Improve Healing, Help Keep Cancer at Bay

Perhaps I’m rushing the season just a bit… but I don’t want to wait to tell you about an intriguing study I read from Germany about smoothies. It highlights a particular health benefit of these favorite warm-weather beverages — one that may surprise you a bit, but read on, as this may help prevent colon cancer! How? By delivering the critical nutrients in apples directly to the colon.

Earlier research has suggested that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols found in apples help prevent colon cancer, but to be useful they must not be absorbed by the small intestine. Instead, they need to get to the colon where they can be effective. This study found that smoothies delivered significantly more polyphenols and quinic acid to the colon than apple juice or cider. That is a valuable bit of information, because these key nutrients protect against colon disease. The researchers speculate that this is because smoothies made with the whole apple (including the skin but not the core) retain much more of the fruit’s cell wall components than apple juice, and these likely bind the nutrients, thus protecting them from being digested by the small intestine further up the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

In truth, you can get the same benefits by just eating an apple — but what’s particularly great about smoothies is that they’re an easy, efficient and utterly delicious way to boost your intake not only of fruits and vegetables, but also herbs, spices and other nutrients you can add to smoothies to support specific health needs and enhance general well-being.

For more ideas about how smoothies can contribute to health and also to get tips on how to prepare them most healthfully, I spoke with Pat Crocker, culinary herbalist and author of The Smoothies Bible.

The Most Healthful Smoothies, Step by Step

Crocker said that smoothie recipes usually begin with about one-half cup of liquid per serving — milk, yogurt, fruit juices (fresh if possible), vegetable juice (generally tomato, carrot or beet), chicken or beef stock, or green and herbal teas. Added to the liquid are two, three or more of a wide variety of fresh or frozen fruits and/or vegetables. Crocker emphasizes the importance of using high-quality organic ingredients of many colors for maximum antioxidant levels. You can add a splash more of antioxidants with such nutrient-rich ingredients as acai berries, pomegranate (including the seeds, which are edible and contain most of the fiber and antioxidants) and blueberries. If you are using fruits high in natural sugars, for example pineapple, mangoes or kiwis, add lower-sugar fruits for balance, such as apples, watermelon or strawberries.

Health & Flavor Enhancers

Crocker has a long list of spices, herbs and other health promoters that you can add to smoothies, but the following are among those she particularly advises. Many of these are in your supermarket and if not, health-food stores will have them. Note:Always put these in with the other ingredients before you blend to be sure that they are well mixed.

Here are some suggestions to help improve general healing…

  • Cinnamon promotes digestion and insulin sensitivity and relieves nausea. Add one-quarter teaspoon per smoothie serving — especially delicious with apples and blueberries.
  • Ginger calms nausea, aids digestion, relieves diarrhea and flatulence and may soothe pain of arthritis. Try one-quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger per serving or one-half inch of crystallized or peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped. (Ginger is not recommended for anyone with a bleeding disorder, gallstones, or who is taking a blood thinner, and it is not recommended for children under age two.) Ginger is a good complement to pears and peaches.
  • Dandelion supports liver, gallbladder and kidney health, helps with high blood pressure and is a mild laxative. Add one teaspoon of crushed, dried roots to vegetable smoothies.

To boost the immune system…

  • Astragalus boosts the immune system and alleviates adverse effects of chemotherapy. Use one teaspoon of dried, powdered astragalus per serving. It has little or no taste. Note: If you are using steroids, you should discuss with your doctor whether it’s okay to consume astragalus.
  • Burdock, a mild laxative (it contains the fiber inulin), has prebiotic properties and is a diuretic. Crush dried roots into a fine powder, and use one to two teaspoons per serving. It has a crisp, slightly sweet taste. Burdock often is used in sushi, so it goes well with sweet or savory smoothies.
  • Cayenne stimulates blood circulation and digestion, is a diuretic, and has a beneficial effect on the nervous system. Start by adding just one-eighth teaspoon of powdered cayenne per smoothie serving and increase to one-quarter teaspoon if the spicy flavor doesn’t bother you. Cayenne can be used in fruit or vegetable smoothies.
  • Cloves have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and help relieve nausea, flatulence and diarrhea. If you don’t mind the strong taste, add one-eighth teaspoon of ground cloves per serving. Cloves mix well with apples and peaches.

Other healthful candidates…

  • Flaxseed is a good vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids, plus it contributes to regularity. Add one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds per serving. Note: Flaxseed will thicken your smoothie — especially if you leave the smoothie standing awhile before you drink it.
  • Lecithin is an excellent source of choline, which improves memory. Add the contents of two capsules or one tablespoon of granules to one to two cups of smoothie.
  • Sea vegetables provide a high concentration of vitamin A, protein, calcium, iron and other minerals. These work as a diuretic and may be an immune enhancer and also reduce risk for cancer. Add one to two tablespoons of powder or crumbled leaves to vegetable smoothies — their salty taste isn’t good with fruit. You may want to start with a smaller amount and increase as you get used to the taste.
  • Wheat germ is a good source of vitamin E and thiamin. Use two tablespoons per smoothie.
  • Blue-green algae, a type of sea vegetable, is rich in carotenoids and chlorophyll. Add two tablespoons per serving to vegetable smoothies.
  • Coconut oil improves cholesterol ratio by raising HDL (good cholesterol).
  • Protein is helpful for satiety and stabilizing blood sugar. Good choices include one tablespoon of powdered whey or two tablespoons of nuts, such as almonds or cashews.

Easy Smoothie Instructions

Always make smoothies in a blender, not a juicer, to retain fiber and those important cell wall constituents. Cocker recommends using a blender with numerous speeds, including one for crushing ice.

Here is how to make smoothies easily and quickly…

  • Put the liquid in first, which will protect the blades of your blender.
  • Add other ingredients roughly chopped and top with ice (if using).
  • Start blending on a low setting for 10 to 30 seconds, then increase to high, purify or liquefy settings for another 10 to 30 seconds.
  • If a smoothie is too sweet, squeeze in a little lemon juice to correct… if too sour, add chopped fruit (banana, grapes, pineapple or dried apricots or dates) in small increments to reach desired sweetness.

Crocker’s book includes numerous smoothie recipes, or you can go to many Web sites for ideas. And cleaning your blender is as easy as pushing a button. Rinse the container, put in a drop or two of dish detergent, fill halfway with warm water, cover and blend on a low speed for 30 seconds. Rinse and dry. Now you have no excuse not to add these healthy treats to your day!