In Praise of Smoothies

Wellness Foods Editor David Feder, R.D., tells tales out of school and the merging of smoothies with meal replacement beverages.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

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I’m a smoothie lover. Any time of year, fruit, juice, yogurt and a dab of peanut butter or a scoop of soy protein powder makes up my idea of a smoothie. When I was earning my RD (registered dietitian) I was a bit of a plague on my professors. I came into the program following a 15-year career as a professional chef and restaurateur. I was also older than most of the others in the class by more than a decade (not to mention the same age as two of the profs). In a nutshell, I was fairly set in my ways about what could and could not be done when it comes to feeding people.

I also had the drive of someone who entered a new career choice from the, “If you don’t like how something is done, don’t complain, do something!” point of view. Seven years earlier I had extensive abdominal surgery. I was recovering flat on my back and NPO (nil per os, meaning “nothing by mouth”) for 29 days. I wasn’t even permitted to suck on ice chips.

By the time they disconnected the tubes and told me I could eat again I’d shed nearly a quarter of my body weight. The hospital dietitian asked me a million questions and developed a diet for me. Yet when they started to bring me food, it was so unutterably awful I could not eat it.

Imagine: No food for a month yet when finally available, the food was so off-putting I left it untouched. Actually, I covered it up so as not to even have to look at it.

On her daily visits, the dietitian begged me to eat, asking what she could bring. I kept requesting fresh, wholesome foods — smoothies, steamed veggies and stir-fries, salads with real lettuce and greens. I kept getting gray, overcooked canned green beans with slimy chunks of pork fat and hockey-puck slabs of rubber “meat” (even with my chart clearly marked “Kosher vegetarian”), sawdust-textured powdered potatoes and World War II-surplus desserts.

Had it not been for my family and friends smuggling fresh fruits, vegetables, nourishing soups and Chinese food (against strict hospital policy), I could have starved to death. So I decided to become a dietitian.

This preset notion brought me to the brink of my dietetics instructors’ forbearance, because when we had to make up menu plans, I invariably created menus based around foods people could eat and should eat when they are recovering from serious diseases or trauma. I always kept within the assigned parameters of menu planning as it involves pricing, special needs, availability and equipment.

Nevertheless, I caught flak because my menus were unconventional, involving (of course) smoothies, steamed veggie stir-fries and salads with real lettuce and greens, among other things.

The smoothies really set one prof’s teeth on edge (a wonderful, wonderful teacher by the way, as well as a truly delightful person who makes a killer mango salad herself — none of our disagreements was ever personal). She kept insisting it was unrealistic and impossible to give patients smoothies. It got to the point where she would dock points on assignments and exams if I included smoothies and I would go right on doing it. It may “never have been done before” but, for the spots where I prescribed them, smoothies were the right thing.

Today, the consumer demand for nutrition-oriented foods that are as delicious as they are restorative have influenced meal replacement products. There’s an unparalleled line of beverages blurring the line between smoothies and those liquid meal replacements for the unwell. Take the Novartis International AG (Basel, Switzerland) line of Boost beverages. They include Strawberry Sensation Smoothie, Peach Perfection Smoothie, Banana Blender, Blueberry Blaster and Strawberry-Banana Smoothie.

And smoothies themselves are everywhere. Shelf spaces in stores are filling up with brands large and small, familiar and new. You can grab a smoothie at small kiosks in many cities, and larger purveyors such as the Jamba Juice Co. chain (San Francisco) are dotting the countryside. Even vending machines stock them.

I wonder if, when my professor sees products such as those on the menu plans of a student or looks around her class and sees healthy students sipping the same prepared smoothies, she remembers me and my one-man smoothie campaign.

Note: I want to thank all my instructors at the University of Texas department of nutrition. They are an incredibly gifted group and inspired me greatly, even when I knew I was driving them crazy.

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