Have you ever watched Sesame Street? (That is a trick question because I’m assuming anyone with a TV has). If you’re my age you will remember Cookie Monster appearing on the screen and chomping down on unlimited amounts of chocolate chip cookies. NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM!
In more recent times Cookie Monster has become ‘woke’ about the potential health risks associated with the over consumption of sweet treats. He now enjoys cookies in moderation. Cookies are, he tells his young viewers, a “sometimes food” to be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Cue the smoothie – or as I like to call it: sometimes food for adults.
If you’ve been following along with me for a while now you’ll no doubt be aware that I get triggered by the mention of smoothies. Here’s why:
They are usually cold.
Often smoothies are made with cold ingredients – chilled coconut water, yoghurt straight out of the fridge, frozen fruit, and ice. I’ve written an entire blog post about why your digestion doesn’t like cold food (if you haven’t read it I recommend you go here and read it, then come back to this article) but in brief, your stomach is like a saucepan, simmering over a flame. Your core temperature is 36-37˚C depending on gender and age, it’s warm inside your belly for a reason.
Chinese medicine theory states that if you routinely ingest food that is cold, you put the saucepan under too much load, it can’t keep simmering, and you begin to experience the symptoms of sluggish digestion – beginning with symptoms like bloating, cold hands and feet, mental fog, fatigue, nausea and loose stools. Over time you may find yourself developing haemorrhoids, sugar cravings, food intolerances, and even weight gain.
You don’t chew them.
Chewing is not an optional aspect of digestion. The act of mastication stimulates the salivary glands to secrete saliva, which contains digestive enzymes that start the breakdown of fats and starches – chewing is the first step in the chemical digestion of our food.
It also signals the stomach that we’ve started eating, and that food is on it’s way down. This leads to the stomach secreting the hydrochloric acid that will continue the chemical breakdown of your food. By not chewing a smoothie, you’re dumping a dense, cold mass of food into an unprepared digestive tract, without the necessary predigestion.
This hits your digestive system hard. If your digestion is in tip-top shape (and I hate to be a downer but for many of us it isn’t) then you can get away with it, for a while. If your saucepan isn’t simmering quite the way it should then a dense smoothie (that has skipped the first phase of digestion) is really going to put it under stress.
They are often sugar bombs.
I know that the topic of sugar can get people pretty fired up. Many feel as though sugar has been demonised and the problem is actually foods that combine sugar with fats and salt, creating the delicious evil triad. There are claims that sugar is addictive, but most people don’t sit and eat sugar from the sugar bowl (Mary Poppins notwithstanding) so the argument can be made that sugar itself isn’t the problem, and we shouldn’t be afraid of mangoes.
Having said that, we also know that excessive sugar consumption is unhealthy. It can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a known precursor for diabetes, cardiovascular (heart) disease, and 13 different types of cancer (according to the Australian Cancer Council).
You may have heard that cancer cells feed on sugar.
The research is still evolving in this area and a lot depends on interpretation since glucose (which we derive from carbohydrates) feeds all cells – we need it to live. So while its true to say that sugar feeds cancer cells, its an oversimplification because glucose feeds all our cells. What may support the theory that sugar feeds cancer cells specifically, is that the excess consumption of sugar will cause a spike in blood sugar, which leads to the release of insulin-like growth factor (IGF). IGF has been shown to help cancer cells grow.
A lot depends on an individual’s response to sugar. If you are insulin resistant then your IGF spike will be high, if your body is able to control your blood sugar then it will release less IGF, potentially depriving cancer cells of this source of fuel. But while we’re still trying to figure out the mechanisms of cancer, and given sugar’s other health risks, reducing our sugar consumption is probably a smart move.
Smoothies are hard to digest.
Again, speaking from a TCM point of view (cuz I always do), they are difficult to digest. Firstly because they are cold in temperature (as mentioned above) but they’re also often loaded up with dense ingredients. Protein powder, bananas, nuts, nut butters, seeds, dates, milk or milk alternatives, cacao… the list can go on and on.
I know this seems counter intuitive – surely a smoothie jam packed with healthy ingredients can only be good for us?! And it’s a fine theory, but the digestion has to work hard to transform those ingredients, to separate the nutrients that will be transformed into your Qi (energy) and Blood, from the waste products that will move through your digestive system.
Again, those with robust digestion can get away with a little more than us mere mortals, but for the majority of people these cold, dense, masses of goop that lack predigestion are just not our friend.
HOW TO ENJOY SMOOTHIES
I know I sound like I’m hating on smoothies (because I kind of am a little bit) but if used in moderation they can be an excellent addition to your diet.
For those of you that work out and like to drink a protein shake after, I support you, with some provisos:
Use protein powder and water, not milk
Make sure the water is room temp, not cold
Don’t add ice
If adding additional ingredients, keep it to 1 or 2, make sure they are room temperature
Chew it (yes I’m serious)
Don’t add ice (this is deliberately on the list twice, just in case you were skim reading)
For those of you that like to have smoothies for breakfast:
Don’t have smoothies for breakfast.
Sarcasm aside, it’s just not a great breakfast. If you do have a smoothie for breakfast then the same rules apply.
Do you think your digestion might be less than optimal? Do you have questions about how Chinese medicine approaches diet? If you’d like to discuss your individual situation then contact me for a complimentary 30 minute discovery call.