Smoothies may seem like a no-brainer. Just fill a blender with fruit, ice and milk or juice, and let ‘er rip.
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But upset the smoothie balance, and you’re suddenly eating 1,000 calories instead of 400. Or maybe you’re crashing after a barely-there surge in energy.
“Smoothies can easily go from super healthy to calorie minefield,” notes registered dietitian Anna Taylor.
So what are the healthiest things to put in a smoothie? Taylor says these six smoothie staples will make a drink that’s delicious, nutritious and filling.
Fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy antioxidants. But women and people assigned female at birth only need two to three servings per day. Most men and people assigned male at birth need three to four. “About 3/4 cup of fresh or frozen fruit equals one serving, and one large banana counts as two,” says Taylor.
Great fruits to try in your smoothie include:
Berries come with a bonus: “Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and other berries add a sweet and tart flavor, and their fiber helps you stay full,” says Taylor. “Berries also contain antioxidants, which research suggests may have cancer-fighting properties. And because they’re low on the glycemic index, berries won’t spike your blood sugar as quickly as other fruits do.”
Other tips for adding fruit to your smoothies:
Fresh veggies are a perfect smoothie addition — they’re an awesome source of vitamins and minerals with very few calories. While they may make your smoothie less sweet, Taylor says that getting away from too much sweetness in your diet is a worthy goal.
Spinach and kale are great in smoothies. They’re low in sugars and calories and provide more iron and protein than fruit does. They’re also bursting with fiber, folate and phytonutrients such as carotenoids, saponins and flavonoids.
But if you’re bold with your veggie selections, you may just find your new favorite flavor profile. Taylor recommends stepping out of your comfort zone and mixing in:
“Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and bok choy are my favorite ingredients to add. These nutrient-rich gems contain glucosinolates, an anti-inflammatory phytonutrient,” says Taylor. Research has also linked glucosinolates to a lower risk of certain cancers.
Studies show that most Americans struggle to eat the recommended three-to-five servings a day. “Smoothies are an incredibly easy way to increase your overall vegetable consumption because you can’t taste them,” she says. Veggies can help:
Pack multiple servings of protein, a great energy source, into each smoothie. This will stabilize your blood sugar and keep you full.
Great protein options include:
Dairy products can help make your smoothie a true meal replacement that keeps you satisfied. “Plain Greek yogurt is a nice alternative to protein powders, which often come with added flavors and sugars,” says Taylor.
She recommends plain Greek yogurt, which has almost double the protein of other yogurts. For fewer calories, choose nonfat or 1% plain.
Nut butters, nuts and seeds provide protein — and heart-healthy fat. “Most smoothies provide carbohydrates and protein but lack fat,” notes Taylor. “Fat helps slow your digestion, which will help you stay fuller longer.”
Choose natural peanut or almond butter (all peanuts or almonds, no fillers), or add walnut halves to boost your omega-3 intake. But because nuts, seeds and nut butters are high in calories, “be mindful of portion sizes,” cautions Taylor. “Add no more than 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds or 1 tablespoon of nut butter per serving.” For reference, eight walnut halves equal 1/2 ounce.
Ground flaxseed is another great option. “It’s a source of omega-3 fat and provides extra protein and fiber,” says Taylor. Two tablespoons contain 60 calories, 4.5 grams of unsaturated fat, 3 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber.
“Because extra fiber also helps with bowel regularity, you may want to start with a small serving. Then increase, as desired, up to 2 tablespoons per day.”
If you want to try chia seeds instead, try 1 tablespoon in your smoothie. The serving contains 70 calories, 2.5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
Another way to add a healthy fat to your smoothie other than nuts and seeds? Try 1/4 of an avocado (about 80 calories). It adds a creamy texture along with 5.5 grams of healthy, unsaturated fats and 3 grams of fiber.
If you want to add liquid to your smoothie, rethink juice. “The nutritional magic of fruit is in the fiber. Juice removes the fiber, leaving just water and sugar,” says Taylor. “The added sugars from fruit juice provide calories without much nutrition and are linked to weight gain. But if you simply can’t live without it, use no more than 4 ounces of 100%, calcium-fortified juice.”
Or try these more nutritious alternatives:
Taylor advises avoiding canned coconut milk: “It’s sky-high in saturated fat.”
Spices add flavor to your smoothie without the calories of honey and other sweeteners. They also have health benefits: Cinnamon helps fight inflammation, and ginger aids digestion, for example.
For some additional pizzazz, Taylor recommends adding these flavors:
Hailed as a superfood, spirulina is a type of blue-green sea algae. In dried powder form, it’s also a nutrient powerhouse — but it’s not for everyone.
“Spirulina offers a ton of nutrient density without packing in the calories and sugar,” explains Taylor. “I recommend adding 1 to 2 tablespoons to a smoothie.”
Two tablespoons contain just 40 calories, 3.4 grams of carbohydrates and 0.5 grams of fiber, but provide 8 grams of protein because it’s so rich in amino acids.
But here are some caveats:
Use these recipes or build from them to create your own.
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Get the green grape smoothie recipe.
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