I have found very few changes in diet, lifestyle or supplementation that have ever delivered an immediate and obvious benefit. Weight loss, for example, has always involved a painful and prolonged ordeal, which is in such stark contrast to the ease, speed and pleasure involved in acquiring those extra kilos. This is why I was so pleasantly surprised to discover a diet strategy that delivered profound changes within days.
A close friend had gifted me a copy of Victoria Boutenko's little book, "Green for Life", and I finally found time to read it. I was amazed at some of the information she shared. I was aware of the alkalising power of greens and the benefits of chlorophyll but I had not previously researched the complete suite of green benefits. Certainly, I had not considered that this food could be the missing link in the "defensive eating" strategy I have so passionately promoted over the past decade.
The Chimp Link
Victoria's theory was originally developed in relation to her interest in the nutrition of chimpanzees. She reasoned that, as this primate contained genes almost identical to ours (the chimp shares 99.4% of the same genes), there could be some lessons to learn from studying the preferred food of these creatures. Chimps have paid the price for this genetic commonality. They have been made the unfortunate laboratory chumps forced to suffer numerous discomforts in the name of drug and cosmetic testing. When we leave them be, they are amongst the healthiest of the apes and this is linked, in no small part, to their exemplary diet. This diet largely consists of fruits, nuts and berries alternated with greens. In fact, greens make up 55% of the chimpanzee's diet. Every few weeks a chimp will kill a monkey to top up on protein, iron, saturated fats and B12 and this is, perhaps, the "meat model" that could well be best suited to humans. This focus upon greens is rarely mirrored in human diets. The typical American diet features just 5% greens and vegetarians and vegans rarely exceed 20%. Victoria estimates that a 50% greens component in our diet would involve at least 600 grams of greens each day. That's a couple of big bunches of greens per person per day. My partner, Moira, regularly cooks a bowl of greens but I find it hard to consume much more than 100 grams per sitting. She describes parties in her African homeland where the large bowls of greens are the first thing emptied from the food table. Victoria describes her problems in consuming large amounts of greens and those problems are compounded when trying to encourage children to do the same. This is why she opted for green smoothies as the most powerful tool to deliver large servings of raw greens in an appealing manner.
Juice vs Smoothies
The key to a long, healthy life is to maintain low levels of insulin in your blood. Insulin sponsors an increase in the rate of cell division and each cell only has a certain number of divisions within a lifetime (the Hayflick limit). Three recent studies of centenarians found that the only common denominator amongst those who made the long haul, was low blood insulin. This correlated with animal studies that have linked calorie restriction with longevity. Restricting intake to 2000 calories a day has been shown to increase the lifespan of guinea pigs by up to 250% and primates by 150%. Low calorie intake means low blood sugar, which equates to low blood insulin. One of the dietary strategies that helps to minimise blood sugar excesses involves eating according to the Glycemic Index (GI). The GI categorises food according to how fast it spikes blood sugar. High GI food is to be avoided, while the low and medium levels are encouraged and can be consumed at will. The factor that most powerfully influences the sugar spiking capacity of a food is the fibre component. Australia's favourite vegetable, the potato, has a higher GI than white sugar, as it contains very little fibre to mediate the sugar rush. Contrary to the name, the sweet potato features a GI which is just a third of the potato because it contains good levels of fibre.
This GI issue is particularly important when it comes to the choice of beverage we supply to our children. Over 600 cans of soft drink are consumed per person per year in the US and we are not too far behind. This over consumption accounts for 40% of the 75 kg of sugar consumed per person each year in that country and it poses a serious health problem. Parents often swell with pride when reporting that their children are encouraged to drink juices rather than soft drinks. The fact is that juices also pose a GI problem. There is no doubt that the antioxidants in this fresh fare are immensely beneficial but the blood sugar spiking capacity of juices is only 30% less than the colas. The soft drinks contain around 11 teaspoons of fructose (usually derived from corn syrup) but the juices are not far behind. A 250 mL glass of fruit juice can contain up to eight teaspoons of sugar.
However, there is one way where we can gain the wonderful benefits of fruit juices without the negatives. The raw foodies have long sung the praises of high powered blenders that can "juice" anything with all of the fibre included. These 2 hp machines are considered essential wellness tools in this fraternity and I believe we should all own one. No longer do you discard 70% pulp when producing your juice. The pulp is the all-important fibre. Your blended smoothie comprises everything the fruit or vegetable had to offer and it is a low GI drink to be consumed at will.
Accessing the Treasure Within
It’s not just that most of us eat considerably less than the ideal amount of greens, there is also an issue relative to the absorption of the nutrient lode within this food. Cellulose has one of the strongest molecular structures on the planet. Green foods are remarkably nutrient dense but the goodies are stored inside the cells and the cell wall must be ruptured to access the treasure. There are two requirements that ensure this access. The food must be chewed to a creamy consistency and you also need to be producing luxury amounts of hydrochloric acid to facilitate digestion. If either requirement is ignored you can expect to suffer indigestion and nausea when consuming large amounts of greens in a single sitting. Unfortunately, thorough chewing is not commonly practised. Our jaw muscles have weakened through generations of consumption of cooked and processed food and a time-starved modern lifestyle further lessens the likelihood of sufficient chewing. Lack of hydrochloric acid is an often neglected health problem with serious consequences. Hydrochloric acid production begins to decline in many of us after 40 and the associated indigestion is often mistaken for acidity, as the digestive discomfort is similar. Hydrochloric acid is essential for health. Malabsorption of nutrients is one outcome of hypochloridia as is the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and candida in the absence of acid control. Numerous ailments have been linked to low stomach acid including candida, parasites, arthritis, asthma, auto immune disorders, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hepatitis, osteoporosis, eczema, stomach cancer, depression and ulcerative colitis. The two most important factors contributing to this acid shortage include over consumption of fats and proteins and a deficiency of zinc. An over supply of fats and proteins compromises the parietal cells that secrete HCL while zinc is a key mineral required to manufacture this digestive acid. Zinc deficiency is the most pervasive mineral shortage in the Western world. A lack of zinc can initiate a shortage of hydrochloric acid which limits the uptake of zinc and a vicious cycle can begin.
Using your high powered blender as a substitute for your jaws offers a dual benefit. You can now access the full nutrient package from the greens while the improved delivery of zinc and other minerals helps to restore healthy hydrochloric acid production.
Leaves vs Roots
One of the revelations in Victoria's book really shook me to the foundations. Who would have thought that the leaves of root vegetables like beetroot and carrots would contain considerably higher nutrition than the root we choose to consume. The nutritional superiority of the part we usually throw out is profound. In fact, almost every nutrient in the leaf is comparable or higher except carbohydrates, sugar and calories. The leaves of beetroot, for example, contain seven times more calcium, three times more magnesium, six times more vitamin C, 200 times more Vitamin A and 2000 times more vitamin K than the roots. Surprisingly, the leaves are also a great source of protein, containing 40% more of this building block than the roots. One of the frequent criticisms of the vegetarian diet relates to the fact that it may not contain enough protein if food intake does not feature liberal servings of legumes. If we could include 50% greens in our diet, there is a substantial protein component. If those greens were in the form of green smoothies then all of the protein will be bio-available.
The Seven Secrets of Green Smoothies
All plants contain the enzymes that help digest them. Unfortunately, these enzymes are very fragile and they are often destroyed during cooking and food processing. We are withdrawing from our limited enzyme bank account whenever we tax the pancreas with cooked food. Green smoothies involve raw food that contains the full complement of enzymes and they require minimum digestion in their micronised liquid form. This food is both a source of enzymes in itself and it has an enzyme-sparing effect.
Greens are the most alkalising of all foods and the vast majority of us could benefit from their acid neutralising action. The most alkalising minerals are calcium, magnesium and potassium and greens contain luxury levels of this trio. The ideal urine pH is 7 and not many of us achieve this ideal. Acidity breeds disease in soils, plants, animals and humans so there should be strong motivation to alkalise.
Green smoothies contain exceptional levels of the bowel cleansing fibre that many of us are lacking. Health begins in the colon. If you are not regular you are not healthy. Elimination is our principle detox system and fibre determines the efficiency of toxin removal. In a world flooded with man-made toxins, fibre has never been more important. Soluble fibre, like that found in chia seed, helps to remove excess cholesterol and slows the release of sugars (reducing the risk of diabetes). Insoluble fibre, like that found in greens, serves very much like a sponge. This sponge can hold several times its own weight in toxic residues and is essential for efficient elimination.
Green smoothies can improve hormone balance. All of the endocrine supporting nutrients can be provided in super-available form in this source of concentrated greens. Hormone balance is dependent upon broad spectrum nutrition. This biochemical homeostasis involves inextricably entwined nutrient relationships but the alkalising minerals play a huge role. The reproductive cancers (which account for more deaths than any other cancer) are fuelled by endocrine imbalances. Greens have more capacity than any other food group to deliver the necessities.
Green smoothies have effectively concentrated the power of chlorophyll. The chlorophyll molecule is remarkably similar to the heme molecule in human blood and it literally serves as the life blood of all plant life. The green plant is the only food source on the planet and nature has determined that this "plant blood" offers remarkable nurturing benefits to the human body. Part of this gift involves an oxygen connection. Many ailments are linked to anaerobic conditions. In fact, Dr Otto Warburg won a Nobel prize for discovering the link between anaerobism and cancer. Chlorophyll is a major oxygen carrier and this is of import to every cell in our bodies and the trillions of beneficial bacteria (all of whom are aerobic) that inhabit our digestive tract. The wellness properties of chlorophyll are many and diverse and they include alkalising, iron delivery, cancer prevention, detoxification, liver purification, the elimination of bad breath and body odour, vision improvement, bowel cleansing and more rapid healing.
Greens are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 molecule is uniquely flexible as it can rapidly change shape. Omega-3s are utilised by the organs that require rapid function. This includes the heart and the brain. The healthy ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fats is 2:1, but we have blown that ratio out of the water with the Western diet. In fact, the average ratio in Australia is currently 20:1. Inflammation is linked to all diseases and a root cause of inflammation is the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Omega-6 fats are the building blocks for inflammatory prostaglandins while omega-3 fats sponsor an anti-inflammatory response. When you have ten times more building blocks for inflammation in your body than there should be, there is no surprise that health problems arise. Green smoothies are a tremendous tool to help reclaim a desirable balance and to avoid the disease prone sluggishness that is a hallmark of an omega-6 excess. Many nutritionists agree that the current state of imbalance is a function of both the over consumption of cereal grains, omega-6 cooking oils and margarine, and the under-consumption of greens. Green smoothies deliver pristine omega-3s as raw food. This is important as this fragile fat is so easily damaged during cooking or food processing.
Green smoothies are a remarkable digestive tonic. They are so easily digested that they tend to provide breathing space for a stressed digestive system. Not only do the smoothies contain the enzymes that help digest them, but they have also been shown to promote production of hydrochloric acid which further boosts digestion in general. If you check out the hugely positive feedback from green smoothie enthusiasts on the net you will find that many of the health issues addressed with this food are directly or indirectly linked to digestion. Recovery from arthritis and eczema are often mentioned and both problems are classified as digestive illnesses. Similarly, constipation, diverticulitis, bloating and gall stones are digestive difficulties that respond positively. It is common to see reports of reduced sugar craving. This longing for the most addictive of all substances is often driven by a candida overgrowth. These insidious creatures produce biochemical messages that drive your craving. They are literally demanding to be fed and like some alien within they can control our eating habits. Green smoothies contain high levels of fibre which neutralises blood sugar spiking but they are also so oxygen-rich that they compromise the candida anaerobes. A sugar free diet is an essential anti-candida strategy as is the adoption of a green smoothie regime.
Green Smoothie Guidelines
Hopefully you are now feeling inspired to make green smoothies part of your life and, if so, here are some guidelines that might help make your transition to exceptional health more successful.
It is critically important to vary the source of greens as much as possible. All green plants contain alkaloids that can accumulate and generate a negative response if we continually eat one type of plant. There are a large variety of options but even if you alternate silver beet, spinach, kale and beetroot leaves each day you will achieve the desired diversity.
You do not have to own a 2 hp blender to make your own smoothies. As long as your blender is rated 1000 rpm or higher it will do the job. Longevity and speed are the big differences with the high powered machines. Vitamix machines from the US can last over 20 years and the smoothies are made in seconds.
You will usually need to add some water to your combination of fruits and greens to ensure a drinkable consistency. You may also choose to add some ice cubes if you prefer a cooler drink.
It is a great idea to further enhance the therapeutic potential of your smoothies by adding herbs or sprouts. Only small amounts of sprouts should be used as the taste can be overpowering. Similarly, wheatgrass is a great additive, but should be used sparingly to maintain an acceptable flavour. You can add parsley to rejuvenate the kidneys or dandelion leaves for the liver. You can value add with stinging nettle for your prostate or passion fruit flowers to help you relax while boosting your libido. Herb Robert (cranesbill) is a wonderful herb for the immune system and it has an exceptionally mild taste. Herb Robert contains luxury levels of the profoundly protective mineral, germanium.
Weeds become a whole new world when you come to see them as invaluable smoothie additives, but ensure that you know your weeds or you may risk potential poisoning. Milk thistle is an unwanted plant in many gardens and yet it contains silymarin, a phytochemical that is hugely beneficial to the liver. It has a bitter taste but the flavour is camouflaged when a few leaves are added to a smoothie. Other nutritious and protective weeds include wandering jew, sorrel, clover, chickweed, plantain and lambsquarters. Dandelions can be used as both leaves and flowers.
It is also a good idea to put the microbes behind the minerals by including a fermented food or probiotic in your smoothie. Digest-Ease™ from NTS Health is a pleasant, malt flavoured powder that contains billions of beneficial organisms per teaspoon. A teaspoon of Digest-Ease™ in your smoothie will boost your beneficial biology while increasing the beneficial response from the health drink.
Green smoothies usually involve a fruit base to neutralise the chlorophyll taste. Bananas are a classic but pineapples, apples, grapes, watermelon and paw paw are good choices. If you want a more savoury option you might try carrot juice with tomato juice, onions, capsicums, celery and a little chilli pepper with the greens. Purple carrots are a great choice as they contain a rich lode of anthocyanins.
The greater the variety of greens the better the response. Here are some greens you can grow in your garden for your green smoothies. Beet greens, carrot tops, celery, spinach, radish tops, kale (4 types), romaine lettuce, radicchio, endive, mint, fennel, basil, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, mustard greens, chard, collard greens, sweet potato leaves, pumpkin leaves and watercress.
As is the case with many supplements, dose rate often determines the result. The obvious life-changing response from green smoothies happens after ten days of four x 300 mL glasses a day. In my case I lost 3 kg in weight during the first week of this regime and it was the most painless diet ever! You can eat whatever you like but you tend to favour nutritious snacks rather than full meals because these drinks are really filling and satisfying.
Green Smoothie Recipes
Victoria's book contains some great recipes but here are a couple of my own favourites that were developed through trial and error.
Graeme's Sweet Smoothie
One half pineapple cut into large cubes
One tablespoon of coconut oil
One tablespoon of flaxseed oil
One tablespoon of chia seed (ChiaTone™) soaked overnight in 150 mL of water
Ten ice cubes
One heaped teaspoon of Digest-Ease™
200 grams of chopped up kale leaves
3 large sprigs of parsley
3 holy basil leaves
3 sprigs of Herb Robert
Add ingredients to your blender and blend for 60 – 90 seconds depending on the power of your blender. This recipe makes at least two large glasses of a delicious, creamy green smoothie that tastes like Pina Colada.
Graeme's Savoury Smoothie
200 grams of red carrots
Two medium sized tomatoes
2 sticks of celery with leaves intact
One red onion
One half medium sized red capsicum
100 grams of beetroot leaves
100 grams of silverbeet leaves
3 sprigs of parsley
3 sprigs of coriander
One small chilli
Cut up all ingredients and blend them for 90 – 120 seconds, depending upon the blender rating. This smoothie makes at least two glasses and has a zingy bite for those that love fresh Asian flavours.
Disclaimer: All advice in this article is for information purposes only. You should seek professional medical advice before undertaking any procedures and supplements included in this article.