Mean green smoothie machine

One of the sweet surprises of my detox eating experiment was my exploration of smoothies.

During the detox, the diet restriction against refined sugars plus my goal to eat more fruits and vegetables plus the fact I finally had flaxseed meal and hemp protein powder on hand all added up to smoothie time!

The addition of the flax and hemp boosts the nutritional content, contributing fiber and protein and making these more like a mini-meal.

Even better, my daughter loves them. With the whole fruits, I think this is a better snack than many others she could be eating. We ended up making smoothies for after-school snacks a number of times this month.

The only drawback was the mess I created one afternoon, when I failed to lock the blender glass into place and pink sludge poured out of the bottom all over the counter. Oops!

***

Fruit smoothies are a no-brainer; it’s the vegetable-based smoothies that are a walk on the wild side for me. The February 2011 issue of Whole Living magazine featured a detox plan similar to the one I was following, with a spread that highlighted a couple of veggie-based smoothies.

The idea of kale or beets in a smoothie doesn’t exactly start my taste buds salivating. Which is too bad, because these vegetables are loaded with beneficial nutrients. I decided to force myself to try the recipes.

Still, it took a couple of days before I could face tackling the Green Smoothie recipe. Nothing like a bunch of lacinato kale yelping to you from the fridge to put it out of its misery to spur you along on the task.

FYI, you shouldn’t fill your blender this full with ingredients, especially if water is the main liquid.

Unless you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’, mentally prepared for the mean green smoothie machine to rear its ugly head.

The second disastrous smoothie spill of the week, this time blowing out of the top, a detoxic spill of green liquid streaming all over my counter. Double oops.

Surprisingly, the flavor was quite good. When my husband returned home from work, he quickly downed a glass and asked for seconds. Success!

I saved the biggest mental challenge for last – a fruit and vegetable smoothie with beet, carrot, apple, pear, ginger and lemon juice. Could this be any good?

Just the idea of beets in the recipe, a vegetable which I’ve struggled with eating in the past, was enough to put me off eating this for a while. I finally undertook the project today.

It wasn’t exactly a quick recipe, given that you had to chop up all of these ingredients and steam the carrots and beets, then let them cool before continuing.

Finally, everything was ready to go into the blender.

This time, the liquid just leaked a little out of the top. Despite pureeing the mixture for quite a while, I couldn’t get it to be completely smooth.

Even for a ginger lover like me, the flavor was overpowering and the texture, well, it was not my favorite. Try as I could, I didn’t end up finishing my glass. Next time, I’ll add less ginger and try to liquefy it more.

But don’t take my word for it – try these smoothies for yourself if you dare; you may be pleasantly surprised. Both recipes can be found at Whole Living‘s website – Green Smoothie and Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie, along with 23 other smoothie ideas.

Here’s a basic fruit smoothie template to get you started. You can use dairy, but I tend to use unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk instead, which contain fewer calories and grams of sugar.

Berry Smoothie
Serves 2-4
Ingredients:
3 cups fresh or frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
1 whole banana
1 cup of milk (almond, rice or coconut) or plain yogurt
1/2 cup of apple or orange juice
2 T. hemp protein [optional]
2 T. flaxseed meal [optional]

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.

Brooding over bread

Of all the foods I eliminated last week, wheat was the most painful to give up and something that I sorely missed. A crusty baguette from the Minneapolis bakery Rustica makes me swoon.

Is that not a beautiful baguette or what?!? Bon Appetit‘s recent naming of Rustica as one of the ten best bakeries in the United States is well-deserved.

This bread conjures up memories of wandering around in Paris after graduating from college, with little money in my pocket but a feeling of wealth because I had a fresh baguette and Nutella to eat; it was all I needed to get by.

No wheat last week meant no bread, unless it was gluten-free. And it’s hard for me to come to grips with gluten-free bread. It seems like there couldn’t be bread without gluten, a component that’s integral to the essence of light, chewy bread. From Wikipedia:

Gluten (from Latin glutenglue“) is a protein composite that appears in foods processed from wheat and related species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture.

Because I was missing bread, I took a stab at baking a wheat-free, gluten-free boule last weekend, using the recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, even viewing the demo video of the bread-making process on the website.

Gluten-free baking uses all sorts of different flours from those which I’ve used in the past, like brown rice flour, white sorghum flour, tapioca flour and soy flour.

A bread still needs something to create elasticity and texture, and in gluten-free breads, that ingredient is xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a common food additive that is used in a myriad of products ranging from salad dressings to ice cream to toothpaste to cosmetics. Again, from Wikipedia:

Xanthan gum is also used in gluten-free baking. Since the gluten found in wheat must be omitted, xanthan gum is used to give the dough or batter a “stickiness” that would otherwise be achieved with the gluten.

FYI – Xanthan gum is a crazy substance – make sure that you don’t spill it and somehow get it on your hands combined with water, because it seems to create a thin slippery Teflon-like layer on your skin that’s difficult to wash off. My husband came out of the kitchen cursing about the stuff.

Coming out of the oven, the loaf looked like real bread, with a crusty exterior.

The interior looked like bread.

But the interior texture and overall taste were very different from gluten bread, and not at all pleasing to me. This did taste a little better when it was toasted, but still not enough to make me want to eat it.

(Sad sigh.)

The mistake for me, I think, was expecting it to be like conventional bread. If you didn’t have wheat as an option to eat, I suppose you would make peace with the qualities of gluten-free bread and eventually learn to love it.

If you eat gluten-free, this recipe is certainly easy to make, so you may want to give it a try. If you do, let me know how it compares to the gluten-free bread that you can buy in the store.

Have you tried gluten-free bread? If you must eat gluten-free because of health issues, do you get used to the flavor and texture, or do you choose not to eat bread at all?

Everything in moderation

Cook/Create kitchen chaos/Eat/Wash pots and pans/Repeat.

That about sums up my week.

This whole foods detox plan has been a challenge to implement, to say the least, what with the numerous forbidden foods. My food restrictions this week have been: No processed foods; no refined sugar products or artificial sweeteners; no dairy – milk, cheese or yogurt; no wheat products; no peanut butter; no caffeine; no alcohol; limit pasteurized juices.

What’s left to eat? Whole foods. Lots of vegetables, fruits, rice and nut milks, grains like brown rice, spelt, quinoa and amaranth, fruits, nuts.

I’ve eaten healthier this week than I ever have in my entire life.

Breakfasts rotated among old-fashioned oatmeal with dried fruit or fresh blueberries; breakfast burrito with eggs, black beans and salsa wrapped in a spelt tortilla; fruit smoothies boosted with flaxseed and protein powder; or spelt toast with almond butter. I tried not to drink juice.

Lunches at work were primarily red beans and rice leftovers plus massive salads with as many vegetables as I could stuff down my gullet. When I ran out of that, I prepared a vegetarian lentil stew to get me through the rest of the week.

Snacks consisted of apple slices with almond butter; handfuls of nuts or spiced pumpkin seeds; hummus with carrots and snap peas; and smoothies.

Dinners were a mixed bag – all were cooked from scratch using no processed foods other than condiments, but it was difficult to completely eliminate all of the forbidden foods, wheat in particular. I didn’t eat any bread or wheat-based pasta, instead using rice noodles for dishes like this spicy shrimp noodle bowl.

The good parts of this experiment? I tried several new foods. I felt empowered that I got through the week without any processed foods. Oh, and I’ve lost close to six pounds since Christmas, without counting calories on my plate or burned at the gym.

(Full disclosure: I started cutting out items right after Christmas and returned to regular gym visits at that time too, so this weight wasn’t all lost last week. But last week I was still eating a lot – 5 times a day – three regular meals plus two snacks every day.)

The bad parts? More time spent meal planning and cooking the meals themselves. A constantly messy kitchen. Large sums spent on fresh produce. And life without wheat was pretty damned difficult for me, especially since I didn’t care for the taste or texture of many of the gluten-free substitutes.

Trying to plan family dinners that omitted the forbidden foods plus were considered acceptable to the rest of the family was extremely challenging. I did the best I could.

I really don’t know how someone can successfully follow this detox plan if they are working, living with others, or don’t have a personal chef, unless they were eating a mostly whole foods diet to begin with. With our busy family schedule, it was a definite stretch for us to cook from scratch every night.

Did the eating plan help me to detox? I’m not sure how you’d even measure that. I wasn’t able to be 100% compliant with the restrictions and was exhausted by week’s end rather than completely energized like I’d hoped. But what can you expect when it’s the first week back to work after being on vacation for the holidays, and I’ve been exercising at full-throttle again.

This is where the detox plan and I part ways. Next week, you’re supposed to cut out additional foods such as all flour-based products and nuts / nut butters. The wheat restriction just about brought me to my knees this week, so eliminating the nuts & butters would have been the knock out punch.

While this food challenge may not have reset my liver, it did reset my eating patterns. This past week made me much more conscious about what I’m eating and how much I’m eating than I have been in a long time. I’ve seen that I can live without dairy and the reduction in my bread and pasta intake no doubt contributed to my weight loss. I’m going to continue omitting some items and limit portions of others, like pasta and bread.

Ultimately, it’s everything in moderation.

A brave new food world

Well, I’ve gone and done it now. I decided I’m going to try the whole foods-based detox plan in the book I’m currently reading, or at least start it. The book details a five-week plan, a progressive process of eliminating certain foods from your diet, then gradually adding them back in. I have no idea how far I’ll go into the detox, but I thought, why not try.

Eliminating caffeine and cutting sharply back on sugars last week left me in a brain fog that lasted for several days. Luckily I was off work so I could roll with the fatigue. It turns out that this was just the warm-up.

During Week 1, you’re supposed to eliminate all dairy products – milk, cheese, and yogurt; all wheat products; peanut butter; all refined sugar products and artificial sweeteners. Since wheat and/or refined sugar are in most processed foods, that eliminates a huge spectrum of eating options.

I stopped in at a local co-op on New Year’s Day and picked up some of Week 1 shopping list items, including a variety of products made with brown rice, quinoa, spelt, kamut and amaranth; flax meal; hemp protein; plus some milks made from rice, almond and coconut and specialty flours for baking gluten-free goods.

Because I’m the only one going through with this plan in our household, I couldn’t justify it coming out of the family food budget, so this experiment is on my own dime.

Let me tell you, based on my initial shopping trip, eating this way is not cheap.

I don’t doubt that these are healthy choices and the changes would be beneficial to make, but at what cost? When I announced to my husband that I wanted to try this, he said, uh oh, it’s another Eat Local Challenge. Meaning, you are going to spend a ton of money and time on this.

Then there are the mental calisthenics of trying to plan menus. How am I going to reconcile my individual food restrictions with what the rest of the family is eating? Breakfasts and lunches are more under my discretion than dinners, where we try to always eat together as a family. On Sunday morning, I spent about an hour noodling on this and wound up feeling extremely frustrated.

My kids don’t eat many of the things that my husband and I eat to begin with; and my husband is not remotely interested in exploring gluten-free foods with me or giving up things like cheese and peanut butter; so does that mean the soy cheese (me) stands alone?

(“YES!” my husband says.)

Still, I’m doing it as an experiment – what is it like to have to plan around these restrictions? If I’m forced, can I give up my reliance on processed foods? Would eliminating some of these foods help alleviate my chronic asthma & allergies? Will I lose weight?

We’ll see what happens this week. If nothing else, I’m going to have to figure out how to use the foods that I bought, and maybe that will be learning enough.

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