ANSWERING ALL YOUR SMOOTHIE QUESTIONS
We get questions all the time about smoothies. With so many recipes out there, there’s a lot of confusion about how to make them, which ingredients to choose, and whether or not you should drink them at all. As always, we can’t tell you exactly what you should be consuming, because all food and health choices are personal. However, we can show you how we approach the smoothie concept, and from there you can use our process as a guideline to make your own knowledge-empowered choices. Here we go!
Q: DO I NEED TO DRINK SMOOTHIES and/or PROTEIN SHAKES?
A: No. Nobody *needs* a smoothie. Remember that we functioned without blenders and ice for millennia, so anybody who tries to tell you that you *need* a smoothie to achieve optimal health is obviously trying to make money. That said, smoothies can be a good option if you are hungry and need a quick fix, if you are breastfeeding or trying to gain weight and need extra calories, or if you are looking for a dessert or treat that is not totally harmful but still satisfying.
In general, the need for protein smoothies and shakes is overstated. The reason we see so many smoothie recipes online is because it’s easy to make smoothies look appealing, attractive, and delicious. They are also a great way for supplement companies to convince consumers to buy a whole bunch of ingredients. In reality, *many* smoothie options, especially those from chain restaurants and those that are pre-packaged and sold at grocery stores, are probably more harmful than good. Many of these smoothies are very high in sugars, preservatives, and unknown toxins from protein powders that aren’t regulated.
We recommend that you consume smoothies in moderation, that you recognize that you don’t *need* them ever, that you view smoothies as more of a treat than a necessary part of a balanced diet, and that you recognize that it is possible and optimal to consume all necessary nutrients from eating a diverse array of real, whole foods. In sum: focus more on cooking than blending.
Q: WHAT KIND OF PROTEIN POWDER SHOULD I USE?
Honestly? You might not want to use protein powder at all. Like most supplements available in the American market, protein powders are not at all regulated by the FDA (and even if they were, the FDA makes plenty of questionable decisions), and it’s never safe to consume something when you don’t know exactly what’s in it or how it’s made. The Clean Label Project has been studying protein powders and other products, and have found that most contain toxins including heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and other substances linked to cancer and other health conditions. Based on this information, we have stopped purchasing protein powders and instead remain committed to consuming the right amount of protein (not too little, not too much) through whole, real foods like high quality meat, beans, seeds, nuts, etc.
Q: WHAT KIND OF MILK SHOULD I USE?
Every smoothie needs a liquid base. If you’re going to make a smoothie as a healthy-ish treat, consider the following. First, choose a milk or liquid base that is sugar free and without artificial flavors or other additives. You will probably be adding fruit to your smoothie, which is more than enough sugar and flavor. It’s always important to try to keep your sugar intake under 50 G / day, ideally much less than that.
Next, as with all other ingredient choices, consider sustainability. We already know that the dairy industry wreaks havoc on the environment, and for most Indigenous people, milk simply does not sit well in our stomachs, as we have some of the highest rates of lactose intolerance (cows are new to this continent, and our bodies haven’t adjusted to consuming their milk). We understand that some animal milks (cow, goat, sheep, etc.) might be a good option for some people if they are locally produced and if they happen to jive well with your individual health needs. We can’t speak for all people, but we do stay away from dairy.
Not all dairy-free milks are a good choice for the environment. Almond milk, for example, is taking a huge toll on the earth’s wellbeing. Thanks to wellness trends like smoothies, the market for almond milk has surged by more than 250 percent in recent years. Since 80 percent of almond products come from almonds grown in drought-stricken California, a state which has already allowed immeasurable devastation on the lands and waters of tribal nations (for example: the city of Los Angeles has, over decades of exploitation, completely dried up Owens Valley Paiute resources for their own water use), you might want to think twice about supporting this market. Eating based on Indigenous values means keeping the environment and health of tribal nations in mind. Not only do almonds and other industrialized agriculture dry up water resources, they are often grown with harmful pesticides that are wreaking havoc on our health in untold ways. There are many other non-dairy milk options out there. This Sierra Club evaluation and taste test of eco-friendly milk alternatives is worth a read. Make an educated choice before purchasing any type of milk product.
Q: ANY ADVICE ON OTHER INGREDIENTS?
In addition to a liquid base, smoothies often include some type of fruit, vegetables, and nut butter.
Regarding fruits and veggies: as always, try to make a choice that is both environmentally friendly and suited to your individual health needs. Sometimes bananas are too sugary for people, such as diabetics, and should never be added to a smoothie. Sometimes berries are completely out of season and unavailable, depending on the region you live in. Sometimes you can only find a non-organic, full-of-pesticides spinach option at your grocery store. Maybe, in those cases, it’s best not to have a smoothie at all. But, for most people, things like frozen organic blueberries, frozen/organic spinach, or any type of local produce that you have frozen yourself overnight is an accessible and excellent option.
Regarding nut butters, these are also undergoing mass scrutiny right now because so many are found to contain high levels of toxins that are unregulated on the market, and, like nut milk, are often unsustainably produced. Again, visit the Clean Label Project to determine which nut butters are safest to use in terms of toxicity. Also, keep your own dietary needs in mind. Some people do not react well to peanut butter, for example, as peanuts can be inflammatory.
You don’t *need* smoothies, but they can be a delicious treat. Try making yours in your own unique way keeping the environment, your health, and your family’s wellness needs in mind.