Smoothies are a quick and convenient way to power up your day when you don’t have time to sit down to a full meal. Although smoothies shouldn’t be a substitute for eating whole foods, thoughtfully conceived smoothies can help you get the macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants you need when you’re pressed for time.
To get your healthy smoothies fix, skip the smoothie bar and get out your trusty blender. It’s not unheard of for store-bought smoothies to have up to 1,000 calories, many of which are in the form of sugar. The beauty of homemade smoothies is they can be as healthy as you make it. At home, you can whip up a smoothie with a healthy balance of macronutrients that has no more than 200 to 300 calories. Plus, unlike most liquid calories, smoothies can be filling and satisfying if you include enough protein and fiber.
Smoothie Tip: Start With the Right Blender
How do you make a healthy smoothie at home? Start with a blender powerful enough to pulverize what you put into the container. A weak blender will leave behind chunks of ice that makes drinking your smoothie less pleasant. If you usually only make a single serving of smoothie at a time, a personal blender with a small one-serving container may fit the bill as long as it’s powerful enough to deliver chunk free smoothies.
Read the reviews before making a blender purchase as some are quite pricey. Also, look for a model with a glass or stainless steel bowl rather than plastic. Some plastic bowls still contain BPA and it’s questionable as to whether BPA substitutes are any safer.
Smoothie Tip: Choose a Liquid as a Base
The amount of liquid and ice you use to make a smoothie will determine how thick it will be. Most people add between a cup and 2 cups of liquid to the blender bowl. If you use water, your smoothie will be thinner and less creamy than if you use milk. These days with non-dairy milk alternatives exploding in popularity, you have so many “milks” to choose from.
Almond and coconut milk beverages, two of the most popular options non-dairy alternatives, have some advantages over dairy milk. Both are low in calories and are available in a sugar-free version, but they’re lower in protein than dairy milk. Of course, you can always increase the protein content by adding a scoop of protein powder, as we’ll soon talk about.
Another consideration: Almond and coconut milk beverages will make your smoothie a bit thinner than full-fat dairy milk but at a considerable calorie savings. Of the non-dairy milk, soy milk is highest in protein and has a thicker consistency relative to coconut and almond milk beverages.
If you enjoy thinner smoothies, skip the milk entirely and use tea or coconut water as your liquid base. Coconut water is a good source of potassium while tea adds antioxidants to the mixture, especially if you use green or white tea. If you need a burst of caffeine, you can use coffee as your liquid base.
Smoothie Tip: Add a Source of Protein
Smoothies are a good after-workout refresher, but make sure the frosty drink you’re sipping has enough protein. You can boost the protein content by adding a large scoop of Greek yogurt or silken tofu to a smoothie. Don’t go overboard as too much tofu can give your smoothie a ‘beany” taste. Adding either will also give your smoothies a thicker, creamier texture. Another alternative is to add a scoop of whey or a plant-based protein like pea or hemp protein. These too will slightly thicken the texture, so you may need to add more liquid.
Smoothie Tip: Fruits and Veggies
Here’s where you get your fiber and antioxidants. “Sneaking” vegetables into a smoothie is a delicious way to get your 5 or more a day. No wonder the green smoothie movement is rocking! You might think veggies in a smoothie would detract from the taste, but when you balance greens with a little fruit like apple, mango, berries, pineapple, peaches, pear, or banana, the flavor of the vegetable matter is masked.
Which veggies should you choose? Spinach and kale are among the most nutrient-packed options – but they’re not the only possibilities. You can also add cucumber, collard greens, beets, Swiss chard, carrots, or pumpkin to your smoothies. Believe it or not, avocado makes a delightful addition and you get the benefits of the heart-healthy fats that help you better absorb fat-soluble nutrients.
For a “smoother” smoothie, your secret weapon is a banana. Adding even a small amount of banana will make your smoothie creamier. If you’re watching your carbs, don’t be too generous with the banana.
Smoothie Tip: Other Additions
You can further enhance the protein content and health benefits of a smoothie with “extras.” For more plant-based omega-3s, add a spoonful of chia seeds or flaxseed. Chia seeds are a good source of protein and both flax and chia give your drink extra fiber. Be sure to grind the flaxseed first so you can absorb it.
For additional protein, texture, and vitamin E – add a scoop of almond butter – but watch out. The calories add up fast when you add nut butter. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon to lower the blood sugar response to your smoothie or a teaspoon of cacao nibs for antioxidants. The nibs will give your smoothie a yummy, chocolatey flavor.
Smoothie Tip: What Should You Sweeten It With?
After making a healthy smoothie, don’t ruin it by dumping in sugar. You can sweeten it naturally using dates or figs as one of your fruit components, but these fruits do contain lots of natural sugar. If you need a little extra sweetening power, use a natural alternative like Stevia or monk fruit.
If you use frozen fruit, you may not need to add ice cubes, but if you want a thicker texture, add ice. If you have a high-powered blender, you can place all the ingredients in the blender bowl at once without overpowering it. If you have an older or less robust blender, blend the liquids and non-frozen ingredients first and then add frozen fruit or ice cubes.
The Bottom Line
Experiment and dream up your own unique combinations of fruits and vegetables for a tasty smoothie and then enjoy. It’s all up to your taste buds. Most of all – have fun!
Consumer Reports. “What’s the best blender? Depends what you blend”
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