Blend, baby, blend.
Nutritionists say blended meals - or smoothies - made from fruits, vegetables and other ingredients can be part of a well-balanced diet.
The key word is "part." Registered dietitian Brian Jones of Memorial Hospital said liquefying should not replace all solid food.
"Unless you have a medical problem," he said, "there's no reason your body can't digest solid food."
There are some pros and cons to liquid meal replacements, he said. "I'm a fan of them for breakfast because of my lifestyle. One of the big pros is portability."
According to Jones and registered dietitian Pamela Kelle, an occasional, or even once-a-day blended drink as a meal replacement can be an acceptable part of a healthy diet as long as the concoction meets acceptable caloric requirements.
Pasteurized liquid egg whites or silken tofu can add protein to a smoothie, while some avocado or a nut butter can introduce healthy fat. Including ground flaxseed can add heart-healthy omega-3 and essential fiber.
"One way to make sure (blended meals) are healthy is to make sure they have enough fiber, which is sometimes lacking in a liquid diet," Jones said.
Vegetables, such as spinach, can be hidden in smoothies to appease finicky eaters, the experts said.
"A lot of people still feel there's a stigma about eating a lot of vegetables," Kelle said. "They feel punished by vegetables. If they can put it in a drink, they'll be more likely to consume it with a little more pleasure."
Kelle emphasizes the difference between a juicer and a blender or food processor. A juicer separates the liquid of the fruit or vegetable from the pulp. The problem with that, she said, is that much of the fiber and nutrients are in the pulp. "You can use the pulp in muffins or in a soup, but most people don't. They just throw it away."
A good blender or food processor will pulverize the entire fruit, which can then be thinned with juice, milk, yogurt or ice to create a smooth, drinkable consistency. Blending devices also can be used to create soups, with healthy levels of salt.
Despite popular belief about liquid meals having a greater dietary benefit than eating the same foods in solid form, Jones said there is no scientific proof to support this theory.
"The (liquid) meal will probably transit quicker to your intestine," he said, "which can be a good or bad thing. Your stomach will empty quicker and you might be hungrier. That's why I think liquid meal replacements work best if you're having one a day and you're having two solid meals as well."
Chocolate banana nut shake
2 cups spinach
3/4 cup liquid pasteurized egg whites
2 tablespoon nut butter
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup to 1 cup vanilla almond milk
Vegetable Meal Replacement Smoothie
1 medium pear cored with skin
1 kiwi without skin
1 large cleaned carrot stick
8 baby spinach leaves (to taste)
1 large raw pasteurized egg white
6 oz nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
- Brian Jones
5 oz. (about 2/3 cup) So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage
5 large strawberries
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
2 no-calorie sweetener packets
1 cup crushed ice.
Option: 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder
Avocado Mango Berry Smoothie
1/2 cup pasteurized egg whites
1 cup spinach
2 oz silken tofu
3/4 cup (any type) milk or kefir (add more if thinner consistency is desired)
1/2 cup frozen mango
1 cup frozen blueberries (can add more for more vibrant color)
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