I love making smoothies for my family. They are a delicious way to reach our daily quota of fruit and vegetables. They also make a wonderfully refreshing drink for a hot summer afternoon. Plus it is the only way I ever get any dark leafy green vegetables into my 2 year old. However, not all smoothies are created equal. Some are chock full of unnecessary added sugars. Others are nothing more than a big glass of carbohydrates, with no protein or fat to help keep you feeling full, and very little fiber to slow down the digestion of the fruit sugars. So how do you know if the smoothies you drink are healthy? Here are 10 rules for making a healthy smoothie.
1. Use a healthy liquid base
Smoothies are often made with fruit juice as the liquid base. However, juice contains a huge amount of sugar with none of the fiber found in whole fruit. Smoothies purchased from a grocery store or cafe are generally made with fruit juice. It is therefore far better to make them at home using one of the following liquid bases:
- Ice – makes a thicker smoothie
- Kefir – adds probiotics for gut health and a nice creamy texture
- Yogurt – adds a creamy texture
- Greek yogurt – adds protein
- Unsweetened almond milk
- Unsweetened coconut water
- Unsweetened soy milk
2. Avoid at-home smoothie kits
Many grocery stores sell frozen ‘smoothie kits’. They usually consist of cut fruit, corn starch, gums, as well as added sugars or fruit concentrates. Yes they do save about 5 minutes of smoothie-making time. But they also increase the already high-sugar content of a regular smoothie by adding even more sugar. The bottom line is this – fruit is FULL of sugar. There is no need to add more sugar to your smoothie besides the fresh fruit that you are already adding. If you want to save time making your smoothies (and who doesn’t want to save time?) buy bags of frozen fruit with no added sugars. But avoid the at-home smoothie kits.
3. Opt for low-sugar fruits
One of the main complaints about smoothies is that they are very high in sugar, even without added sweeteners. You can counter that problem by opting for fruits that have less sugar. Some fruits are naturally lower in sugar than others. Here is a list of some fruits at the lower end of the sugar spectrum:
- Strawberries (1 cup = 7 g sugar)
- Raspberries (1 cup = 5 g sugar)
- Blackberries (1 cup = 5 g sugar)
And here are some fruits that are high in sugar:
- Banana (1 medium = 14 g sugar)
- Blueberries (1 cup = 15 g sugar)
- Pineapple (1 cup = 16 g sugar)
- Cherries (1 cup = 18 g sugar)
- Mango (1 cup = 22 g sugar)
- Dates (1 date = 16 g sugar)
There is no reason why you cannot include fruits from the high-sugar category in your smoothie. Just try to include them in moderation, or mix them with some strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries to lower the overall sugar content.
4. Add some greens
Dark leafy greens are an extremely nutritious and important part of any healthy diet. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, but very low in calories. They can help protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even birth defects. It is therefore important to include them in your meals whenever you can.
Throwing some raw leafy greens into your smoothie is an excellent way to add extra nutrition to your glass. And if you have children who are not so inclined to eat their vegetables, this is a great way to sneak some in. You can add any leafy greens you like, but spinach and kale are popular for smoothies because they are fairly neutral in flavor when added to the remaining ingredients.
5. Don’t forget the protein
A smoothie made entirely of fruit would be extremely high in carbohydrates, with very little protein or fat. The result would be a spike in blood sugar, and a lack of satiety (feeling full) for any length of time. The answer? Add some protein. Protein helps you feel full for longer. Here are some great protein-rich options to make your smoothie more satisfying:
- Greek yogurt
- Nut butter
- Low fat cottage cheese
Some people like to add protein powder. However, I am of the view that it is best to eat the whole food whenever possible. By eating the whole food, you benefit from many other nutritious compounds.
6. Include some healthy fats
Fat is another nutrient that will help you feel full for longer. Eating a little fat at each meal can help curb your appetite and prevent overeating. Avocado is an excellent way to add healthy fat to a smoothie. It also creates a creamy consistency. You could also add chia seeds or flax seeds, both of which contain omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
7. Add some fiber
Fiber is extremely beneficial to human health. It slows down the movement of food from your stomach into your small intestine. This slows digestion and absorption, which (1) extends your feeling of fullness, (2) decreases the amount of calories absorbed from other foods, and (3) lowers blood glucose levels after a meal. Fiber also helps maintain healthy bowel function, keeps blood cholesterol levels down, and helps keep colon cells healthy. So how can you add extra fiber to your smoothie? Here are some excellent ways:
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Raspberries or blackberries
- Unsweetened, shredded coconut
8. Forget the added sweeteners
Many smoothie recipes call for added honey, agave, maple syrup, or other sweetener. However, fruit is an excellent source of natural sugars. There really is no need to add extra sweeteners to an already sweet fruit smoothie. When making a smoothie, try to avoid adding any extra sweeteners. And make sure any liquid base you use is unsweetened.
9. Get creative with flavors
Some people are so used to drinking smoothies with lots of high-sugar fruit and added sweeteners, that following these 10 rules for making a healthy smoothie might leave them with a drink that they find unsatisfying. If that is you, never fear. There are plenty of healthy ways to boost the flavor of your smoothie without adding more sugar. Instead, try adding one of the following delicious flavors to make your smoothie more satisfying:
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Freshly grated ginger
- Fresh mint leaves
- Ground cinnamon
And if you are feeling really adventurous, you could even add some fresh or ground turmeric to help fight inflammation and boost your immune system.
10. Use frozen fruit for a thicker consistency
Research shows that when people consume their calories in a liquid form rather than a solid form (think smoothie instead of whole banana), they consume more calories later in the day. One way to get around this is by making your smoothie into a smoothie bowl. If you use frozen fruit to make your smoothie, you will get a consistency that is thick enough to eat with a spoon from a bowl. If you add some crunchy toppings, the result is a more satisfying meal that will help prevent overeating later in the day. Here are some ideas for healthy crunchy toppings:
- Sliced raw almonds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Homemade granola
- Jamie Oliver’s granola dust
If you are looking for inspiration to get you started, try this deliciously simple kale, kefir and chia smoothie bowl.
- 2 cups raw kale
- 1 medium banana
- ⅔ cup frozen mango
- 1 cup low fat unsweetened kefir
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 3 ice cubes
- Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Pour into a bowl and add the toppings of your choice.