So, what makes this tasty, pie-in-a-glass smoothie “anti-inflammatory”?
Sweet potato is one of the much-touted “top ten” anti-inflammatory foods. It also tastes awesome. You can cook the sweet potato ahead of time and keep it in the fridge or freezer, but the Midwestern Gentleman and I both prefer our smoothies with frozen sweet potato. It cuts down on the amount of ice we need to add to keep the smoothie cold, and also results in a great texture.
No added sugar. Sugar is inflammation-causing, whether it’s refined like white sugar or natural like honey and agave nectar. The latter choices at least offer other nutritional benefits that refined sugar lacks, but they will all still promote some degree of inflammation. If your taste buds do demand extra sweetness for this smoothie and you can tolerate the sugars, adding agave or honey will do the trick. Try adding it one teaspoon at a time, and keep the total amount to 1 tablespoon or less. The Midwestern Gentleman prefers agave (2 tsp) in this smoothie, because its caramel-like flavor pairs so well with the sweet potato.
A key step to keeping added sugar to a minimum is to slow-roast the sweet potato, so its natural sugars caramelize and deepen its sweet taste. Sure, it takes a little more time than steaming, but you can bake up enough sweet potatoes for the week on Sunday night and then just keep them in the fridge or freezer. To bake sweet potatoes: Poke the sweet potato(es) with a fork several times, then place directly on the rack in a 350 F oven. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack underneath the one the sweet potatoes are on — this will catch any sugary drips from the sweet potatoes as they bake. Bake until soft to the touch, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Let cool to room temperature before chilling or freezing. Cut into chunks before freezing for easier blending later.
Spinach, like most greens, contains anti-inflammatory compounds, and if you don’t already know how otherwise nutritious it is, you’ve obviously missed out on the cultural icon of Popeye the Sailorman. Kale and swiss chard also work great in this recipe, and I have to admit that using a nice, reddish swiss chard makes the resulting smoothie color a little more appetizing. Besides, if you drink a breakfast smoothie with greens in it, you get to enjoy the smugness of already having one serving of veggies under your belt for the day before you even get to work. Go you!
Egg white protein. Whey protein powder is the hot protein product on the market right now, but whey is not recommended for people with inflammation issues. Whey protein is a definite no-no if you’re allergic to dairy, and many other people have a sensitivity to it without even realizing it. Egg white protein powder is an easy-to-absorb form of protein with a neutral flavor and no added sweeteners, artificial or otherwise. That gives you the flexibility to change up added flavors and sweeteners on a case-by-case basis.
No dairy. Dairy promotes inflammation, so it’s not included in this recipe.
Almond milk is less inflammation-causing than dairy or even soy milk. I also love its creamy taste. Plain almond milk contains 7 grams of added sugar per 1 cup serving (which is still preferable to vanilla’s 15 grams or chocolate’s 22 grams). Plain unsweetened almond milk contains zero grams of added sugar. To put these amounts in perspective: one Cadbury Creme Egg contains 25 grams of sugar. There was a time in my sweet-toothed past — way past — when a Cadbury Creme Egg smoothie might have seemed like a good idea, but then, I once thought a deep-fried Mars bar was a pretty nifty idea, too. (Who was I, and how did I survive the sugarpocalypse this long?!)
Ground flax seed gets its anti-inflammatory oomph from ALA Omega-3s, and also adds fiber.
Spices are anti-inflammatory powerhouses. They are also flavor ninjas that can trick your taste buds into thinking what you’re eating is sweeter than it is. Cinnamon has the added bonus of helping to regulate blood insulin levels.
Anti-Inflammatory Sweet Potato Protein Smoothie
1/2 a large sweet potato or 1 small sweet potato, baked, cut into chunks, and frozen
1/2 cup spinach or other greens, chopped
1 cup (or more) plain almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp egg white protein powder
1 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 1/2 tsp total of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (or “pumpkin pie spice”)
3-4 ice cubes (double this amount if using chilled -but not frozen- sweet potato)
Optional: up to 1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey
Put all the ingredients in the blender. I like to put the greens at the bottom, under the ice cubes, to be sure they get totally pulverized. Whiz it up to a smooth, creamy consistency, adding more almond milk to adjust thickness, if necessary. Enjoy immediately. Makes about one 16-oz serving.