Smoothies provide a fast, easy, and delicious way to squeeze a bunch of nutrients into your diet.
They are also a great way to get even the pickiest of eaters to consume “yucky” foods like kale and spinach.
Of course, if you do not carefully select your ingredients, your smoothies could end up being sugar-bombs that make milkshakes look like diet drinks.
Fruits and vegetables are the main components in smoothies, and yes – they do contain sugar (some far more than others), but along with them you are getting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and some fiber. The trick to keeping smoothies relatively low in sugar is choosing the right combination of ingredients.
Here’s an example of a smoothie that has a nice blend of nutrients, healthy fat, and protein and is not loaded with sugar:
- 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 3 tbsp hemp protein powder
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 1 cup frozen mixed berries
- 1 cup kale
- 1/2 of a frozen banana
That recipe is my favorite. I use a Vitamix (incredible blender, by the way – I’ve had mine for nearly 17 years and it is still going strong), but any blender will do. Toss in those items and mix away until the consistency is just right.
Here’s how to make more smoothies that are packed with nutrients, aren’t sugar-bombs, and will please even the pickiest of eaters.
The basic formula for smoothies (per serving) is 3/4 cup of liquid, 1-2 cups of fruits/veggies, and 1-2 cups of leafy greens (if you are including them).
Pour your choice of liquid in the blender first, then add hard ingredients like nuts and berries, then leafy greens, then add softer fruits and/or veggies. You may have to experiment with how to layer your ingredients according to how powerful your blender is, and you may have to add more liquid if your smoothie is too thick to blend.
You can add crushed ice if you’d like, but I rarely do – I use frozen fruits, vegetables, and greens instead.
Select a base
Because smoothies need a liquid base, start with water or whatever kind of milk you like. Unsweetened almond milk (or an almond/coconut blend) is my favorite, but you may prefer cow’s milk, goat’s milk, coconut, soy, rice, hemp, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia…or any other “milk” you can find – there are so many now, it’s hard to keep up!
You can also make a fresh juice base with a juicer. I don’t do this often because there are two downsides to juicing: the loss of all the nice pulpy fiber whole produce has, and the potentially high sugar content in juice. But, occasionally I make a carrot and orange juice base for my smoothies.
Add a protein boost
Giving your smoothies a protein boost will help keep you satisfied longer, which can aid in weight loss. This is because protein is the most satiating macronutrient; it takes longer to digest than fats and carbohydrates.
To add protein to your smoothies, simply blend in a scoop of protein powder. The kind you use is up to you, but I am absolutely in love with Nutiva hemp protein powder. My stomach is super sensitive, and this is the only protein powder I’ve used that does not cause any problems for me. It tastes great too – it has sort of a mildly sweet, earthy flavor – and the texture is perfect for smoothies. I use the plain version because it only contains 1 gram of sugar, but chocolate and vanilla are also available. Oh – and Nutiva hemp protein is organic, non-GMO, vegan, and contains all 20 amino acids (including the 9 essential amino acids). For full nutrition information, click here.
If hemp isn’t your thing, there are many other protein powder options to choose from, including whey (preferably grass fed – it is better for you, the animals, and the environment), rice, egg, soy, pea, and casein. Read the ingredients on labels carefully when selecting a protein powder. Many have added sugar or artificial sweeteners and fillers, and some contain GMO ingredients. Also consider your specific dietary needs and any food allergies or sensitivities you may have. The less ingredients, the better, generally speaking. Naked Nutrition makes a wide variety of protein powders that contain no fillers, artificial flavors, sweeteners, or colors, are gluten-free, and are non-GMO.
Thicken it up with healthy fat
If desired, you can add a bit of Greek yogurt to thicken up your smoothies. Choose full-fat varieties, as they generally contain more protein and a lot less sugar.
Avocado, seeds, seed butters, and nut butters (almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, walnut) work well as flavorful thickeners and are great sources of healthy fat. If you like some texture in your smoothies, you can toss in a few whole nuts instead of nut butter.
Choose some fruits and vegetables
Keep a few of bags of frozen fruits and greens in your freezer so you’ll always have them available when a smoothie craving hits.
I buy bunches of bananas and then peel and freeze them in bags when they reach the level of ripeness I like. Bananas are a smoothie staple because they provide thickness and have a mild sweet flavor that doesn’t overpower other ingredients.
Berries are an excellent low-sugar choice for smoothies. Raspberries and blackberries are delicious and highly nutritious, but…those seeds! If (like me) you don’t like picking the seeds out of your teeth, you can remove them before or after making smoothies.
- To remove seeds from berries before blending your smoothie, force the pulp of fresh or defrosted raspberries and blackberries through a fine mesh sieve by pressing them with the back of a spoon so the pulp runs into a bowl placed under the sieve. Or, you can use a fancy berry press.
- If you prefer to de-seed your smoothie after blending everything, pour the smoothie through a fine sieve into a pitcher or glass.
Cherries taste fantastic in smoothies, but don’t forget to remove the pits! Here’s how to do that:
The list of fruits and veggies you can use in smoothies is extensive, but here are a few possibilities:
- Sweet potato (baked)
After you’ve decided on your base and other ingredients, try some extras
This is where you can get really creative.
Here’s a list of tasty, nutritious ingredients you can blend into your smoothies.
Acai powder: Açai berries come from the rain forests of South America. They are delicious and low-glycemic, and provide exceptional amounts of antioxidants, omega fats, protein, and fiber.
Black chia seeds: These tiny gluten-free seeds are packed with omega-3, protein, antioxidants, calcium, and fiber.
Cacao powder: Cacao is a great source of antioxidants, magnesium, and iron, and this powder is a healthy alternative to conventional overly-processed cocoa powders. Cacao “nibs” are also available and are great for adding texture to smoothies.
Camu powder: Camu Camu is a berry from the Amazon that is one of the world’s most abundant sources of Vitamin C. These tart berries are a great source of potassium, calcium, protein, beta carotene, amino acids, and powerful phytochemicals.
Ginger: This delicious spice is high in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest it contains potent anti-diabetic properties (it has been shown to lower blood sugar). Ginger has a long history of use as a remedy for nausea and indigestion. Fresh or powdered ginger can be used in smoothies.
Goji berry powder: Goji berries are a great source of essential amino acids (this is rare for a fruit!) and antioxidants. They contain over 20 vitamins and minerals. They are sweet and tart, with a flavor similar to cranberries.
Ground flaxseed: These nutty-tasting little seeds contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant substances called lignans, and fiber.
Maca powder: Maca is a cruciferous vegetable with a long history of culinary and medicinal use in Peru. Studies suggest it can boost energy and improve memory. It is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, and contains a little protein and fiber. Research has shown it enhances sex drive in both men and women, can help relieve symptoms of menopause, and may increase fertility in men. NOTE: If you have thyroid issues, be careful with maca because it contains goitrogens, which are substances that may interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland.
Matcha green tea powder: Matcha contains a class of antioxidant known as catechins, particularly the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) that has anti-tumor properties. It is also a good source of Vitamin C and L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes a state of relaxation and well-being.
Still not sure where to start? Here are some fun flavor combinations to try.
Tropical Treat: Peel an orange and blend it with frozen pineapple and banana – try coconut milk as your base, or add a drop of coconut extract for flavor. Add a scoop or two of vanilla or unflavored protein powder.
Nuts and Berries: Combine your choice of milk with frozen berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries) and any kind of nut butter you like. Add a scoop or two of vanilla or unflavored protein powder.
Pumpkin Pie: Blend your choice of milk with 1/4 cup pumpkin puree, 1/2 frozen banana (or 1/2 cup full fat plain Greek yogurt), 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or more to taste), and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Optional: 1 tbsp of walnut butter and a scoop of protein powder
Chai with banana and almond butter: First, make your spice blend – combine 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cardamom, and 1/2 tsp each of nutmeg, cloves, and ginger in a small bowl. Use almond or cashew milk for your base, and blend in almond butter and frozen banana. You also can add vanilla or unflavored protein powder if desired.
Coffee Banana Chocolate: Combine milk, one frozen banana, coffee (4 ounces of espresso or very strong coffee, cooled), 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, and cacao powder (about 1 tbsp, or to taste). Almond (or hazelnut) butter is a nice addition to this smoothie too. Optional: one scoop of protein powder
Dragon Fruit and Frozen Blackberry Smoothie: This might be the prettiest smoothie I’ve ever seen – check out the vibrant purple color and get the recipe at FurtherFood.
What do you put in YOUR smoothies? Tell us in the comments!
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