Adding some color

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Vision is an important aspect of how we enjoy our food. Of course, eating food that looks nice is more enjoyable but vision  plays a larger role in consumption.

Historically, we used to use vision to tell if a food was safe. The difference between an old moldy strawberry and a fresh one is instantly visually clear. We also use our vision to tell when fruit is ripe – again, picture a green strawberry versus a bright red one.

However, it important to note that vision is not always correct when it comes to food safety/ripeness. There are plenty of pathogens that are not visible to the eye.

Modern technology has also made our vision a less accurate measure of food quality. Stores know that people value the way their food looks and are more likely to buy produce that looks nice. They choose produce that has been treated with pesticides and waxes to make it look as appealing as possible, which does not always translate to tasting good.

When it comes to organic produce, vision is sometimes deceiving. Since it is not sprayed for pests, there are often more blemishes on organic produce. A lot of visually flawed organic produce tastes just as good, if not better, than its conventional counterpart. One of the stalls at my local farmer’s market has a special box for “cosmetically challenged tomatoes”, which are sold at a discount price. They taste wonderful, and its a nice way to get quality produce on a college budget.

One way that vision still helps us to eat well is that a colorful diet is often healthier. Eating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies makes it easier to get in all the vitamins and minerals we need. Studies show that people who consume more fruit and veggies tend to live longer. This may be because the produce replaces other things in the diet, such as sugar and saturated fat, or because fruit and veggies contain compounds that promote health.

One theory is that this is due to phytochemicals, which are chemicals in plants that have beneficial health effects but are not technically necessary for our survival. Phytochemicals are thought to help prevent disease, resulting in a longer, healthier life.  A lot of these phytochemicals are pigments that give plants their color, so eating a colorful diet is a great way to get them. If you’re interested in reading a little more about them, check out the fact sheet from UC Davis here.

Sometimes, especially during winter, it’s hard to fit enough color into your diet. I took a look back on my meals over the last week and realized that most of them were varying shades of brown – not so good. This week, I’m making a bigger effort to get my veggies in. I’ve been eating big salads and cooking up batches of veggies to nibble on throughout the week. I’m also going back to a summer favorite: green smoothies.

Green smoothies have gotten a lot of hype lately, and for good reason. They’re a great way to squeeze in some extra veggies without really noticing. Milder greens, like spinach, are best to start out with – you hardly notice the taste. Spinach is also easier for the standard college blender to handle than tougher greens, like kale. The amount of spinach you can put in may surprise you at first (it’s a little scary to see a blender half full of spinach) but it blends down to almost nothing.

For me, there are two main types of smoothies: meal smoothies and snack smoothies. Meal smoothies are thicker and more calorically dense. Usually, I eat my meal smoothies with bowl and spoon. On the other hand, snack smoothies are meant to be sipped. They’re light and refreshing and are a great supplement to a smaller breakfast or alone as a snack.

The following smoothie is one of my favorites. The sweetness of the spinach and banana go perfectly with the kick from the ginger and spices, resulting in a beautiful green smoothie that tastes a little like chai. It’s bright and invigorating, the perfect way to start off your morning.

You can use unfrozen banana if you like but freezing your banana first will give you a much creamier texture. I usually keep a container of peeled, sliced bananas in my freezer, which I can use later for smoothies or banana bread. Whenever I have one on the counter that is starting to brown, I just slice it up and toss it in.

I think of recipes for smoothies as more of guidelines. I tend to eyeball the measurements and tweak them to suit my tastes. I have tested the specific amounts given below and I love the smoothie this way but feel free to play around with it.

If you’ve never tried a green smoothie before, this is a great one to start off with. And if you drink them every day, this is a nice new mix of flavors. Ether way, give it a try!

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Chai Spiced Green Smoothie 

Adapted from pictures pups and pies

Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1-2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 handfulls spinach
  • 1 banana, sliced and frozen
  • 1 thin slice fresh ginger (you can peel and grate it if you like, but you really don’t need to – the blender will do the work for you)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cloves
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 ice cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup almond milk

Instructions:

  1. Throw everything into a blender, with the greens at the bottom.
  2. Blend up and enjoy!
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