If you’ve ever whipped up a fresh smoothie for a quick breakfast or a healthy snack, you’ve probably used some combination of ingredients that included:
- dairy products
- honey, agave, or maple syrup
The trouble with using these ingredients for a smoothie is in the nutrient breakdown. Between the excessive amounts of sugar and fat in many homemade or store-bought smoothies, you’re consuming a delicious frozen treat that’s on par with a few bags of candy.
That doesn’t mean smoothies can’t be good for you. You just need to know which ingredients to include and which to limit. Here’s how to give your smoothies a healthy makeover.
The great smoothie makeover
The addition of sweet ingredients is what usually makes a smoothie unhealthy. That makes sense if you’re tossing in things like ice cream, chocolate syrup, powder, and pudding mix. But it’s not always so obvious. Even if you’re using no added sugar and “all natural” ingredients, you can still end up with more than you bargained for.
By choosing your fruits wisely, skipping the store-bought fruit juice, and adding protein, plant milks, and good fats, you can make healthy smoothies that are just as tasty and satisfying as the sugary, high calorie ones.
Try these simple swaps the next time you pull out the blender.
Choose fruit that has a lower sugar content
Most berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, and even strawberries, are low in sugar. So are grapefruit, cantaloupe, and papaya.
Bananas are often used in smoothies to make them thicker, but a 3-ounce serving of banana has just over 10 grams of sugar. Cherries, mangos, grapes, and figs also have a lot of sugar. Try using a fruit with less naturally occurring sugar, but opt for the frozen variety. Frozen fruit (with no added sugar) will make your smoothies thick and frosty. Half a pear with a handful of ice cubes is another way to get that great smoothie texture.
Avoid store-bought juice
Instead, juice your own fruit, or use another liquid. You can try water or coconut water. The liquid from young coconuts is quite sweet. Unsweetened almond milk, flax milk, soy milk, and hemp milk are great nondairy substitutes. Regular milk can work, too. Just be mindful of the additional calories.
Include protein and fats
Whey or pea protein is easily digestible and has essential amino acids. It will blend well in your smoothie. Greek yogurt will boost your protein count as well. Adding half an avocado is a good way to get vitamins and nutrients like antioxidants, vitamin B complex, and potassium. It’s also a great fat source. Nut butters are another good addition. Chia seeds serve several purposes: They thicken beverages, and they add fiber and healthy fats and protein.
Don’t forget your greens
Green smoothies are all the rage for a reason. A few handfuls of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard make your smoothie look virtuous without negatively impacting the taste.
The blended flavor of these greens is very mild and usually masked well by the taste of the fruits you add. Plus, you’re getting the benefit of less sugar and lots of antioxidants, fiber, and other essential nutrients. If you decide to add more greens, tartness from fresh lemon or lime juice can help mask the bitterness without relying on sugar.
It doesn’t make any sense to choose low-sugar fruits and then dump in spoonfuls of honey or table sugar. Use a very light hand when adding sweeteners, or try using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or a dash of vanilla extract. You can also use a high-quality, flavored protein powder.
Healthy smoothie recipes
Here are some healthy smoothie recipes to try for a nutritious boost.
Blue and green smoothie
This blueberry and spinach smoothie whips up quickly and comes in at under 300 calories. It also has a good mix of macronutrients.
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (plain, full fat)
- 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
- 1/3 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
- 1 cup loosely packed spinach
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- 1/3 cup ice
Blend after adding every two ingredients. Add ice last. Serve cold.
Strawberries and cream smoothie
Don’t let the name fool you: The cream in this smoothie comes from Greek yogurt, not whipped cream. It still tastes great!
- 1 cup strawberries (frozen or fresh)
- 6 oz. plain Greek yogurt
- 3/4 cup vanilla almond milk, unsweetened
- stevia (optional)
- ice (if using fresh strawberries)
Combine ingredients in a blender and blend on high for 30 seconds.
Avocado and chocolate smoothie
This recipe makes four servings. It combines avocados, bananas, and cocoa for a rich smoothie high in healthy fats.
- 2 avocados
- 1/2 cup whole almonds
- 3 frozen bananas (cut into chunks)
- 4-5 cups almond milk
- 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
- 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
- 2 tbsp. organic peanut butter, optional
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.
You can enjoy a healthy smoothie without taking in too much sugar or excess calories. Watch your grocery list and focus on buying plenty of fruit, milk, and other nutritious ingredients for your daily blend.