Eat healthy. It sounds so simple, so logical and so good, yet in practice it often eludes us. As Torah Jews, we proudly eschew non-kosher fare, yet when it comes to the directive, “And you shall carefully preserve your lives” (Devarim 4:15), which includes healthful eating, many of us struggle to comply. Why is it that the most delectable food without proper kosher certification would never pass our lips, but once there is an acceptable hechsher (kashrut certification), we consume foods that are damaging to the body? While the answer to this question is manifold, part of the problem is the difficulty in defining healthy foods.
Throughout the past century, foods that were once deemed healthy – such as butter and red meat in the 1950s – have been labelled as harmful, at least in large amounts. Additionally, trendy diets have proclaimed entire food groups unhealthy; whether it is carbs, meat, dairy, or something else, a simple internet search will yield volumes of information detailing the ills of many common foods that are assumed by everyone else to be healthy. The lone exception is fruits are vegetables, whose health benefits are recognized by virtually all mainstream health and weight loss diets.
Fortunately, our holy Medieval sage, Maimonides (Rambam), who was both a rabbi and a trained physician, has gifted the Jewish people with a list of health directives. Of those who follow these guidelines he says: “I guarantee him that he will not become sick throughout all of his days, until he becomes very old and dies.” And a promise from the Rambam ought not to be taken lightly – traditional Yemenite Jews, famed for their long lives, are said to meticulously follow the Rambam’s medical advice.
One particularly interesting recommendation from the Rambam is to chew food extremely thoroughly before swallowing. As elucidated in the Kitzur Shulhan Aruch (32:13), in the section entitled Shemirat Haguf Al Pi Teva (“Naturally Caring for the Body”), this means that digestion begins in the mouth, when the food is ground by the teeth and mixed with saliva. Therefore, food should not be swallowed before it is carefully chewed, as chewing is vital for facilitating easy digestion. As Rabbi Jonathan Rietti puts it, the Rambam is teaching us, “Don’t eat your food, drink it!”
Drawing natural conclusions from the facts presented above – that fruits and veggies are undeniably healthy and that liquids are kinder to the stomach – it stands to reason that a great way to eat healthier is to incorporate smoothies and natural juices into our diets. So go ahead and pour yourself a glass of something healthy, cool and refreshing to sip as we delve into the whats, whys, and hows of healthy smoothies and juices.
Bottoms Up: Why Drink Your Food?
In addition to the Rambam’s guidance – which is echoed by contemporary science – that liquid foods enable easy digestion and effective absorption of nutrients, another important benefit of consuming smoothies and juices is the increased intake of raw foods. While fruits and vegetables in any form are great, when cooked at temperatures above 118 Fahrenheit they are stripped of essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that enhance the immune system, aid in digestion, and detoxify the body. Cooked food has a discernibly duller tone, because the radiant color of fresh fruits and veggies comes from phytochemicals and antioxidants. These provide essential health benefits that are lost once the food is cooked. Raw vegetables also contribute to hormone health. Therefore, drinking a mixture of fresh, raw produce maximizes the amount of goodness the body receives.
Another draw of health drinks is weight loss. Fruits and vegetables are a low fat, low calorie, healthy alternative to junk food. For those who find it hard to choke down a salad of fresh veggies, blending or juicing them in combination with sweeter fruits that mask their taste is an easy way to fill up on what’s really good for you. These drinks cleanse toxins from the body and create balance in the system, and since liquids are rapidly digested, they provide a quicker boost of energy which leads to an active and healthy lifestyle.
Smoothies vs. Juices: What’s The Difference?
While both smoothies and juices use raw fruits and vegetables to create a nutrient-packed beverage, they are very different drinks. Juicing, which requires a special juicing appliance, involves a process of extracting the liquids – the water and nutrients – from produce while discarding the fibrous pulp. Smoothies, which are prepared in a blender, contain the entire fruit and vegetable with all their natural fiber, often mixed with a liquid base and other optional add-ins.
Proponents of juicing assert that by ingesting the food in pure liquid form, the body receives maximum benefit from the food as the nutrients are more easily processed. The idea is that without the fiber, the digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to absorb the nutrients within the food. And, juice from freshly squeezed fruits and vegetables is known to have a healing, detoxifying and nourishing effect on the body. On the other hand, since juices are devoid of fiber, they are not filling, and because the juice is absorbed so quickly into the blood stream, it can create an unwanted spike in blood sugar levels.
In contrast, fiber-rich smoothies are very filling, and the broken-down fibers create a slow, easy-to-digest release of nutrients in the body, while at the same time aiding in waste elimination. Smoothies also make for a great meal on-the-go; a large serving of fruits and veggies can be combined with a protein-rich base and healthy fat add-ins like nuts or seeds to become a meal in a cup. However, one must be careful to avoid sugary, processed ingredients, such as a base of sweetened juice or frozen yogurts, or else smoothies can quickly turn into shakes – their high calorie, unhealthy counterparts.
Simple Addition: Boost Your Smoothie with Superfoods
Your smoothie can become infused with an abundance of good-for-you nutrients through easy additions of foods that are jam packed with vitamins. Chia seeds are rich in Omega-3s, fiber, antioxidants and minerals; just a tablespoon added to your smoothies will provide a boost of vitamins and help you feel satiated. Ground flaxseed is another easy add-in to increase your consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids. Spirulina, which is actually a form of algae, is considered to be the ultimate protein without the calories, and it also contains Vitamin E and calcium; one teaspoon of spirulina is more than enough, as it has a strong seaweed taste. Coconut oil is an extremely healthy fat that provides energy, prevents fatigue and aids weight loss; try adding two tablespoons to your next health smoothie. One scoop of matcha green tea powder is a way to get the health benefits of green tea—antioxidants, increased energy and enhanced focus—in a concentrated form. If you have a sweet tooth, bypass sugar for a healthier choice: dates are a sweet and healthy energy booster, and raw honey is full of vitamins, great for digestion and a source of vitamins B and C.
While pure fruit smoothies and juices are delicious and healthy, adding veggies, especially the green ones, will turn your drink into a power house of nutrients. Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, beet leaves, and Swiss chard, provide the body with much needed doses of vital vitamins. The B Vitamins, which fuel the body with energy, along with Vitamin K, which prevents cardiovascular disease, bone fragility and age-related illness, are found in abundance in leafy greens. These green miracle foods lower cholesterol, preserve vision, manage blood pressure levels, reduce the risk of arthritis, and boost bone health.
For many, however, the signature bitter taste of raw greens, which is directly related to the health benefits, often renders these extraordinary health foods unpalatable. Enter the green drink. In juice form, blending the greens with sweeter fruits such as apples and oranges can cut back the bitterness of the greens. Lemons are also great for masking the veggie taste. In smoothies, greens can go completely undetected. When blended with frozen fruits, such as bananas and berries, and a base of milk, coconut water, or yogurt, an added serving of fresh leafy veggies will turn your smoothie into a lovely green color without affecting the taste.
(Note: Please consult with your rabbi for guidance to avoid bug-infested vegetables.)
Especially during the warm summer months when delicious seasonal produce becomes available and hydration is ever so important, drinking healthy smoothies and juices is a tasty and refreshing way to stay cool, hydrated and nourished. So the next time you drink a vitamin-packed fruit and veggie beverage, you can truly say, L’haim!
Green Goodness Smoothie
½ cup chopped frozen mango
½ cup frozen strawberry
1 chopped frozen banana
1 cup packed spinach leaves
Blend until it achieves a uniform consistency.
Minty Pear Juice
6 pears, sliced and deseeded
2 stalks celery
3 cups kale
2 tbsp fresh mint
Juice all the ingredients together, chill and serve.