From the time we’re young, we’re trained to believe that bacteria are bad. We wash our hands with antibacterial soap, we disinfect surfaces using antibacterial wipes, and we carry antibacterial hand sanitizer with us everywhere we go. Basically, we do everything in our power to
kill destroy the little menaces. But what if I told you that, despite all of your murderous efforts, there are approximately 100 trillion (yes, TRILLION) bacteria comfortably residing inside of you right this very moment? 100 Trillion microorganisms partying it up in your GI tract while you innocently nosh on that bagel. (Still hungry?)
Before you go chasing that bagel with a bottle of disinfectant (which I highly advise against, by the way), I should probably note that these bacteria are meant to be there. Not only that, but they NEED to be there. These living microorganisms make up over 75% of your immune system and are crucial for promoting normal GI function, protecting the body against infection, and regulating metabolism. Bottom line: if you want to stay healthy, you’re going to want to keep these guys happy.
And everyone knows, Party Planning 101: If you want to keep your guests happy, you’ve gotta give them food. (And by “food”, I don’t mean stale tortilla chips and a jar of “cheese” dip…)
So what do these crazy party animals like to eat, you ask? Well, this smoothie for starters. Not only does it taste pretty amazing, but it’s also filled with prebiotics, probiotics, fiber, and other important nutrients needed to make your gut a pleasant and hospitable place for your little guests of honor. Not sure what I mean by prebiotics and probiotics? Well let me explain…
Of the trillion microorganisms living in your gut, some are there to help you, while some – unfortunately – are there to harm you. The key to achieving and maintaining good gut health (aka normal GI function), as well as good overall health, lies in making sure that your intestines are home to far more “good” bacteria than “bad”.
Probiotics refer to those “good” bacteria (aka live, active cultures) that reside in the gut and help to protect the body against disease. In addition to being found in the gut, many strains of probiotics also occur naturally in some foods. Consuming foods containing such probiotics helps to maintain a desirable balance of gut bacteria by repopulating the intestine with the “good” bacteria that it craves. Probiotics also benefit the body by lowering the pH of the gut, thereby inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria (which, again, helps in maintaining gut homeostasis).
Like any living being, probiotics need to eat in order to remain alive and well. This is where prebiotics come into play. Prebiotics are essentially the foods that help to keep probiotics alive. They are natural, non digestible food ingredients that help to promote the growth of probiotics and, in turn, increase the number of “good” bacteria in the gut.
Alright, so now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s talk about this smoothie. This smoothie is jam-packed with high-quality, nutrient-dense ingredients… but don’t let that scare you away. Unlike some “green smoothies”, this one does not taste like straight up grass, promise.
So what it does taste like? Well, in four words: Heaven in a bowl. Okay, that might be a a bit dramatic, but it is pretty darn good.. and good for you. On that note, let’s take a look at a few of the key players in this smoothie that make this smoothie a such great choice for both you and your digestive system…
Kefir: The life of the party. The star of the show. The belle of the ball. If you aren’t familiar with kefir yet, you’re in for a treat. Technically speaking, kefir is a fermented milk drink with a consistency that resembles that of a drinkable yogurt and a slightly tart taste that is reminiscent of plain yogurt. And similar to yogurt, it’s chock-full of gut-healthy probiotics… in fact, it contains 3x MORE live, active cultures than yogurt! (Take that, Jamie Lee Curtis)
Kefir has been shown to reduce symptoms related to a number of GI conditions, including IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and chronic constipation. And if that’s not enough, it’s also 99% lactose-free, which means it can be easily tolerated by almost anyone. I could go on and on about the benefits of this drink, but long story short, it’s your gut’s long-lost best friend and the perfect addition to smoothies. Look for it in the dairy aisle of your supermarket/grocery store.
Banana: Bananas are just one of the many plant foods that provide prebiotics for healthy bacteria to feed off of. High in fiber and an array of vitamins and minerals, bananas have long been recognized as a good choice for those suffering from gastrointestinal distress. As bananas ripen (become more brown), the starches in the fruit are converted into sugars, making them more easily digested by the body. Fully ripened bananas have also been shown to be beneficial for many people who suffer from constipation.
Wild Blueberries: Chances are, by now you’ve heard all about the touted health benefits of blueberries. But did you know that Wild Blueberries pack an even stronger nutritional punch than regular blueberries? Case in point: just one cup of wild blueberries provides 6g (25% of the recommended daily value) of dietary fiber – that’s two times more than regular blueberries! Not only is fiber is essential for moving things through your digestive system, but it has also been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels. You can find wild blueberries in the frozen fruit section of most large grocery stores and supermarkets.
Flaxseeds: Although these seeds have been around for centuries, they have just recently begun to gain recognition as a nutritional powerhouse. One serving (2 tbsp) of flaxseeds provides about 4 grams of dietary fiber, as well as an impressive dose of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In order to get the most out of these little seeds, be sure to opt for ground, as they are more digestible than their whole seed counterparts.
*Note: As you can see, this smoothie is packed with dietary fiber (a whopping 13g to be exact). While fiber provides a number of digestive benefits (see above), getting too much all at once can sometimes result in a not so pleasant experience… especially if your body is not accustomed to digesting such large amounts. That being said, I would recommend approaching this the way that I recommend approaching any dietary change – gradually. If the thought of this many fiber all at once makes your insides curl up in ball, you may want to start by leaving out the flaxseeds or replacing some of the wild blueberries with regular blueberries. Oh, and be sure you’re drinking plenty of water (trust me, your intestines will thank you).
“But can’t I just take a supplement?”
Ahh, the million dollar question. If you’ve taken a stroll down the pharmacy aisle of your local grocery store lately (or turned on your television for that matter), you know that there is certainly no shortage of dietary supplements on the market today. From prebiotics and probiotics to fiber, each comes with the promise of curing a multitude of tummy troubles. So why go through the trouble of altering your diet when you could simply pop a few pills?
Well, despite what the pharmaceutical industry would like you to believe, there is no magic pill out there that will fix your digestive issues (boy, how I wish there was). So by opting for supplements over real food, you’re not cheating the system – you’re cheating yourself. The wonderful thing about food is that it provides the body with SO many nutrients at once.. and these nutrients actually work together synergistically to provide your body with benefits that these supplements could never compete with. So if you’re going to spend a bunch of money on probiotics, do yourself a favor and skip the pharmacy and pick up a couple bottles of kefir instead.
- 1 cup frozen wild blueberries
- 1/2 overly ripe banana, cut into chunks and frozen
- 1 cup frozen spinach
- 2/3 cup plain kefir*
- 1 tbsp raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder)
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds
- 1 tbsp hemp seeds
- Toppings (optional): nut butter, granola, shredded coconut, or anything else that sounds good to you!
- Add all ingredients (except toppings) to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Depending on the strength of your blender, you may need to add more kefir to get things moving.
- Pour into a large bowl (or glass) and add desired toppings.
- * I personally prefer to keep my smoothies thick and eat them out of a bowl using a spoon. If you prefer to drink your smoothies out of a straw, you may need to add more kefir to obtain a thinner consistency.