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Golden rules for a healthy smoothie

Mix it up: rotate high oxalic greens, such as spinach, with low oxalic greens such as lettuce and cucumber

Last week, as I was reading Chloe a story, Belle pottered off to get a bedtime snack. She usually gets an apple or goat cheese (posh!), so I thought nothing of it.

Once they were both tucked in I went downstairs to make lunch boxes and found a little trail of icing sugar all the way through the kitchen. Leaving sticky fingerprints in her wake, she had climbed on to the counter, reached up to the highest shelf in the cupboard, dug around behind the pretzels and discovered a bag of sugar.

Not quite the nutritious snack I had in mind.

It seems my littlest has inherited my fiercely sweet tooth. I remember doing something similar when I was 5, except I raided the supply of chocolate bars my mum kept for making Mars bar mousse (yep, melted Mars bars, sugar and cream — a heart attack waiting to happen).

Like me, Belle’s eyes light up when the sweet stuff hits her tongue. Instant joy, instant high, but it definitely comes with the corresponding lows. Looking through the snack cupboard, I realised the sugar at home was starting to escalate. Granola bars, cookies, dried fruit, muffins — all “clean”, but all sweet. Time to mix things up.

Since then, we’ve made a pact to reduce the sugar and have more savoury snacks. After just a few days there’s been a big difference in their expectations. Less sweet is tasting more sweet and a little is going a long way.

The children had gone off smoothies but they’re now firmly back on the agenda. If a smoothie is the sweetest thing they have all day, it’s a very easy sell. However, as healthy as smoothies sound and as good as they can be (for children and adults alike) there are a few golden rules to follow if you want them to work in your favour.

We have a couple of amazing juice and smoothie bars in Hamilton but I see people making mistakes all the time. Here’s a checklist to keep you on the straight and narrow:

Smoothies: the golden rules

Unless you are specifically trying to gain weight, have one and one only! Otherwise you’ll completely overdo the fruit sugars. If you are buying yours at a café or juice bar, pick a small as a snack or a medium as a meal replacement but avoid the large.

• Rethink your drink. Try not to think of a smoothie as a drink. Done well, it will be a meal in a glass. In addition to a sandwich or wrap, it will be overkill on the carbs. However, a small smoothie with something protein-heavy (such as scrambled eggs) would be OK. Just remember you are drinking food, not water!

• Low-sugar fruit. If you are going to include a high-sugar fruit (such as ripe banana, pineapple or mango), try to pair it with lower-sugar fruit (berries, pear, kiwi) to lower the glycemic load. Even better, stick to low-sugar fruit only (such as blueberry and pear) and sweeten with vanilla essence or cinnamon for a natural kick.

• Rotate your greens. Adding green leaves is a great way to boost fibre and phytonutrients. However, note that some raw greens are high in oxalic acid, which in excess can lead to the formation of kidney stones (especially in some people with genetic susceptibility). This does not mean you have to write off green smoothies, but instead rotate high oxalic greens (such as spinach, swiss chard and beet tops) with low oxalic greens (lettuce, celery, cucumber, watercress and collards). For those with thyroid problems, rotation also helps to prevent overexposure to goitrogens, which may impact thyroid function, especially when coupled with a known deficiency of iodine. Mix it up and don’t do the same thing every day.

• Add protein. Adding protein helps to steady the release of natural sugars from fruit into your bloodstream and is essential if your smoothie is functioning as a complete snack or meal. If you choose a protein powder, I suggest grass-fed whey (look for growth hormone-free) or a plant-based option such as pea, hemp or brown rice (or a combination). Do try to avoid soy protein isolate. Be careful with protein powders for young children as it’s easy to exceed their recommended intake. Instead, try adding nut butter, chia or hemp seed (or a combination) for a more natural protein boost.

• Natural sweeteners. Hopefully the fruit will be sweet enough. If not, try adding cinnamon or vanilla. You can also use the liquid Sweet Leaf stevia, which is a more natural sugar-free sweetener made from the stevia plant (at Down to Earth, Supermart and Miles).

• Avoid juice as a mixer. Fruit juice as a mixer is sugar overkill. Unsweetened almond, hemp or flax milks can be good options. Unsweetened coconut water works, too, but as it does contain some natural sugars is best paired with low-sugar fruit. Hemp seed adds a creamy consistency to smoothies, so if you’re including it you might discover that cold water works perfectly fine, too.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda