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Beat The Heat With A Healthy Summertime Smoothie

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Nothing says refreshment quite like the summertime smoothie. These blended concoctions are a great way to cool down and power up, especially in the summer heat. The downside? Many commercially available smoothies you might find at your local convenience store contain refined sugars, artificial colorings and flavorings, and other unwanted, highly processed ingredients. However, it's easy to make your own smoothie and include delicious healthful ingredients that will give you sustained energy, powerful nutrition and sweet relief from that summer heat.

Smoothies are an easy way to maximize your fruit and vegetable consumption. The benefits of fruits and veggies are backed up by numerous studies -- not to mention common sense and the wisdom of grandma.

Earlier this year the USDA revealed dietary guidelines recommending that half of our plates be filled with fruit and vegetables. So, if you haven't already, it might be time to ask yourself: Is your plate half full of fruits and veggies?

While the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) finds that "a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk for many leading causes of death," its report shows that Americans' fruit and vegetable intake is significantly below recommended levels. Among the chief reasons for our low intake of fresh produce are the time required and difficulty in preparation.

A smoothie that includes fruits and/or vegetables can be an easy alternative to some of the more complicated creations. It is also a great way to get kids to consume these nutrient-rich foods, and an especially great way to introduce some unfamiliar fruits and vegetables (what exactly do you do with watercress?) that you may have no idea how to prepare in the kitchen.

No more fruits and vegetables rotting in the fridge. If you're like many people, you will read the latest report on how this or that fruit or vegetable can help prevent this or that disease and then get inspired to purchase some fresh produce. You come home beaming with pride and the best of intentions. You serve some broccoli with dinner the first night, some fresh peaches with oatmeal the next morning, a salad here or there, and then by the end of the week, you find rotting produce in your fridge.

You want to provide the goods for your family, but unless you have experience with regular produce prep, you become understandably frustrated with the process. Having some basic smoothie skills can be a great way to make sure your farmer's market gems don't go to waste. I can honestly say I have not had one shred of unused produce since I started making smoothies on a regular basis. My former frustration has turned into sheer satisfaction.

Unleash that inner 'Top Chef.' Are you clumsy in the kitchen but follow food blogs? Do get inspired watching the Food Network but have performance anxiety in your own kitchen? Wanting to develop some culinary confidence but not sure where to start? Preparing your own smoothie will allow you to be creative in the kitchen, yet have little margin for error. Experimenting with different versions of smoothies is a great way to establish and develop your culinary skills.

I have noticed this phenomenon with my own patients. Getting the culinary-challenged to make their own healthy smoothies is a sure-fire way to boost their kitchen confidence. Then they start asking for more recipes and start experimenting on their own. They get familiar with fruits and veggies they never would have purchased or prepared if they weren't in the smoothie recipes. In this way, smoothies are an excellent entry point into even more developed culinary adventures and experimentation. All you really need to start is a good quality blender.

Bonus incentive: You can make just about anybody smile by offering a smoothie.

A few weeks ago, our HuffPost Aol Healthy Living team served smoothies to our entire newsroom.

As I was trying to figure out a recipe for them I was thinking: Yikes! I'm used to demonstrating smoothie preparation to health-conscious individuals and small groups, but here we had several hundred hardworking folks with a variety of taste preferences unknown to me. My goal was to introduce them to something slightly healthier than what they might be used to, and to keep it tasty and refreshing.

After careful consideration, I decided on a banana-strawberry-spinach combo with a splash of apple juice. The results: Ninety-eight percent of the staff took us up on our offer, and 100 percent enjoyed it. Many even came back for more. Yay! A success! What was equally satisfying was to watch the staff bonding that took place throughout the week as many returned to the kitchen to make their own smoothies, spinach and all! You can watch the video here.

Okay, let's get started.

Kitchen equipment needed:
--Blender: I highly prefer and recommend the Vita-Mix or the Blendtec. These are high-powered blenders that are long lasting. I have had my Vita-Mix for over ten years. With regular use, it is still going strong.

--Knives: I personally love and prefer my ceramic knives for cutting fruits and vegetables, but any capable knife that you prefer will do.

--Cutting Board

Recipes:
Here are some recipes to try that aren't your typical berry-banana blends. They include items you may never have thought to put in a smoothie. Have fun and try them out! Don't be afraid to modify and create masterpieces of your own.

The following recipes are dairy free, gluten free, soy free, and vegan.

Tips:
Organic produce is recommended when possible.
If you want your smoothie to be a little sweeter, feel free to add organic honey at the end after you have tasted the original concoction.
If you don't want to increase your sugar intake but still need sweetness, you may want to add a small amount stevia or xylitol instead of honey.
If you're not used to greens in your smoothie, you might want to initially add less than the recipe calls for, and over time add more greens as your preferences adjust.

Summertime Cooldown: Smoothies Unplugged!
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Now it's your turn. Do you have a favorite healthy and delicious smoothie recipe to share? Please share your thoughts below, and enjoy the healthy cool-down!