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The New York Times’ Green Smoothie Taste Challenge

Byline: Laura Michael (NFOSD Board member and owner of Dysphagia Solutions)

When you are having trouble swallowing, eating enough green leafy vegetables can be a unique challenge, so I was excited when I saw the May 2, 2014, New York Times article “Drink Your Greens” by Martha Rose Shulman. Click here to read Martha’s article.

Green leafy vegetables contain powerful anti-oxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals that are needed for over-all health. Juices contain many of the same nutrients but with the fiber removed, many of the benefits of eating vegetables and fruits get left in the pulp collector. Eating the complete food with its naturally occurring fiber does more than aid digestion; it helps our bodies absorb nutrients. When you combine your greens with ingredients like berries, warm spices like ginger and protein sources like nuts and yogurt, then you’ve hit the trifecta of healthy, delicious eating.

Like Martha Rose Shulman, I’ve never been one to eat or drink a particular food just because it is good for me. Food has to taste, look and smell good as well.

So, I assembled a taste panel, visited the grocery store, pulled-out my blender and went to work. The taste panel consisted of four friends who had never tasted a green smoothie. They love to eat salads but were not big on eating their vegetables otherwise. One panelist, Maureen, is a client/friend who is on a full liquid diet. Like many people on a liquid diet, is it a challenge for Maureen to get the USDA recommended “5 a Day” of vegetables. We judged all five recipes on taste, nutrition, appearance, and whether they were filling or satisfying. As a teacher of the National Dysphagia Diet (NDD), I also judged them on whether they would be safe for swallowing and where they might fit into the NDD standards.

Each of the five recipes was a winner on taste and nutrition. Each of the panelists had their favorites but we all agreed that the Blueberry Kefir Smoothie with Greens had the greatest overall appeal. The color of the blueberries completely hid the color of the mixed greens, making the smoothie more purple than green.

As for the standards set by the National Dysphagia Diet, each of these smoothie recipes has a few challenges.

If you are on a diet that does not allow mixed textures or you need thickened liquids it is necessary that you make a few adjustments:

1. If you cannot tolerate mixed textures, you will need to use a very powerful commercial blender like a Vitamix. My high-end “regular” blender could not produce a completely smooth texture.

2. If you need to eat pureed food, you may need to add a scoop of clear instant thickener to ensure that the smoothie stays a safe texture throughout the whole swallow, as well.

3. Many of the recipes contain whole nuts, which can be a danger if you are at risk for aspiration. Substituting nut butters, like cashew butter or almond butter, in recipes in place of whole nuts will make a safer smoothie.

4. Whole chia seeds and pineapple fail to get completely smooth and may also be a problem. Leave them out if you are at risk for aspiration.

After testing all the recipes, I learned that spinach, arugula and mixed greens are easy to blend into just about any smoothie. Don’t tell my nine year-old son but… I’ve even started adding raw spinach to his chocolate milk shakes and he’s non-the-wiser!

Green smoothies not only taste good, but are full of just the kinds of foods that are a challenge to consume if you are having trouble swallowing.


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Food for thought

1. Please try one of Martha Rose Shulman’s receipts (click here) and let us know which one you like best.

2. Do you have a smoothie receipt you’d like to share? Please enter it as a comment below.