating is all about balance and variety, and not overconsuming – whether it is food in general, or one food specifically.
If you have a thyroid condition, be sure to have your doctor check you out periodically.
Green drinks can deliver many health benefits, to be sure. If you back up your green drink habit with a solid anti-inflammatory diet, and stay away from sugar, you are definitely on a good eating path.
And yes, don’t forget to use organic produce whenever possible in your drinks!
- Blumenthal RG. Drink up! America is finally eating its vegetables − from a bottle. How fresh juice is becoming big business for Starbucks and your local juice bar. Barron’s. 2012.
- Lee YK, et al. Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) changes intestinal microbial profile. Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2012.
- National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Kidney stones in adults.
- Massey LK. Dietary influences on urinary oxalate and risk of kidney stones. Front Biosci. 2003;1(8):s584-94.
- Russell, T. Oxalates In Spinach – Is Oxalic Acid A Green Smoothie Health Concern? IncredibleSmoothies.com.
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