Eating more fruits and vegetables is like hitting a diet reset button. It's a chance to start over after weeks of indulging in holiday fare. But sometimes we need an extra nudge to add the good stuff back in -- and it had better be tasty, or the habit won't stick past Groundhog Day.
That's why juices and smoothies are so popular -- and these days, chefs are combining fruits and vegetables in imaginative new ways.
Consider the Godzilla, chef Charlie Ayers' favorite breakfast juice, which combines arugula, kale, spinach, cucumber and apple with a splash of lemon. Ayers cooked for the Grateful Dead and techies at Google before opening Calafia, his restaurant in Palo Alto. But the chef has always had a penchant for juices and smoothies, and he gets a kick out of giving them quirky names.
"A lot of people say they don't want to drink something green because they think it's going to be nasty," Ayers says. "But (the Godzilla is) very balanced with the sweetness of the apple, and the arugula is just a little bit peppery. The kale and cucumber give you many of the nutrients you need."
Ayers also serves his Silicon Valley customers a Facebook Freeze, a smoothie that mixes blueberries, peaches, peanut butter, yogurt and agave syrup. His Google Gulp blends black tea, rice milk, strawberries and banana with a touch of orange juice and honey.
The magic of juices and smoothies, of course, is that a single glass can pack several fruits and vegetables -- and all of their vitamins and minerals -- into one meal or snack. That makes it easier to increase the fruits and vegetables we eat, which is just what the doctor ordered for many of us.
When you make drinks at home, you control the ingredients, flavor and texture, says Marlene Koch, a Los Gatos dietitian and author of "Eat More of What You Love" (Running Press, $27, 352 pages). People generally want their smoothies to be fruity, creamy or both, so Koch starts with whole fruit and adds water or low-sugar juices. Be careful of ingredients such as apple juice, she says, which lacks the fiber of whole fruit and adds extra sugar.
"Also remember, all calories count," Koch says. "Even fruit in its whole form contains sugar, so you need to be aware of how much fruit fits in your diet."
The same goes for thickening agents. Smoothie shops may add frozen yogurt or even ice cream to thicken a drink, but there are far more healthful alternatives. Frozen fruits, which are just as wholesome as fresh, thicken a smoothie beautifully. When Koch makes her Strawberry-Banana Orange Julius, she pours in ¼ cup of egg substitute to add protein and that signature froth. When she wants a creamy smoothie, she adds a dollop of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese to the mix.
Change up your smoothie and juice recipes with the seasons, and don't be afraid to experiment. During
Vegan chef and Pleasanton educator Lisa Books-Williams uses herbs and spices to add flavor, mixing fresh mint and vanilla bean to Bosc pears, bananas and kale for a Winter Green Smoothie.
Pears play into the smoothies at Frog Hollow Farms as well. Rebecca Courchesne uses Warren pears from her Brentwood farm to impart sweetness and a creamy texture to her smoothies, but she says the sky -- or rather, the orchard and produce garden -- is the limit.
"I make smoothies for my kids," she says, "and I never make them the same way twice."
You don't need a fancy, expensive juice machine to make fresh juices at home. Most bar blenders work just fine for making juice, chef Charlie Ayers says.
Juices made in a blender have more texture; just pour the drink through a fine-mesh sieve to reduce the amount of pulp. Ayers also adds a few ice cubes with his fruits and vegetables before flipping the switch. The ice helps prevent fruit bruising and keeps the blender from getting too hot.
Fruits and vegetables are so essential to a healthy diet, half your plate should be filled with produce, according to the federal government's MyPlate recommendations, which replaced the old food pyramid in 2011. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say adults are eating far less produce than they should. Only 40 percent of California adults eat fruit two or more times a day, and just 27 percent eat vegetables three or more times a day -- rates that fall below targets for reducing the risk of illness and managing weight.
For more information on your nutritional needs, based on your age and activity level, go to www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/howmany.html.