Build a Better Smoothie

A few simple additions can ensure that your smoothie packs a nutritional punch.

By Laurie Wertich

Smoothies are a popular choice among busy people looking for a quick, nutritious meal. But often these drinks are loaded with sugar and actually end up being lower in nutritional value than we might imagine. Think about it: if you throw a bunch of fruit and some juice in the blender, you’re getting a hit of sugar without a lot of substance, and it’s not likely to take you all the way to lunch. But a few simple adjustments can help you build a better smoothie—one that’s satisfying, energizing, and nutrient dense.

Choose a Better Base

Instead of making your smoothie with fruit juice or, worse, frozen yogurt, try some alternatives that are both delicious and nutritious.

  • Almond milk (or any nut milk).You can make your own nut milks or buy them at the grocery store. Nut milks offer protein and other nutrients and create a delicious, creamy base.
  • Kefir.This creamy, probiotic-rich drink is similar to yogurt. It is filled with healthy bacteria and typically contains far less sugar than yogurt. Many people who have difficulty digesting dairy products find that they can drink kefir.
  • Yogurt. Look for yogurts that are low in sugar. In fact, consider choosing plain, unflavored yogurt since you’ll be adding several delicious ingredients.
  • Water. This may sound boring, but depending on what you’ll add to your smoothie, you may just need a little water to reach the right consistency. This is a far healthier option than most juices, which are often loaded with sugar. Tossing in a little crushed ice serves as a thickener.

Fruit

There is no limit to what you can add to the blender. A banana often helps lend a thicker, creamier consistency to a smoothie. Berries are another popular choice. Think outside the box. Any fruit you like fresh or frozen is fair game for a smoothie. Consider freezing your own fruit during the peak season; there is nothing like pulling out some delicious peaches or strawberries in midwinter! Here are some popular smoothie options:

  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and more)
  • Peaches
  • Mangoes
  • Papaya
  • Kiwi

Vegetables

A smoothie may not seem like the proper vehicle for vegetables, but you’d be surprised! If you find it hard to get your servings of greens, consider throwing them in the blender. A handful of spinach might change the color of your smoothie, but it really won’t alter the taste. This is an easy way to reap the benefits of dark, leafy greens without having to sit down and chew through a salad. Options include:

  • Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Chard
  • Celery

Boosters

There are many things you can add to a smoothie that won’t alter the taste but will increase the nutritional value. Consider one or more of the following.

  • Flaxseed. Flaxseed contains rich, healthy fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6, and omega‑9) that are essential to the body. They also provide soluble fiber and are high in lignans, which are hormonelike substances that are known to balance hormone levels in the body. Add freshly ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil to your smoothie for a dash of healthy, essential fat.
  • Wheat germ. Wheat germ is a good source of fiber and a concentrated source of several essential nutrients, including vitamin E and folic acid. Just two tablespoons provide 20 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin E and folic acid.
  • Maca. Maca is a powdered supplement derived from the Peruvian maca root. It contains amino acids, B vitamins, and several minerals. It is considered an “adaptogen” and is excellent for balancing hormones. Maca does have a distinct taste, so it is best used in smoothies with plenty of banana or other strong flavors.
  • Hemp protein. Hemp protein powder is derived from hemp seeds and has a 45 percent protein content. Hemp protein is high in omega-3 fatty acids. It has no saturated fats or cholesterol and is safe for diabetics and hypoglycemics.
  • Raw cacao powder. Face it: sometimes you’re looking for something that tastes like a milkshake but still provides a dose of nutrients. Raw cacao powder is high in magnesium and antioxidants—and it’s delicious. You can find it in most health food stores. It is unsweetened, so if you use it in a smoothie, you may want to include a sweetener such as agave nectar or honey.

A smoothie can be a quick, simple, nutrient-dense meal if you add the right ingredients. Get creative and find the blend that works for you. Here are a few delicious recipes. Cheers!

Green Dream
Banana
2 kiwis
1 stalk of celery
Handful of spinach
Water

Ginger Warm-Up
Banana
Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Handful of chard (or spinach or romaine)
Fresh ginger
Water

Almond-Chocolate Charge-Up
Almond milk
Banana
1 tablespoon hemp protein
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon maca
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed