July 27, 2009

Revenge of the Green Smoothie

Photo: Wootang01

Warning: this post contains mostly smoothie-related whining. However, if you hang in there, there is a bit of Actual Health Research at the end.

So I've written before about one of my favorite healthy beverages, the smoothie. And the way I used to make them, they were so pretty! They were either a mellow orangey-yellow (mango or peach); or a perky pink (strawberry or raspberry); or quite frequently, a jaunty purple (blueberry).

Then, like the rest of the health blog world, I discovered the Green Smoothie.

Oh joy! Full vegetable credit in a fruity, tasty drink! And it was still very pretty. My favorite recipe: a couple of cups of raw spinach, a cup of nonfat milk, a little yogurt, some sweetener, some frozen banana, the juice of a lime (which tastes "green" but in a good way), and voila! Tasty, lovely to look at, and it has a vegetable in it, hooray! I quickly became addicted.

But then one day I peeked into my freezer and saw the lonely bags of forgotten blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries staring up at me. They looked so sad and abandoned!

Oh dear.

I think of myself as someone who eats a lot of berries, blueberries in particular. They're so damn healthy, right? But I realized that it had been ages since I'd gotten around to having blueberries. I was no longer an actual healthy blueberry eater, just a blueberry poseur. How could I write blog posts exhorting others to eat blueberries to fight cancer and improve memory and fight belly fat, but not bother to do it very often myself?

Intending to remedy this terrible lapse, I threw some blueberries in my next smoothie, along with all the other ingredients. And sure enough, it tasted great!

The problem: it looked like some sort of toxic industrial sludge. Certainly not like a fruity beverage someone would drink on purpose. The hideous brownish gray color just screamed: "Don't drink this, it's gonna make you barf!"

Whoops. I'd forgotten those kindergarten lessons about primary colors: mix them all together and you get a big mess. It slipped my mind that Green=Blue + Yellow, and that Purple (the actual color of blueberries, despite the name) contains Red as well as Blue. Thus if you mix Purple and Green, you are combining Blue + Red + Yellow and that equals: Yecchhh.

So here's the dilemma: I now feel like it's a "waste" of a smoothie if I don't get vegetable credit, since I can so easily add spinach and not really taste it. But if I want to return to blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries, I'm gonna have to learn to like a grayish brown beverage that scares the bejeesus out of me in the morning. What to do?

And yes, I fully understand that this is a ridiculous problem, especially in a world where people are starving and dying of awful diseases etc. I swear I will not be trying to set up a Save the Pretty Smoothie Foundation to fund research into this distressing aesthetic problem and asking you to contribute. But I did wonder, since the Green Smoothie movement seems to be sweeping the health blog world, what other folks are doing about red and purple produce problem. Is there some secret that allows Green and Purple to live together in harmony in a smoothie glass? Or is always gonna get ugly when they show up in a blender together?

"My antioxidants are way better than yours!"
"Says who? You suck!"
Pascal Vuylsteker

In Other Beverage News Oh, and I did promise some health research, didn't I? And it's even kind of related, at least if you are like me and use milk in your smoothies.

(Although I realize most people don't use milk in green smoothies, at least if you google "green smoothie recipes." Perhaps because raw food vegans are the source of a lot of collections of green smoothie recipes?)

Anyway, so a study just came out linking milk-drinking and longevity. And the summary is short on details, but it doesn't look as though they were looking at nonfat or lowfat milk in particular. Which seems kinda weird, given all the stuff we hear about saturated fats. (I go for nonfat myself). The only risk milk seemed to increase was prostate cancer, while it lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

And then that milk study led me to another one listed nearby from a couple years ago that said drinking milk helps you gain muscle and lose fat. Which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

I know lots of folks steer clear of milk because of digestive issues or because of a vegan diet or whatever. But being lazy, I find milk to be a quick easy source of calcium and protein, and I drink a lot of it. So I have to confess I didn't have a lot of incentive to go chase down the particulars of the research and argue with them. But other actual scientists with access to the full study might have more helpful things to say about it.

So does anyone else struggle with foods that are good for you but look funny? Or have any magic solutions to my Green + Red = Brown problem?


  1. CrAzY!!! I have a smoothie blog post planned for this week also.

    I've never even tried the green colored smoothie, let alone an 'icky' colored one. I haven't been brave enough, but I think I may have to give it a try. I can always close my eyes as I slurp, right? lol!

  2. Believe or not, I have never tried this green smoothie. Maybe one day. As for color, I don't particularly care what my food looks like as long as I like the taste. Yes, it is kind of UGH to see weird looking food or smoothies but as long as my tummy likes it, I am fine with it! I say screw the color & go with what tastes good to you!

    As for milk, can't do milk products & has not hurt me it terms of gaining muscle & losing fat. I guess the other stuff I do makes up for it. As for longevity.. remains to be seen. :-)

  3. I'm one of those people who can ignore disgusting-looking foods if I think they'll be good for me. As for your dilemma, I'd try not looking while it's in the blender and then pouring quickly into a solid-color glass.

  4. I am forced to admit I've never tried a smoothie at all... not even a pretty purple one!
    But one of these days, I might. But probably not a yucky-looking one to start. Especially in the morning!

  5. Get those coloured glasses and wear them while you're eating it. It'll be all good then!

  6. So I'm not sure how to defy the laws of the Color Wheel and make your spinach smoothie not look like something from the Bass-O-Matic commercial.

    But I CAN suggest that you put butternut squash, carrots and yellow (low-acid) tomatoes in your smoothie with your berries. YUMMY!!! And loaded with carotenoids and fiber!

    One caveat: No non-fat yogurt if you want to reap the benefits of this nutritional powerhouse. You need a little bit of fat (low-fat yogurt is fine) to absorb carotenoids. (NPR ran another reminer about carotene+fat this morning, BTW).

  7. I'm siding with Kathy; go for the solid colored glass. Otherwise, how do you expect the little kids to even begin to deign to consider tasting it? :)

  8. That smoothie is green. It's a green smoothie. As in ... green.

    I'd normally be inclined to say, "Ugh" but the fact is, it reminds me of Shamrock Shake and I love those things.

  9. Love this post! I hate ugly food! :) I have the same issues with the smoothies, I've taken to calling them "Grey Monsters". The best solution is to put them in a coloured or opaque cup, ideally with a lid.

    Or eat your berries on the side. :)

  10. If the smoothie smells good and tasted great, the color doesn't usually bother me.

    I say usually, because the children have a way of commenting on "icky" looking smoothies which makes them harder to drink. I've found it better to use an opaque glass for those drinks, to avoid comparisons to river muck, toxic sludge, and things expelled from pets.

  11. Ugly food combinations? Yeah, I've discovered one.

    In an effort to eat more mono-unsaturated fats, I've been making a MonoGlob that would win anybody's ugly food contest.

    I mix together small quantities (after all, they are high-calorie) of mashed avocado, chunky peanut butter, pecans, walnuts, ground flaxseed and a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. The result is a brown-green glob that looks like iguana poo.

    But the taste isn't too bad, and it's very high-fiber and low-carb, so it seems to help my Type 2 diabetic blood glucose.

  12. Yeah, iw as going to suggest the solid glass, maybe even one with a lid and straw!

    I drink sauerkraut juice, so the color of a smoothie woouldn't bother me!

  13. I'm curious about spinach in a smoothie. Some day when I can have more Vit K I will give it a shot.

  14. I put my brown smoothie in a green Nalgene bottle & it makes me feel better. :)

    I also don't drink milk - since having my gall bladder removed, I've become ridiculously lactose intolerant, and have to save my dairy digestion powers for cheese. I do add vanilla soy milk to my smoothies- and just picked a lot o' blueberries out at Sauvie Island, so will have some delicious smoothies this week!

  15. What to add to make it pretty? Little umbrella, and a crazy straw.

    Go with beets instead of spinach, and then have a nice, spinach salad for lunch loaded with chickpeas and toasted almonds, and more fresh blueberries.

  16. I just ignore the wierd colour or use my blue water cup with a straw to drink my more...um...gross looking smoothies out of. As long as they taste good I jsut ignore it.

  17. Put it in an opaque container with a lid and close your eyes. And pray to god it doesn't turn your mouth and teeth a particularly toxic color.

  18. Ever since I added waaay too much spinach to my green smoothie (yes, you can taste it when you pile in the spinach), I've been back to the pretty smoothies - frozen fruit and water only. And I love how they look - funny that you mentioned the pretty colors as well!

    This is going to sound horrible, but maybe you could add some green food coloring to combat the purple color. Or put it in a cup with a lid/straw combo. Or just say the hell with the veggies and go back to the world of pretty smoothies - join us, won't you?!?

  19. I used to be pretty anti-smoothie b/c they seemed to be a tad too sugary, but your recipe seems pretty healthy. Albeit ugly. But healthy. I have no problem eating food that doesn't look good so long as it tastes good.

    Can't drink milk though. Upsets my stomach like no other.

  20. Hmm, my attempts at adding spinach to my smoothies never turned my smoothies green at all. Maybe because I usually use a triple berry blend for my smoothies, which makes it so dark that the spinach doesn't really show up.

    I also don't use milk (I use rice-milk, which is more translucent). Just based on my experience with painting, I think white makes it easier to see weird colors. Much better to just have a dark smoothie than a mud one.

    Only other suggestion I can think of is throwing in cocoa powder and working with the brown? Not sure how that would taste though.

  21. I was going to suggest an opaque cup, as many have, but I thought "You still have to look at the top." (I don't like smoothies thin enough to drink through a straw.) I haven't tried this, but I think the answer is Layers. A layer of green, a layer of purple, a layer of red...of course this would require several blenders, but anything for Art, right?

    As for the milk, my anecdotal experience: my father just died at 96, a life-long (long!) milk drinker. He drank more milk than any other beverage combined, averaging three quarts a day.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  22. That picture looked like a mug of guacamole. YICK!

  23. Um, a blindfold? Tell it it has a great personality and you would totally date it if you were single? Smoothie-phobia therapy?

    I guess just go with the earlier suggestions of opaque or solid-colored drinking glasses.

  24. I've never been a big smoothie drinker, or most any other health drink. I like whole foods, and do it that way. Most of the bought smoothies or other "healthy" stuff, ie granola, etc are much higher in calories than most people realize.

  25. And, BTW, it sounds yummy!!!!!

  26. I'm siding with the opaque cup folks. Either that or a colored glass to help take the edge off . . .

  27. No. No. NO.

    I, too, have a "great shake" breakfast. Spinach, broccoli, edamame, cucumber, summer squash, protein powder, blueberries and raspberries, water.

    Yes, it sounds like a compost bin.

    Yet-maybe because of the protein powder- my drink is a gorgeous purple color. I cannot drink anything colored green.

    So maybe lose the banana, but add more berries?

    BTW, the cuke gives it a yummy cooling aftertaste. The other veggies do nothing for taste while giving me veggies. How great is that?

  28. Well, if I make a smoothie that looks like poop there is nothing I can do to make my kids eat it (despite the fact that they have all eaten actual poop before) so I generally try to keep the number of ingredients small. We'll do a banana + spinach (call it a Shrek smoothie) or berries + yogurt (call it dragon blood). Yeah, I know...sigh.

  29. Yay! I liked this article!
    You could divide the smoothie base, add the green stuff to it and pour it in a glass, then add the rest of the base and the berry-colored stuff into the blender so you end up with a green and purple layered smoothie.
    That's sort of a lot of work but if you're going to take the time to write an entry you might take the time to layer your smoothie as well. :-)

  30. I don't really struggle with it too much but Kombucha is gross and bubbly.

    I also don't like sushi.
    The seaweed part. Yuck!

    I make a smoothie every morning but have not used the greens. I'm going to start now.

  31. I LOVE smoothies, love them. I don't think the off color would bother me, but what if you put food coloring in them?

  32. I've never tried it, but I might. It's an awfully strange color. Does it have to be green to be healthy?

  33. If you're going to go brown, I say go all the way!

    Add a touch of Hershey's syrup to it. Live a little. It won't "undo" the fruits and veggies.

  34. I think that you should host an online "Ugliest Smoothie Contest" Where participants make and take pictures of their ugly, but edible smoothies. Ingredients list included of course. Just a thought.

  35. I'm enjoying a strawberry/peach/spinach/flax seed smoothie right now! Yeah! *high five*

    Solution: drink your smoothies from an OPAQUE cup. Hey - if you use a travel coffee mug, you can even add a lid to the deal so you NEVER see your smoothie as you drink it!

  36. Oh Crabby -- I am so not a smoothie person unless it's made for me by the lovely folks at Jamba Juice :/ I say, rock on with your ugly smoothies! Ugly is the new pretty. Or so my therapist says.
    - Girl whose obviously lacking in the brain department due to lack of vitamin-filled smoothies.

  37. You could do half and half. Green on top and pink on the bottom. Or the other way around if you think pink would look better on top. Anyway that would look reeeallly pretty in a glass. And I think that would show how clever you are in pouring to avoid mixing the two layers up. Pleeeassse post a pick of how clever you are!

  38. When I lived in Brazil as a kid, we drank an avocado/milk/sugar drink that was so thick and delicious.

  39. My solution, simple and cool.Wear sunglasses while you drink the smoothie. My 8-y-o tells me that in order to be cool, it is imperative to wear sunglasses at all times, except when it is pitch-black or you are peeing.

  40. I've been drinking "Shrek shakes" since your last post and even planted my own spinach. I had just grabbed whatever frozen berry bag I could: mixed berry...with the blue and blackberries. Oh, man! It looked disgusting...but was very good. It's one of those things where it ain't much to look at but has a great personality...oh, wait, that was a past boyfriend.

    Also, I've been using plain soymilk instead of milk, and vanilla instead of lime (which I may try). Thanks for the recipe. It's an inventive way to sneak in the greens.

  41. Beautiful Green!

    If you can't get past the color of your smoothie, put it in an opaque cup with a lid and straw.

    I've been drinking green, blue, brown, black smoothies for a long time and don't even pay attention to the color anymore.

    How about a blue smoothie?


  42. I use everything I can for my smoothies (apples, pineapple, grapes, etc), and of course the Spinach makes it very green until I add berries. I added enough that it was completely berry-colored!! You might just need to make it a little more berry-heavy? :)

  43. I don't know, My smoothies still look purple! What kind of blender are you using and how long are you keeping your smoothies in the fridge? First, I just got a Vita-mix and it is the most amazing machine in the world! It makes my smothies so creamy and yummy! Next, the longer you store your smoothie, the darker it will get. Try drinking it out of a glass or mug that you cannot see through so you do not have to look at it. Have you read Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko? It is a great book and talks all about the smoothies. Good luck to you!

  44. After years of green/purple/brown smoothies I still have the occasional day where it is hard to look at that clear glass filled with an irregular colored smoothie! That and I'm not a huge fan of blue(purple)berries.


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