Drinking Your Vegetables
Although not a new trend by any means, green juices have become ubiquitous. Juice bars have popped up hailing cold-pressed concoctions (care for some dandelion greens and celery?), and health sites boast of hundreds of recipes that help the calorie-conscious drink down their vegetables. Juice cleanses are making the rounds of celebrity recommendations, and single-serve blenders have also become available so that busy commuters can whir-up smoothies in the morning and take them on the go.
Mariam Malik, a radiology resident at Loyola Hospital, began the process of replacing meals—mostly breakfast but also an after-dinner snack—with juiced vegetables more than three months ago, when she was seeking solutions for medical issues. “It was a total lifestyle change,” she says. “I’ve lost weight, I feel way more energetic; my mood has been better, too.”
When Malik took on the project, she researched recipes and bought a plethora of produce to do some testing. She also invested in a juicer. She pulled out a book given to her as a present and experimented for a bit to see what worked and what didn’t. She found out that broccoli, for example, just wasn’t a great ingredient in large quantities and made the whole thing unpalatable. Now Malik is settled on a routine of alternating red and green juices, both with a base of spinach and kale. The green color comes from lemon, ginger, parsley, and green apples. The red consists of beets, red apples, oranges, and turmeric. She uses a range of vegetables; fruits such as apples or pineapples are also added in smaller quantities to make the drinks more appealing. However, she consciously makes sure she limits the fruits so that the daily libation is not just a vehicle for sugar.
Malik doesn’t find the preparation too hard either. Since the juicer removes the skin of the produce she puts in it, she has to just have the right proportions and some time to make a two-day stock that can set in the refrigerator. She avoids leaving it longer than 72 hours to ensure that it’s fresh. Before this new routine, Malik had a tough time incorporating healthy foods into her daily lifestyle. Besides just drinking vegetables, she’s made other adjustments too, such as using cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes. However, the easiest way to take in leafy greens, for her, has been to pulverize them.
She also prefers smoothies over juices; the major difference is that the former is made in the blender and the latter goes through a juicer. In smoothies, she also throws in other healthy and protein-packed ingredients, such as flax seeds, chia seeds, and yogurt. She will sometimes put in aloe or cucumber too. That’s also the reason many prefer ingredients with high water content.
These provide a fulfilling and plentiful base to add other ingredients to, which may be harder to make room for, when on a diet.
Nutritionists do, however, warn against relying too much on liquefied leafy greens versus eating them in raw or cooked form. Shahana Khan, a registered and licensed dietitian, says she prefers smoothies over juices, when a client insists on having one or the other because smoothies tend to keep more fiber as the whole fruit or veggie is put into the blender. Fiber helps with digestion, regularity, and lowering cholesterol and it also breaks down sugar in fibrous fruit. “If you don’t get enough time to eat your fruits and vegetables and you think this is a faster way to get it in you, once in a while, go ahead,” she recommends. “But, try not to make it every day.” It’s also harder, Khan says, for the brain to recognize when the body is full, if food is consumed in liquid form. “Lots of things go on when you chew your food,” she continues. “If you’re drinking food, your brain can’t signal, ‘Okay, I’ve consumed enough calories.’ You might be consuming more calories in the day if you’re drinking your calories.”
Malik feels confident that she may be losing out on fiber but is still taking in the necessary vitamins, especially as she’s seen such a change in her demeanor.“ I just have a more positive attitude and have more tolerance for little things,” she explains. Plus, she’s been able to keep up the routine, which is a positive sign for her.
Anyone who wants to go the juicing or smoothie route has to be wary of how many fruits are going into each serving. Items like tomato blends are more savory, so they can be a good alternative. Fruits and vegetables should be changed to include a variety, and Khan also prescribes taking health history into consideration. For example, someone with a history of diabetes or having a baby should consult a doctor first, before getting on any type of regimen.
Khan also doesn’t recommend juicing for the sake of detoxing the body, as is the hype that many, especially celebrities, push. “God made us an automatic detoxification system,” she says. However, she condones going this route if it replaces something unhealthy, such as processed or fried foods. The removal of those items will automatically give the liver and kidney, which remove toxins in the body, a rest. Khan also agrees that a change in eating habits, such as smoothies or juices, can be a big kick-start for the weight-loss process, although they shouldn’t be a crutch to rely on.
Another recommendation for vegetable intake is in soup form instead. While that takes more work, soups can be made in batches and taken out on a daily basis— an especially good option in the cold months. “The nutrients go into the water, and you can drink the nutrients up. There’s no sugar, so you don’t have to worry about calories that much,” Khan explains regarding soups. “I recommend soups a lot for patients who want to lose weight and don’t like eating vegetables.”
Similar to smoothies, if people choose to go that route, Khan recommends making the soup at home. “That’s the best way, you know what’s in it,” she contends. “You can control the amount of ingredients you put in there.” Easier said than done. There are, none the less, IFANCA halal certified products, such as Saffron Road’s chicken broth, to make life easy.
So, is pulverizing veggies into smoothies and soups better than wholesome vegetables in raw or cooked form? Guess not, but then something is better than nothing! And they are certainly a notch above juices!
Nadia Malik holds a degree in journalism and is a former reporter for a Chicago-area newspaper. She has written for websites and publications and has also worked for several non-profit organizations. She is currently in a graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania, studying social work and nonprofit leadership.