Smoothies? What’s not to love? If you have a kiddo who likes the idea of a personal power shake, you can make a functional food smoothie on the regular. You can even let your child experiment with favorite flavors, concoctions, or who knows what (my son once made us “green spaghetti” for dinner when he was six. It was GF spaghetti in water with green food coloring. Whatever! He was happy.)
I often work up concoctions for kids in my practice who can’t drink stuff like Pediasure to gain weight or can’t use dairy, soy, or other proteins.
And they’re not just for kids. Here’s what happened to me. Smoothies helped me get back on my feet:
In 2011, I abruptly fell very ill, three weeks after a physical in which my doctor deemed me fit as a fiddle. In that three week time span, something bit my ear. A spider? We’ll never know, but whatever it was packed a punch – and I didn’t realize it at first. Within a week, my legs were collapsing out from under me with shooting pains; I was dizzy all the time; my heart raced; any water I drank left me in greater amounts than I took in (over four liters/day urine loss – they measured); my blood sugar fluctuated (I once walked in for a blood draw after a good breakfast and showed a blood glucose level of 48, after it had been 135 fasting that morning); I constantly felt short of air. But, no fever, no rash, no clear clues.
I stumped one specialist after another. My entire endocrine system had lost itself, as did my immune system. I fell to multiple ordinary infections that my body couldn’t fight, and had inexplicably low white blood cells, beta cells, and neutrophils. Long story (including an old, unknown, untreated exposure to Lyme disease), but I’m still digging out, and into my third year of recovery. I can now drive again, work, stand up without reeling into dizziness, walk and trot, and ski (for short spurts). I can do yoga. I can travel by air again after being grounded for the first 18 months, as long as I have supplemental oxygen and a face mask (weird looking… but at least people steer clear of me and I get more room). I can get up in the morning and function, and even usually sleep again at night, mostly.
Anyhoo, after a year of rotating through many doctors, hospitalizations, near-death moments (literally), medications, herbs, supplements, and treatments, I had more stability in my endocrine system, but was still too weak and sick to return to work, do the athletic things I loved, or care for my family. I was still disabled, and still dependent on a home health aid. This, after spending all the prior fifty years of my life being healthy, physically active, and busy. At this point, I finally had a team of smart people vetted and assembled, after much poking, blood giving, X-rays, electrocardiograms, a tilt table test, and other trials and errors on me.
Then one day one of my docs looked at me and said, “You have to do this with food. Your liver can’t take more medications for these infections.”
For the first time in my life, someone was telling me how to use food for health, instead of me telling them.
I’d already spent fifteen months as a disabled person, and that was enough. No hesitation. I already ate cleanly and was gluten free (easier in my house, with my 17 year old son being gluten intolerant since age 22 months). But I became even more strict about eating only organic and GMO free foods, went Paleo per the doc’s orders, and added all kinds of blended and juiced foods to ease my liver, kidneys, and adrenals back into health. Within two months, I felt markedly better. It was the beginning of my return to normal. I still have needed some medications here and there, and still rely on many glandulars, herbs, and food based supplements that my providers choose for me. But most of all, I have to eat really good food. It’s a lot of work every day, but my alternative option is.. not happening!
Pre-sick, I’d often start my day with no food at all. Maybe some green tea. Further back a few years, just black coffee. I’d eat light and gluten free but still ate grains. A dietitian friend asked me how much protein I ate in a day, and I was surprised to notice that it was less than half of what I really needed. Oops.
Now it was a new ball game. I had to start each day with a strong protein and healthy traditional fats meal. I was unable to exercise and was fearful that I’d balloon in weight. It turned out that my new foods didn’t do this to me, but some medications did. I included lots of lamb, red meats, bacon, coconut milk, and eggs, but my weight remained steady. My total cholesterol climbed, but my doctors were not concerned, because my level of healthy cholesterol was good. In fact, they unanimously interpreted this new lipid profile as protective against inflammation and infection, something I really needed. I ate a lot more vegetables and greens, less fruit, and zero store bought juice. Sweets and grains were out. Gone. Of course, I had already completely cut out alcohol and coffee.
The stretches when I needed longer term antibiotics were the weight gain moments. Antibiotics, I noticed, made it harder for me to avoid grains. They drove cravings for grains and sweets, increased my appetite, and I needed constant support to avoid fungal load in my body when I use them. This I don’t like, and I’m looking forward to having even more energy back so I can become more physically active again.
For a long while, to rebuild my kidneys and adrenal glands, which were not working well early in this illness, I juiced greens, celery, ginger, and apples. This felt like a salve in my body – soothing and restorative! I ate seared kale, chard, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, parsnips, and broccolini for carbs, instead of grainy snacks. For at least six months, potatoes were off my list too (a few are back in, and not causing trouble). Nuts and seeds figured in also – raw almonds, raw cashews, raw pine nuts, pumpkin seeds. That felt good. Once I was a little stronger, I could do liver purges, with water, olive oil, whole lemon, and whole garlic, or sometimes, with strong prescription herb blends that I drank as tea. This also felt really good, better than medications. I slowly, steadily gained strength.
Though I couldn’t tolerate these early on, eventually, I could put together a blender full of helping foods, protein, and supplements in the morning. This is my current morning blend, below. I love the orange-cocoa-sesame flavors. Each item here has been approved for me by my team (Tasmin Cordie DC, Jill Carnahan MD, Daniel Kinderlehrer MD). When it was my turn for help, I was deeply grateful for these smart people. I hope you can also find doctors and providers who know the power of food, and have the skill to choose supplements wisely – just as I do for the kids in my own practice.
I still have a ways to go. My goal is to be able to jog again, play soccer again, or run fast again, and just enjoy life. Even though I ate healthfully for the most part before, I wasn’t eating enough of the foods that really heal, restore, and regenerate. Eating this way takes more work, definitely costs more, but feels good. It doesn’t cost more than the health care expenses I rung up just in the first year that I was sick (nearly $60,000, only half of which was covered by insurance). I slip up some with a gluten free sweet here or a potato chip there, but it doesn’t toss me into a physical tailspin anymore when I do – a sign that my strength is continuing to build. Still, I won’t be going back to my old ways soon: Even with all this good food replenishing and rebuilding me from the inside out for the last 18 months, I have needed infused human immunoglobulin to kick start my flat-lined immune system.
So, if you want to try a kick-butt morning smoothie, here’s a recipe (sort of) for what I’m liking this month. This one leans on more than the usual number of supplements, all of which come from whole food, and all of which I also use in my practice. I always start with crushed iced at the bottom of the blender for this one. Otherwise, I have a centrifugal juicer that is great for citrus, celery, apples, and firm veggies like carrots. For greens like kale, mint, or basil, I use my blender.
Then I add a “milk” of choice. This can be entirely whole coconut milk (rather heavy); cut that with half unsweetened almond milk or just use almond milk (never sweetened). Today I treated myself to grass-fed organic cow’s milk (a rarity in my case); if I chance on raw goat milk from a neighbor or friend, that will be in for sure.
Next I add…
Apex Energetics Glycemovite ~1 scoop (pea based protein with additional amino acids, minerals, and herbs for blood glucose support). I used this for a while, but now am liking grass-fed collagen peptides even better. Kids who can’t tolerate many food proteins often do well with this.
Organic plain whey powder ~ 1 TBSP (GMO free, non-denatured whey protein high in immune modulators)
Klaire Labs Galactommune (prebiotics to support healthy gut microbiome; with beta glucans to support innate immunity, which I had mostly lost). Go even further for a depleted immune system with hypoallergenic, oral immunoglobulin support. This is another ingredient that has worked wonders for many kids in my practice too.
Organic flax seed meal (NOW brand is my current pick; adds fiber and omega 3 fats). Another top functional fat is C8 oil, aka caprylic acid, which is a medium chain triglyceride that is in coconut oil. The pure C8 oil is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and liquid. It has antiviral, anti fungal, and antibacterial action, and it is a fast, easy fat to absorb. You may have seen it sold as Brain Octane Oil or Dr Mercola’s Ketone Energy. This stuff feels good and can help kids with difficulty growing, gaining, and repairing gut tissue.
Organic sesame tahini ~1 TBSP (for flavorful creaminess, more fats, more protein, a little calcium, folate, and iron. Favorite brand? Once Again Tahini). Pick any nut butter your kid likes.
Next.. I rotate about a teaspoon of one item from this crew, for some omega 3 fatty acids, turmeric, or vitamin D (I don’t put them all in one smoothie!). All of these are flavored with orange oil: Apex Energetics Ultra D 5000, Apex Energetics Tumero Active, Pharmax Finest Pure Fish Oil or Cod Liver Oil. I use the Ultra D 5000 when my vitamin D levels are dropping below 50. The Tumero is a boost for anti-inflammatory help; this product is the best way I have found to get this very beneficial supplement into kids. It is a liquid that comes with a plastic oral syringe, so you can easily squirt the right dose into the mouth directly. It tastes good enough to do that. It can also blend well and will impart a strong orange flavor that goes well with other flavors kids might like, like cocoa, vanilla, or other fruit.
If you or your child still has a need for some sweet, options include stevia, in as close to its original plant form as can be had – beware strange blended products like Truvia that add chemicals and other ingredients. Or add 1/3 ripe banana, a small blob of raw organic honey, a dash of real maple syrup, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or 1/8 cup leftover baked sweet potato. Those on GAPS or strict Paleo will pass on those options if they like. But, I have found after fifteen years in practice with some very picky eaters that it can be a winning strategy to pick your battles and celebrate the little victories. A homemade smoothie chock full of organic ingredients and healthy supplemental brain fats is way better than Pediasure, even if it does have a little stevia or sweet potato in it.
Even though my passion for food, health, and nutrition began about forty years ago – when I was a teenager and first read Diet For A Small Planet – and even though I have spent many years learning and enjoying how to help others heal with food and nutrition – this experience has been a life changing one for me. I now know on a deep, physical and personal level how crucial food really is to owning and experiencing health. I had always been a healthy person who ate mostly clean and well, but once I was close to dying, only going full bore into even better food was what put me back together. The dozens of prescription drugs I was given weren’t saving me. It has taken over a year of rebuild from the inside out. That is what our bodies can do, given the right tools. I would be lying if I didn’t say that meditation and prayer didn’t also figure in. But now I feel even more delighted to help parents work with their kids to replace unhealthy foods that are processed, genetically modified, artificially flavored and colored, altered with strange additives new to human livers with wholesome, real, and hopefully organic food. For our youngest, most vulnerable family members, it might matter more than you can know.