I love eggs and bacon for breakfast. My absolute favorite breakfast in my early twenties was at the Waffle House. Black coffee, waffle with all the butter and syrup, with a side of two eggs over easy and bacon. I cleaned my plates about once a week and chased it all with a filterless Lucky Strike. I know. I know…
Those days are long gone and now my breakfasts are quite a bit more thoughtful and intentional in my choices. Sometimes eating healthy feels like a chore, like you would rather be eating something else if it wasn’t for your excellent self-discipline. Eating healthy can be far more enjoyable and tasty if your mind is on board. When you know why you are making certain food choices, then you put some purpose behind it all. Purpose makes everything fulfilling, even something as simple as a breakfast smoothie.
Smoothies are such a fantastic way to get in a variety of nutrients. I probably have more food diversity in my smoothie than in any other meal of my day. I don’t eat the same smoothie everyday. Part of the job of a smoothie is to waste less too. When I’m cooking throughout the week, I will save the undesirable ends of produce to toss in a smoothie. Or, the tiny amount of something at the end of bag that isn’t enough for a recipe. Those bits aren’t bad, they just maybe work better blended in a smoothie than a roast.
Before I get to the ingredients, let’s try to understand why antioxidants are important. Oxidation is a normal and natural part of cell metabolism, but can also be compounded by outside factors. Oxidative stress, however, damages healthy cells, which can lead to cell death. Excessive oxidative stress directly contributes to so many diseases, neuro-degeneration, and insulin resistance. Think: cancer, irritable bowel disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, coronary artery disease…need I go on? While our body has mechanisms to react to oxidative stress by protecting and repairing cells, there are certain chemical compounds found in our food that can aid in fighting against oxidative stress. These compounds can work as antioxidants by attaching to free radicals instead of free radicals attaching to healthy cells and causing damage. Another important way these chemical compounds fight oxidation, is by activating a very important genetic mechanism that tells the body to start healing itself: the Nrf2 pathway. The Nrf2 pathway is our body’s major regulator of oxidant defense. It activates over 1% of our genome to start protecting against and repairing damage from oxidation. I find that taking a deeper dive into how these superfoods work and knowing that there are studies that prove their efficacy helps me to enact dietary changes.
Here’s one of my morning smoothie recipes and WHY I include each ingredient:
1/2 cup of frozen fruit mix – wild blueberries, pineapple, and açai – I put frozen blueberries in all of my smoothies everyday. It offers some natural sweetness, something cold, and antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic effects! Açai finds it way into my smoothie from time to time for the same reason. Both of these foods are high in the flavonoid anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is shown to activate the NRF2 pathway. Pineapple is known for its high Vitamin C content, which helps repair cell damage and offers immune support. It is also a great source of manganese, which aids in bone strength. Now that I find myself in menopause, after having my ovaries removed, bone health is big on my radar.
1/2 banana – We know bananas are great for potassium, which helps me as a runner with muscle recovery and cramping. The other reason I have it in my smoothie, is prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in our gut. They are able to make it beyond acidic environment of the stomach to the lower digestive tract where it can feed gut flora. Healing my leaky gut and controlling Crohn’s flare-ups are at the top of my to-do list. It’s also a great natural sweetener!
1 strawberry – I really throw this in for the sweetness, but strawberries are also a great source of anthocyanin and Vitamin C! Sometimes my frozen berry blend includes strawberries.
1 celery stalk – I put celery in for fiber and water. I’m always looking for ways to hydrate through food.
1/3 cup broccoli sprouts – This is my source of sulforaphane in my smoothie for activating the Nrf2 pathway for cell repair. I can only find broccoli sprouts at one specialty grocer in my area. You can grow your own, though! I need to start doing this. You can learn more about broccoli sprouts at my go-to source for accurate nutritional data Dr. Rhonda Patrick:
1-2 generous cups of greens – I used kale from my garden in this smoothie, but I’ll also use mix of organic spinach, kale, or chard on any given day. If, on the rare occasion, I don’t have greens on hand, I don’t bother with a smoothie. Kale gives me fiber, Vitamin K, sulforaphane, and a variety of antioxidants that fight cancer tumor growth.
1/2 inch of chopped turmeric root – The curcumin in turmeric root has tremendous anti-inflammatory benefits. When paired with black pepper, bioavailability is increased, which can be an obstacle to unlocking the potential benefits of this plant root.
Shredded carrots – carrots add some sweetness, fiber, and beta-carotene. Our body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A, which contributes to eye and skin health among other things. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid, which is also an antioxidant!
2 scoops Collagen Hydrolysate – I started using this after my c-sections, to aid in post-surgery healing and repairing my abdominal muscle separation. There are also benefits to joints, which is great as a runner. The difference between gelatin and collagen hydrolysate is that the latter has been processed so that it will not congeal and so that it is easier for the body to absorb, increasing bioavailability. I use Great Lakes brand.
1 Tbs Ground Flaxseed – In addition to being fermentable in the gut and improving healthy gut flora, flax contains lignan, which has antioxidant effects. Despite being a phytoestrogen, binding to estrogen receptors, it actually prevents rather than promotes tumor growth in breast tissue.
1 Tbs Cacao Powder – Calcium, iron, magnesium…all great additions for a post menopausal women. The bonus benefits of powerful cocoa flavonols that you may not realize is the brain benefits. Studies show that they can improve cognition and memory as well as improve cognitive decline in older adults. Why not just eat chocolate every day instead of cacao? Cacao is less processed that cocoa and you skip the added sugars, fats, and other additives in a chocolate bar.
This is the brand I use. Available on Amazon.
Almond Milk – Finally, I pour in enough unsweetened, plain almond milk to liquify to the consistency I want. Probably about 1.5 cups. Water would work too, but I like the creaminess that almond milk adds. Sometimes I’ll add a little full-fat canned coconut milk too.
My mom asked me how it tasted, you know, with all those different foods blended together. I guess my response would be: healthy. Ha! I’ve gotten it down to fit my tastes, not just to tolerate, but to enjoy. I might add apples, oranges or other fruits to add sweetness. Once you get going on your daily smoothie game, you’ll figure out what proportions work for your taste. Just make sure you make it diverse!
I am not a scientist, dietitian, doctor, or anything that would suggest I am an authority on this topic. I’m simply a person seeking to understand my body and the best way to take care of it. I enjoy listening to podcasts and reading any online articles that will take a deeper dive into the WHY of nutrition. Many of the antioxidants discussed above are only found in our food, and have no proven effects in supplement form. Food is not just about checking the boxes to reach the recommended amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It’s about nutrients and building blocks to protect and repair. Diversity is key to a nutrient-rich diet!
References: Nrf2 pathway and antioxidants: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0148042, Pineapple: https://www.livescience.com/45487-pineapple-nutrition.html, Broccoli Sprouts: https://blog.bulletproof.com/sulforaphane-for-energy-weight-loss-and-detox/Kale: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150505182614.htm Flaxseed: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/lignans