Live Comfortably - October 14, 2019

Better Nutrition in a Glass: Green Drinks & Kefir

As our metabolism and appetites change with age, we often eat less and enjoy fewer varieties of food. Adjusting to these changes requires us to focus on ensuring that we get enough key nutrients such as vitamin B, magnesium and protein. Many older adults opt for what is often seen as an easy fix—they incorporate dietary supplements into their routines. But according to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, vitamins, minerals and other macronutrients are best derived from whole foods, not from pills.

If you take multivitamins to make up for nutritional shortfalls, why not try a more healthful, direct route? Two options—green drinks (made primarily from vegetables) or kefir (made from dairy or nondairy sources)—both pack nutritional punch. As with any new dietary plan, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.

Quick-to-Fix Green Drinks

Green drinks are made from leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains. With no added sugars, fats or dairy products, they’re ideal for most people on special diets. All you need are fresh or frozen ingredients and a machine that’s a step up from a regular blender. 

Kitchen gadgets like the NutriBullet or Ninja are designed to liquefy whole foods. Conventional blenders aren’t as thorough and typically can’t handle hard nuts and seeds. Not to be confused with juicing machines, nutritional blenders preserve, rather than remove, valuable fiber. With a few minutes of prep, you can make a healthy snack or meal that includes nutrients such as:

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K
  • Minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc
  • Dietary fiber

Green-drink recipes are as varied as the produce that you love. The basic rule is to minimize sugar content by using more vegetables than fruit. For example, you can start with spinach, kale and chard; then add carrots or beets; followed by cucumber, banana, apple, orange or kiwi. Try incorporating ground flax, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, which provide vitamin E and healthy fats. Wheat germ and oat bran offset cholesterol and have healthy B vitamins. Note that some recipes call green drinks “smoothies,” so look for those that start with leafy greens, not milk or yogurt.

Ready-Made Kefir Delivers Dairy Benefits

If you’re looking for a grab-and-go option, pick up a bottle of kefir in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. This prepared drink is fermented with “starter” grains to produce different types of healthy bacteria that aid digestion. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but with a larger volume and a variety of probiotic cultures. Its higher fat content and thinner consistency make it a hearty and satisfying drink.

Kefir means “feeling good” in Turkish, probably because it helps to maintain good digestion. In addition, kefir provides:

  • Calcium and potassium 
  • Vitamins B-2 and B-12
  • Protein

Even though kefir is typically dairy-based, the fermentation helps lactose-intolerant people process it. You may also find kefir made with non-dairy rice or coconut milk in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores.

What about fruit juices and smoothies?

Traditional fruit juices and yogurt- or milk-based smoothies are often high in sugar. Most juices have the pulp removed, so they lack the fiber found in green drinks. Juices and smoothies are nice treats, but no longer considered healthy to consume frequently. Treat these beverages more like a dessert rather than a nutrient-dense snack or meal.

For reliable sources of protein and calcium, kefir beats out smoothies. Well-balanced green drinks are far superior to any kind of fruit juice for daily doses of fiber, vitamins and minerals. There’s no need to add kefir or yogurt to green drinks, because their nutritional profile and calorie counts are complete enough. An occasional kefir or a once-a-day green drink can set you on a track to better nutrition that’s easy, affordable, effective, and tastes good, too.

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