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January 10, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 19 Faves: 6

Why I Drink My Veggies (And You Should Too)

By Christina Pasternak More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the FOOD-A-MINS Blog Series

Currently, over 60% of the "Standard American’s Diet" comes from processed foods. This broad category includes any food other than raw agriculture and encompasses those made with added sweeteners, salts, artificial flavors, coloring agents, oils, and chemical preservatives. If it comes in a bag, box, or can, it’s a processed food - even if it’s labeled “organic” or “all natural.” Dangit!

Another major component of the average American’s food intake is animal products, with 25% of caloric consumption from meat, eggs, dairy, and fish. With so many processed foods and animal products in the modern diet, there’s hardly any room left for unrefined plant food and whole grains. Then there’s the saddest of the SAD truth - among the 10% of plant-based foods Americans consume, nearly half of those come from white potato products such as potato chips and french fries.

Potato Chips

So where did all the green go?

Sleepwalking on Junk

When I was 19 years old I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis. Huh? I hadn't heard of it either. It is essentially chronic inflammation of the bladder. For the first few years of living with my disease, I took medication to manage the symptoms. Sometimes it helped, but not enough to counterbalance the undesirable side-effects of the drugs. I hated taking those pills every day, and when my flare-ups were debilitating I felt like a prisoner in my own body.

My amazingly supportive and knowledgeable mom started talking to me about changing my diet and lifestyle. She would wipe away my tears of exasperation and gently say, “there have to be natural alternatives that work better than what you’re doing now.” Initially, her words irritated me. She began to sound like a broken record after a while, but like most of us, I had to hear the truth thousands of times before I finally got it.

Pills

My Wake Up Call

I knew something had to change, so I turned to good ‘ol Google for the answers. I quickly learned that I was not alone and immediately felt comfort in that. There were so many people who were living with this condition, as well as other inflammatory and auto-immune diseases. I learned that many people had great success with a challenge and elimination diet, where foods that exacerbated symptoms were identified and avoided. I gave it a whirl and discovered sugar, alcohol, dairy, fried foods, carbonated drinks, and coffee - all of my favorite things - were making me sick. "What do I eat now?" I thought. I also learned that an acidic body chemistry leads to tissue toxicity, chronic inflammation, and disease. When this happens, our system produces symptoms to tell us to wake up and do something about it.

Initially, I felt like I was being punished by my body. I was being disciplined by something greater than me. My life force - the sum of my parts - was completely out of balance and screaming for help. I was being bullied by inflammation and disease. They are best friends after all. The mean girls. I wanted those bitches to leave me alone! My only defense, though, was medication, and I quickly learned that suppressing my symptoms with drugs was never going to create a cure. Thanks for nothing!

Feeling swindled, I made the decision that I wasn't going to be on medication forever. I already knew my body was an acidic inflammation factory full of poor choices, but without Little Debbie, I felt lonely. I had to say goodbye to my best food friends, and, at that time, I had no idea how to fill the void.

Then I met veggies - my alkalinizing buddies that changed my life. They were kinda like the drama nerds. Eccentric yet intriguing. There was just something about them, especially the green ones. They seemed extra special, and after getting to know them better, I realized my intuition was right.

Veggies

An Alkaline Way of Life

Once I set out on my new healing journey, I devoured literature on the relationship between food and health. I learned more about the benefits of a plant-based alkaline diet, with vegetables being the largest food group, followed by fruits, beans/legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. Meat, eggs, fish, sweets, dairy, and processed foods should be eaten rarely.

Humans have a beautifully symbiotic relationship with plants, one cannot survive without the other. Since the beginning of civilization, humans have not only relied on plants for survival, but have come to recognize the health-promoting and healing powers of food grown from the earth. Plant foods contain phytonutrients, substances found only in plants that provide specific health benefits the body requires to promote longevity, prevent illness, and even heal disease. Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promote free radical removal in the body. When we fail to consume enough plant foods with phytonutrients and antioxidants, excessive free radicals promote aging, inflammation, and disease.

The secret to living a long and healthy life is much more basic than a lot of people think. Eating significant amounts of diverse unprocessed plant foods, especially green vegetables, promotes health and fights aging.Vegetables, especially when eaten fresh and raw, are the most important food for optimum health. In fact, the Latin word for vegetable means “to enliven.” Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collards, and chard, are more nutrient-dense than any other food in the vegetable kingdom.

Smooth and Juicy Green Food Love

When I began exploring a plant-based diet, I started with salads. Big salads. Every. Single. Day. Romaine lettuce and baby spinach were the basis of everything, mostly because I couldn’t stomach kale and chard scared me. I didn’t even know what to do with it and I thought it tasted a little like dish soap. My palate was untrained and my brain was rebellious. I wanted a McDouble and a Reese’s McFlurry. ("Extra peanut butter cups please. Yes, you can charge me for that").

Once I got fed up with salads, I began having a love-hate relationship with all food - the healthy and unhealthy stuff. I begrudgingly ate my salads, yet felt so much guilt after whipping through a drive-thru. I liked how I felt when I ate healthy, but I was bored with health food. I didn’t want to go back to my old ways, but I didn’t know how to move forward either. I was stuck.

One day my mom (of course, who else would it be at this point?) happened to mention that she started making green smoothies. "Ew, what?" I responded. She explained the simple process of throwing a couple large handfuls of leafy greens in a blender with any kind of fruit I want, adding water, and blending until smooth. She compared it to drinking a huge salad, stating that there are about three cups of leafy greens and two cups of fruit in just 16 ounces of smoothie goodness. Blend. Sip. Done. So I did exactly what she said. Two large handfuls of spinach, one cup of raspberries, a banana, and a cup of water. Simple, fast, surprisingly sweet, and it didn’t taste like dirt at all. Once again, mom was right. It was delicious.

Smoothies

The thought of consuming that amount of veggies in one simple drink was exhilarating. The last time I had felt that excited about food was when I learned Wendy’s Monterey Ranch Chicken Sandwich was back. Green smoothies were it for me. I didn’t look back. I was thinking outside the salad bowl and experimenting with greens I never thought I’d try -- or eat again anyway. Chard. Arugula. Mustard greens. Kale. Collards. The possibilities felt endless, and they are!

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants. - Michael Pollan

Six years later, I still drink a green smoothie every day. It’s the perfect way to start my day and it’s the basis of my diet. I never get bored with them because I have yet to run out of new recipes. I am consuming more plant foods than I ever have before. Smoothies have inspired me to try fruits and vegetables that I never would have even considered.

Green smoothies have changed my life. I am healthier, happier, and I feel more beautiful than I ever have. I was able to stop taking my medication, and I experience less pain and inflammation than when I was using it. My skin is clearer, my hair is shinier, and I no longer have eczema. My weight is lower and more stable, and my relationship with sugar and junk food has significantly changed. I’ve traded in controlling cravings for food freedom. I get it now. Eating healthy food promotes health. Eating unhealthy food promotes disease. We get to choose the food we eat. I choose veggies. And you should too.

Sources:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/463698-processed-food-definition/#ixzz2HDafmSMb

http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-02-19/news/31076374_1_chart-capita-american

http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-consumption-and-nutrient-intakes.aspx#26667

Fuhrman, J. (2011). Super immunity: The essential nutrition guide for boosting your body’s defenses to live longer, stronger, and disease free. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Haas, E.M. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. New York: Random House, Inc.

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Next:The SAD Truth About Sugar

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19 Comments

  • Love this, Christina!

    I probably eat more veggies than the average American, but I know they still account for a smaller proportion of my diet than they should. The smoothie thing would be an easy way to start out my day though. I think I may just try that! :)

  • Christina, I can tell I'm going to enjoy following your blogs! :) Thanks for sharing your story - it's a powerful testament to the healing properties of that leafy green stuff. I own a juicer and I use it on and off (I would probably use it more if it weren't such a pain to clean, to be honest)...I'm thinking of making big batches of juices and smoothies and freezing them, to save time in the morning. Would that be a good way to go about it, or is freezing not a good idea?

  • I feel all inspired n stuff!

  • Hi Christina, I just purchased a Nutri-bullet back in October and Monday - Friday I have been making green drinks ever since in the morning for breakfast. Okay so once in a while I don't make them but at least 3-4 days a week for sure. I drink mine first thing in the morning and my husband takes his to work and drinks it later in the day.

    It's been an experience for sure! I must admit it's the first time I ate a whole container of KALE!

  • I gotta agree with Dayton, very inspiring. In days gone by, I would regularly consume carrot/celery/apple juice, but it was (as Laura pointed out) so much work to clean up, that it made a 5 minute health drink into a 20 minute OMG-look-at-this-mess fiasco.

    Will a standard kitchen blender do the job? Not that I wouldn't consider a real blender, but to try it out? I don't want it to be all gross because I didn't use the right blender, but our family definitely needs more green. We're good about the colored vegetables and have no problem with fruit, but leafy greens are definitely lower than I am happy with.

  • Thanks for the positivity fellow veggie lovers! Your comments made me smile :)

    Laura -- I share your feeling about cleaning my juicer. It can definitely be a pain, especially when we live busy, scheduled lives. I find myself reaching for my blender and making smoothies more often than juice (for more reasons than one), but mostly out of convenience. Freezing juice can be tricky. To get the most out of your juice, it should be consumed immediately because nutrients begin to dissipate within minutes (especially in juice made with lots of leafy greens). If you do decide to try freezing them, add some fresh lemon juice. The citric acid will act as a preservative. Make sure you are freezing them in mason jars and fill them almost completely full. I've read that juice can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, but I can taste the difference after about 24. It's not as fresh! My general rule is when I juice, I drink immediately, or refrigerate in airtight glass containers for no more than 8-12 hours. Smoothies can be stored for up to 48 hours -- a little longer due to the fiber that remains intact.

  • Sprouty, a standard kitchen blender will do the job, as long as it's high speed (at least 500 watts). Before I invested in a Vitamix, which was only about a year ago, I was using a standard blender, such as the Cuisanart Deluxe. I bought it for about $80 at Bed Bath & Beyond with my 20% off coupon (bonus!). The problem with these blenders is they won't last. I ended up having to buy a new blender every year. After my fourth blender (and realizing green smoothies weren't just a phase), I took the Vitamix plunge. I marched up (not really, I drove) to Bed Bath & Beyond with my burned out blender and a 20% coupon, was given a $100 store credit, and purchased my $500 regularly priced Vitamix for $300. Not too shabby. I'll never go back to a standard kitchen blender -- and I won't have to because my Vitamix will last a lifetime. I wouldn't recommend getting one, though, until you decide that you're a smoothie lover for life. That's like buying a sweet ride and permanently parking it in the garage!

  • I dont understand why u dont provide the things u put in this as u cant eat bananas with ic. I need to know what to put in the blender as it relates to ic. The only fruit u can have, and mostpeople with ic tell me they cant eat any fruit, are blueberries watermelon and pears. I would like to hear what you put in an ic shake. You said you have ic?? How would u eat a banana?

  • Drank my first ever green smoothie this morning. Thanks for the inspiration, Christina!

  • How was it Kyle? Chunky? Pulpy? Stringy? Excessively chlorophyllic? What did you make it of?

  • It was actually pretty good! It had fresh spinach,avocado, lemon juice, banana, and pineapple. Made my stomach slightly upset at first, but I think that's because I'm not used to so many nutrients so early in the day. Or, as my girlfriend suggested, maybe I'm just not used to them at all!

    I do feel more energized though, and I think I'll probably keep right on blendin'!

  • Last night after reading your article, I planned to make a smoothie or two to see how it worked for me. As luck would have it, though, I rolled up at Big Lots and was able to snag the last (floor model!) of their cheap-but-decent $18 juicer machines. I loved the apple, celery, spinach, and cilantro one I made, and the celery, cucumber, and spinach one was also good. Tonight I'm planning on annoying the neighbors and making myself another healthy drink :)

  • What an excellent suggestion. Thank you!

  • Christina - I like the idea of drinking my veggies, though I am trying them steamed and like them that way. My question is: if you drink your food this avoids chewing/mixing with saliva so wouldn't this affect the digestion of the vegetables you eat? My concern here is that I have a habit of eating too fast and it appears to have created some issues, like not predigesting what I eat before I swallow it. Thanks.

  • Hi Ken,

    What an excellent question. I, too, have a habit of eating very fast, and I have had no problems with digestion since drinking smoothies. In fact, it has vey much improved. When drinking your smoothies, it is important to "chew" them a bit to allow your saliva to mix with the liquid. This will initiate the chemical digestion of the food. If you do this, you shouldn't have digestive issues. You have inspired me to explain this in greater detail -- perhaps a complementary blog about getting the most out of your smoothies is in order. Thanks Ken!

  • Very interesting

  • Christina, you are truly inspiring!

  • Thank you, Jessica! That's so sweet of you to say :) I didn't always feel inspired, that's for sure, but that can always change. WE can ALWAYS change!

  • After this blog's new comments popped up in my notifications, I have veggies on the brain again. I think tonight I'm going to sneak some homemade mini-carrot puree and fresh chopped spinach into some store-bought spaghetti sauce to increase the fiber and nutrition content in it.

    (And if I'm *really* in a cooking mood, I might even puree some extra spinach and carrots and make homemade tri-color pasta!)

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