Earlier this year, I ventured overseas to a well known plant-centric foodie and travel destination, Bali, Indonesia. While checking out a few of the go-to breakfast spots in the surfers’ paradise of Uluwatu and yogi hub in Ubud, I couldn’t help to notice the preponderance of super food smoothie bowls listed on the menus. What were all these plant-centric smoothie bowls all about, I wondered?
After all, they came with claims such as “Will promote flawless skin,” “Heal your mood, mind, and body,” and of course, they were ubiquitously healthy. Then I had an “aha” moment. While many of the smoothie bowls in the restaurants were full of antioxidant-rich fruits, I noticed that they were huge, lacked vegetables, and had sugar content sometimes as upwards as 40 to 60 grams per serving.
But of course, they didn’t tell you that! The bowls were typically a mix of common tropical fruits such as banana, dragon fruit, and pineapple, plant-based milk, and then to top it off with added sliced fruit and small amounts of granola. Talk about ammunition for a blood sugar spike!
In this blog article, I’ll take a closer look at Smoothie Bowls and provide some guidance on how to build one that works powerfully with your genes and the natural biochemistry of your body.
What is a Smoothie Bowl?
When asked how to make a smoothie bowl, the answer is pretty simple. A smoothie bowl is a smoothie typically thickened with frozen fruit (often bananas) and served in a bowl, versus a glass, with scattered toppings. For some of you, a smoothie bowl may mimic the texture, flavor, and sweet satisfaction of ice-cream but without the added sugar.
Smoothie bowls may present a more mindful way to eat breakfast, or other meal/snack because you eat the contents slowly with a spoon versus slurping the ingredients within a few seconds through a straw. Beyond satisfying sweet cravings, an attraction of smoothie bowls is a concentrated and convenient way of delivering a powerful nutrient punch, akin to smoothies and juices.
But are Smoothie Bowls healthy?
Are Smoothie Bowls Healthy?
Correctly constructed, a smoothie bowl delivers a powerful infusion of vitamins, minerals, and bioactives (compounds that interact with your genes), that fuel the natural biochemical cycles that drive your body.
Concentrated amounts of sugar, albeit fruit-powered sources of sugar in smoothie bowls, can spike blood sugar after consumption. Challenging your body with sugar, especially if your genes are sluggish handlers of sugar, can create oxidative stress and inflammation in your body over time. Does this mean you should throw out the smoothie bowl, even with all its nutrient benefits? Not at all.
With a few simple adjustments and keeping some principles in mind, you can have your smoothie bowl and relish it too!
What’s more, if you are going to make a smoothie bowl, why not build one that “talks” to your genes too. Here’s how.
Building A Smoothie Bowl That Connects to your Genes in 6 Steps
Let me share some tips on how to prioritize ingredients for your smoothie bowl and why.
First, switch out common smoothie bowl ingredients such as dates, pineapple, or mango, with lower glycemic (sugar) fruits such as berries. See #2 for why!
To build a smoothie that “talks” to your genes, make strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries the “sweet” heart of all your smoothies. At the Genomic Kitchen, we refer to these berries as master ingredients. They contain bioactives, which activate a master switch, Nr-F2. More on this later.
If you use citrus in your smoothies, particularly oranges or grapefruit, zest the fruit first and include it in your blender. Bioactives in orange zest include tangeretin and naringenin which have been well studied for their food-gene activity.
Add proteins or fiber to your smoothies to slow down the rate at fruit sugars enter your bloodstream and give your genes a break.
Add fresh herbs and spices to each bowl. In the same way that berries initiate that gene conversation, so do herbs and spices. On the spice side, think turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice. On the herb side, reach for fresh herbs, particularly basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, dill and even cilantro for your smoothie. Don’t limit yourself to these suggestions, but know that these herbs and spices have excellent scientific evidence supporting how they “talk” to your genes.
Don’t make a gargantuan-sized bowl! Large portions cause a demand on your insulin hormone whose job is to handle the sugar load from the smoothie. Some individuals have genes that can efficiently take on the demand, others do not. Don’t guess how your body handles large amounts of sugar. If you make a big batch of smoothie ingredients, divide them up. You can always have a second serving later in the day.
Berries Role With Your Genes
Berries bioactive compounds act as a switch to activate genes that act like your body’s fire hose, to extinguish oxidative stress and inflammation. Untamed oxidative stress and inflammation accelerate aging, something we all want to avoid!
Another bioactive in berries called anthocyanin tames two other genes called Nf-kB and TNF-alpha. These genes switch on your inflammatory response when they are left to their own devices. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system, which we want to work in times of trauma or infection.
Unfortunately, there is lots of stress with modern life which sets these inflammatory genes in the "on" position. Adding berries to your smoothies helps modulate this inflammatory response, helping to keep these genes in the off position for everyday life.
How to Make A Smoothie Bowl With An Easy to Follow Formula
There are so many smoothie bowl recipes out there that I don’t need to give you a smoothie recipe. Here’s my simple formula for building a better smoothie bowl that has food-gene potential.
Use frozen vegetables or fruit as the base. 1 cup of frozen cauliflower or zucchini or a ½ cup of frozen fruits such as berries, mango, ½ small banana, watermelon, oranges (include their zest), or apples.
If you use fresh fruit or vegetables, add a handful of ice cubes to chill the smoothie contents.
Add a cruciferous green vegetable such as bok choy, baby kale, beet leaves, herbs (parsley, cilantro), spinach, collard greens, or dandelion greens. Each of these vegetables initiates a gene conversation, as well as ensuring that nutrition “traffic” flows smoothly through the biochemical cycles that make up your body. And one more tip here. Vegetables are generally a rich source of nutrients and bioactives compared to fruit. Think vegetables first, then fruit.
To make a creamy smoothie bowl, include ½ avocado, or add nuts and seeds. Best nuts and seeds are Brazil nuts, walnuts, flax or chia seeds, and sunflower seeds. Download our Quick Start Guide to find out more about these ingredients.
To slow down the sugar deluge from fruit, you need protein and fat. So add 1 tablespoon of a nut or seed butter of your choice. Alternatively add yogurt or kefir for protein and fat. Both yogurt and kefir enrich the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Hydrate the ingredients with ½-1 cups of liquid such as a plant-based milk, coconut water, or water.
Power up the nutrient content by adding: nuts (almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts), seeds (1 tbsp chia seeds, sunflower, sesame, flax, hemp), protein powder, beetroot powder, ginger, cayenne, carob/cacao, spirulina, or matcha green tea.
Instructions to Make The Best Smoothie Bowl
To make a smoothie bowl, you need a powerful blender. I recommend using a Vitamix or Blendtec for consistent results. Once you’ve plugged in your blender, follow my process below to get a foolproof smoothie without the chunks.
Add your liquid of choice first.
Add in greens.
Follow with any add ins such as yogurt, protein powder, spices, etc.
Add frozen fruit or vegetable of choice. Use 3 parts frozen to 2 parts liquid.
Add avocado if using.
Close and secure the lid.
If you have the option, blend at a slow speed first and then increase the speed.
Stop the blender and tamp down ingredients toward the blade if you need to.
Blend until smooth. You can add more liquid during the blending process if the consistency is too chunky. A common mistake is adding more frozen ingredients or ice to make the smoothie thicker. This can leave unwanted chunks in your smoothie bowl. If you follow the process I lay out here, you will create a perfectly smooth and delicious smoothie mixture.
Smoothie Bowl Topping Ideas
Now that you’ve made your smoothie, it’s time to add in some additional ingredients that provide essential nutrient support for your genes. Your genes make proteins which need vitamins and minerals to do their job. Why not be creative and make your genes happy at the same time? Here are a few topping ideas from our M.I.S.E. Ingredient Toolbox. M.I.S.E. is a term we use to describe a selection of ingredients that support our genes and the biochemical cycles in your body.
A great source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is converted into your body’s user-friendly EPA and DHA forms. You may know EPA and DHA as Omega-3 fats. In flaxseed, ALA makes up 57 percent of their total fat.
Now not all of us can efficiently convert the ALA form of Omega-3 into its user-friendly EPA and DHA forms. This is actually the case for most plant sources of ALA with spirulina being a rare exception. Spirulina is rich in DHA omega-3s fats.
Back to flaxseed, an additional benefit is its rich and varied fiber content which will add satiety as well as slow down the sugar your insulin has to handle. It’s also an excellent source of lignans which can help modulate troublesome estrogen levels in your body.
A final note about flaxseed, they are one of the most abundant sources of vitamins and minerals in food, which is why we include them in our Ingredient Toolbox.
If you decided to skip the fruit in the base of your smoothie, the fruit is a great option to add boost a little sweetness and nutrients for your genes. Fruit in our M.I.S.E Ingredient Toolbox include strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, pomegranate, mango, sliced banana, or apple.
Chia Seeds, Nuts and Seeds, or Nut Butter
Nuts and seeds are a great source of vitamins and minerals, including essential B vitamins. B vitamins drive the core methylation cycle in your body. This essential cycle produces molecules that remove toxins from your body, create “neurotalkers” that affect your mood, create and repair your basic genetic material (DNA), and manage your blood pressure to name a few of its benefits. Choose brazil nuts, sunflower seeds or butter, sesame seeds, or chia seeds.
Share Your Smoothies
What’s your favorite smoothie bowl blend? Do you have a unique topping you like to add? Share your ideas in the comments and be sure to post your dishes on Instagram with #genomickitchen or Facebook and tag us!