Smoothies - making them fit into Primal guidelines

I get asked about smoothies a lot. They have been a mainstay of the "healthy eating on the run" movement, and somehow they feel like a treat - usually because they are a treat. Anything that is sweet tasting and high in carbs is a treat. Anything chocolate is definitely a treat. And most smoothie recipes out there fall into one of those categories.

When taking a whole real foods approach to low carb, healthy fats eating, it's hard to find a place for jumbo bananas, expensive protein powders and fruit juices. Yet this is what comprises most smoothies. And any powdered product that claims to be a "healthy smoothie" just by adding water to it is immediately suspect. Not much real food happening there!

My approach to breakfast is to encourage clients to eat when hungry, not just to eat breakfast because it's breakfast time. There is a growing body of research and evidence that longer periods of not eating, "fasting", have definite metabolic effects on the body, most of them beneficial. Our cultural norm of eating 5-6 times per day is a very modern aberration, not at all what has been normal until just in the last 50 years or so. It's still not normal in many parts of the world. Especially with our heavily carb based Standard American Diet (termed SAD for short), this constant bathing of our system with ingested sugars leads to high circulating insulin levels, promoting fat deposition and impairing fat burning for fuel. There is absolutely nothing wrong with delaying your first meal of the day until your body tells you it is truly hungry.

There's a slight glitch in this plan, though. Bosses and workplaces don't usually allow you to wander away from your job and go cook some eggs in mid-morning. The rest of our lives are so totally ruled by the clock - when to get up, work hours, scheduled meetings or workouts, lunch at noon, supper at 6, to bed before 11, etc., etc., etc! So how to be true to your natural appetite and hunger signals, especially when extending your overnight fast into mid morning or later?

That's where travelling foods are so popular. Energy bars, Timmies stops for muffins or egg sandwiches, the ever-present ginormous banana... All forms of carb-based finger foods and none are appropriate for living Primally. So what to do?

Here are some ideas that I have found helpful for carry-along breakfast items that can be consumed in a workplace setting:

  • High fat nuts. Carry a small container (Altoids box is a good size) of your favourite nuts - mine are macademias, but almonds work well too. Raw and unsalted is best. When the hunger signals start, open the box and eat one at a time, chewing well. This will provide 200-400 kcals of mostly fat calories, moderate protein, healthy fibre and almost nil carbs, so no insulin response to start the daily sugar high/low rollercoaster. This has been my go-to workday breakfast for several years now.

  • Hard boiled eggs, peeled at home and in a bag with salt and pepper. You will need a napkin for this one, but 2 eggs is only about 150 kcals and loaded with protein and good saturated fats. Don't worry about cholesterol - your body needs it. In fact, you need it so regularly that you make your own when you don't consume enough.

So what about smoothies? They are definitely portable, well-tolerated in workplace settings, and filling. When made with the right ingredients, they can be delicious and satisfying and meet the high standards of the LCHF way of eating.

Some ingredients that meet the mark are listed below:

  • Raw eggs. Wash the shells, crack into the smoothie and blend well. There is minimal risk to eating raw eggs when consumed right away. People have been doing it for millenia. Don't make a raw egg containing smoothie, then leave it in the fridge for several days - consume it soon after making it. Fabulous source of protein and numerous important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. If your smoothie turns out to be of a "ice crystal" consistancy when you make it, it's so cold that you can carry it around for an hour or two with absolutely no risk of bacterial growth.

  • Avocados - provide wonderful creaminess to smoothies. You can buy avocado chunks frozen (President's Choice are the ones I've found). Fresh is fine too, of course.

  • Nut butters - good fats, creamy texture, yummy flavours, but lots of calories. Use sparingly if weight loss is a goal of your dietary interventions.

  • Fresh or frozen berries - raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or cherries. Lower carb and higher fibre than bananas, peaches, mangos, pineapple chunks, etc.

  • Unflavoured/unsweetened kefir or full fat yogurt - great source of creaminess and good probiotics for gut health and healing.

  • Fresh or frozen spinach or kale. I buy the frozen chopped spinach in a bag of pre-formed "pucks" and just throw one of those in the blender. It's pretty well impossible to find after a good blending, but you get all the nutrition of the greens.

  • Coconut milk - full fat, of course. Lots of calories, so if weight loss is a goal, use sparingly. In other words, don't use cups of the stuff... Instead, use 1/3-1/2 cup and then add water to the blender to dilute to an adequate amount of fluid for blending.

  • Almond milk - the unsweetened, unflavoured variety - only 30 calories and 1 g net carbs in a cup.

  • Pure cocoa powder. For those who like chocolate - not my thing... Goes great with a tablespoon or two of nut butter.

  • Chia seeds, whole or ground. Beware that these will gel up your smoothie if left for long, so you might not want to do this if you are carrying your drink for later. Conversely, you can make any smoothie type recipe into a pudding by adding chia seeds and letting it sit for a while.

  • Water/ice cubes. If using frozen products, add water to the blender. If using fresh produce, add ice cubes. Don't be afraid to add water to your smoothie. Not every little bit of it has to be densely nutritious food - it is supposed to be a drinkable liquid after all...

  • Stevia or stevia/erythritol sweetener packets. Use a couple when desired to give just a hint of sweetness. You don't want the drink to be very sweet, as this triggers sweet cravings. Once fat-adapted, you tend to become very sensitive to even slight sweetness, as I wrote about in the fat bomb blogpost.

So here's what I built yesterday. It was my first time playing with almond milk, not a product that I'm very familiar with. It came out as a slushie and I ate most of it with a spoon. Then I did the nutritional analysis on it, so I will share that as well.

Paleo Breakfast Smoothie

1 raw egg

1 small avocado

1/2 cup frozen raspberries

1 puck frozen spinach

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 envelopes of stevia sweetener

Add to blender and blend thoroughly. Mine was very full of ice crystals and "slushie" enough to stand a spoon in, so I would add 1/2 cup water next time. Makes one serving of about 2 cups (500 mls).

Nutritional information: 270 kcals, 10 g net carbs, 12.5 g fibre, 11.5 g protein, 16.5 g fat, of which 9 g is monounsaturated fats.

Have fun experimenting. Just try to keep it real, and not too sweet...

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