When asked to recommend one type of food for better health, I suggest green vegetables. Even at breakfast, whether in the form of raw or sautéed greens in whole form, or blended into a smoothie. (NOT juiced, which removes all of the fiber, one of the main benefits of eating greens.) I have been pretty busy lately, so green smoothies have saved me time many mornings.
What have I been up to? Besides seeing patients and teaching cooking classes, a few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to present my life’s work at the Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conference at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia, in Napa, CA. I gave a presentation on the Thrive Kitchen, the healthy cooking class series I founded and teach (with the priceless help of my wonderful team of volunteers) at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. This conference, which just wrapped up its 15th year, is a chance for physicians and other health care providers to learn about advances in nutrition research, as well as how to cook delicious and healthy food from a diverse group of chefs. I started my journey to becoming a physician-chef after attending this conference for the first time in 2012, and I learn something new, and am newly inspired, each time I return.
One of the most interesting talks at this conference was on the gut microbiome, presented by the brilliant husband and wife research team of Justin Sonnenburg, PhD and Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, from Stanford University. You’ve all heard of the gut microbiome– the trillions of bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria do more than affect our digestion, they influence our immune systems and chronic inflammation, with effects on obesity, blood sugar metabolism, mental health, and cancer. While the exact way the gut microbiome is related to these conditions is yet to be fully understood, we do know how you can improve the composition of the microbiome in your gut. Previous research has shown that artificial sweeteners can alter populations of gut bacteria and have a negative effect on glucose tolerance i.e. blood sugar regulation, so you might want to reconsider your diet soda habit. As for what you can eat and drink to improve your gut microbiome, the Sonnenburgs recommended increasing your intake of two categories of food which can alter the types and amounts of bacteria in your gut:
–fiber, found in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
–fermented foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi.
One of the most helpful slides in the Sonnenburg’s presentation gave practical suggestions for meals which increase your intake of both fiber and fermented foods. These include:
-Kimchi fried rice
-Yogurt with whole grains and berries
-Miso soup with vegetables
-Kale and kefir smoothie
I thought I was the only one who starts every morning with a kefir green smoothie, but apparently great minds think alike!
Here’s my basic recipe for this probiotic-rich breakfast, sweetened naturally with fruit, and customized with spices, as is my signature at The Doctor’s Spicebox. Enjoy, and know that you are also building a healthier gut microbiome!
The Doctor’s Spicebox Spiced Green Smoothie
Blending leafy greens into a smoothie is a great way to incorporate a serving of these nutritional powerhouses into your diet. My favorite green to use is arugula. In contrast to more commonly used neutral greens like kale and spinach, arugula lends an unexpected peppery bite to this bold breakfast smoothie, which gets additional character from cardamom and ginger. Kefir adds a boost of gut health-promoting probiotics. You can use plain yogurt in place of kefir, and substitute any fruit you prefer.
Yield: 2 cups
1 cup arugula, baby kale or spinach
1 cup frozen cubed mango (or other frozen fruit)
½ very ripe banana, frozen preferred
1 cup plain kefir (or yogurt)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4-1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Blend all ingredients together until smooth and frothy.
- Serve immediately or keep refrigerated until serving.
Intrigued? Come and cook with us at the Thrive Kitchen if you’re in San Francisco, and join our healthy cooking community at The Doctor’s Spicebox. Hope to cook with you soon!