I love a good, quick smoothie in the morning for breakfast. It’s quick, simple, easy clean-up, and great on-the-go. If you do it with some thought, it can also be incredibly healthy… sometimes my most nutritious meal of the day! All too often, though, I have friends and clients proudly tell me that they are eating smoothies for breakfast, only to find out that they are giving themselves a sugar-loaded, artificial ingredient bomb to start their day (fruit, fruit juice, protein powder, flavored yogurt or even ice cream!). Let’s take a look at the components of a good, nutritious smoothie and discover where you might be able to make some small changes for a healthy start to your day. Remember, it’s always about small changes that fit nicely into your life. A full beauty makeover might feel nice every now and then, but it’s never realistic to expect those looks to last a lifetime. Making healthy eating choices is the same way – learning how to listen to your body, feed it what it’s asking for, and to forgive and move on from choices that may not align perfectly, are huge components to figuring out what your individual healthy lifestyle looks like. So let’s get started…
7 Simple Rules to Build a Perfect Smoothie (choose one, or all 7 each time you reach for the blender!)
- You don’t need Protein Powder. Or any item with an ingredient list, for that matter. (gasp!) Protein comes in natural form, surprise! Check the label of that powder you’re accustomed to scooping into your blender and tell me how many ingredients you recognize (or can pronounce). There are a TON of powders and magic smoothie packets out there marketing to you for weight loss, strength, satisfaction and ease. You are putting money into these people’s pockets… the same money you could be spending on REAL fruits and vegetables that whip up into delicious tasting smoothies in the exact same amount of time. Consider instead: nut butter (peanut, almond, coconut, etc), Greek yogurt – Plain, whole milk, cottage cheese, a hard boiled egg, handful of nuts, cooked quinoa or beans or lentils, raw (or cooked) oats, or leafy greens. Remember, your smoothie will have multiple ingredients, so don’t be shy of something savory or leftover from dinner the night before.
- You don’t need juice. Juice is a sugar-laden trap. Especially if you’re already using fruit, you don’t need these condensed fructose sugars in your morning boost. They will cause your insulin to spike and will bring the inevitable crash within hours. Even when the bottle says 100% pure and the only ingredient is the fruit on the label, the juice is still full of sugar. It’s all about the way it’s made; most juices are derived from boiled down fruit for pasteurization, then mixed with water to a drinkable consistency. The boiling down process kills all of the bacteria and reduces the natural sugars to their fructose state. In small amounts, it’s not the end of the world, but like I said – if you’re already adding whole fruit to your smoothie, there is no need to increase the sugar load. Choose instead: coconut water (organic, unflavored) or just plain water if the blender isn’t doing it’s thing and you need more moisture.
- WHOLE fruit is best. When you want a smoothie to taste delicious (and who doesn’t?), fruit is your best option. Frozen (organic) berries work great when fresh ones are out of season. Whole bananas (peel and freeze them when they are getting too ripe), peaches, apples and lemons (with the peel) all help bring out the sweetness of your ingredients and make your smoothie a pleasure to consume without the massive fructose spike of pasteurized juice.
- Add vegetables! Yup, you heard me. A smoothie is a great place to “sneak in” a handful of nutrients without having to deal with picky taste buds or preparation time. A hearty handful of spinach or kale gives an awesome punch of vitamins and minerals. Try fresh carrots, cucumber, zucchini, broccoli, celery, or leftover cooked sweet potatoes in addition to those leafy greens. And, if you open the fridge and discover you’re out of spinach, feel free to use romaine lettuce or mixed greens… anything green work great!
- Fiber to make the efforts last. Giving your smoothie some lasting power is the beauty of a quick breakfast (or any meal) on the go. Add some binding fuel, but be careful not to make your smoothie so thick that you have a hard time finishing it. I like ground flax, whole oats, chia or hemp seeds.
- Powerful, healing herbs and spices – huge on flavor and benefits! Try adding a dose of turmeric powder or cinnamon for anti-inflammatory qualities. A 1/2 inch chunk of fresh ginger goes a long way for inflammation and flavor.. so does a clove of garlic is you’re up for it. Raw cacao nibs or carob powder will give a hint of chocolate. Mint freshens up the experience and adds a boost of greens. Explore!
- Probiotics. This is a great place to begin your day with a healthy dose of good bacteria for your gut. Sauerkraut is probably a little too intense for this application, but kefir is perfect. Kefir water can be easily made or purchased and is so powerful that just a tablespoon or two is plenty. Milk kefir is much like yogurt, usually a little runnier and more tart, also easy to make or purchase. You’ll need more like 1/4 cup or so to receive the same benefits. Both are loaded with live cultures that feed the good bacteria in your belly and optimize digestion. Another way to add probiotics to your smoothie is to find a trusted capsule, meant to be taken as a pill. You can empty the powder into your smoothie if taking the pill is not an option.
- A high power blender is going to work best, but even your dad’s old margarita machine will do the trick, just be easy on the old machines. A “magic bullet” is nice for single servings and can be acquired relatively inexpensively. A vitamix, in my opinion, is the cream of the crop (and an excellent big holiday gift idea).
- Put your frozen ingredients and fruit in first, then the greens/vegetables, add your protein, fiber and spices then pour your liquid over the entire mixture. I like to add a couple of ice cubes to insure that it stays cold as I consume.
- Wash the blender before you eat your smoothie! Trust me, chia seeds and ground flax does not become easier to get off the sides of the blender after a day in the sink. The vitamix touts being “self cleaning” but I’m convinced you can use this method on any blender: fill half full with warm water and a small squeeze of dish soap and blend on high for 30 seconds (affix the lid tightly!!). You might have to lightly wipe the sides of the blender but it excuses you from fighting the blades in the tight quarters at the bottom of the container.
- Try your best to give your smoothie the attention and grace that you would a sit-down meal. Being mindful of what you are consuming is a HUGE step in learning to listen to your body and understand it’s needs. I am totally guilty of rushing out the door and drinking my breakfast on my way to work, but I at least cheers the universe for providing me an abundance of nutrients in such a convenient form.
- Chew your smoothie. Yes, I said chew it. We should be practicing this with everything that passes our lips. It will become more natural as you add things like chia seeds, berries and ground flax to the equation, but seriously… make the effort to move your jaw up and down in a chewing motion before you swallow. Chewing is the first stage of digestion and releasing those salivation juices from your mouth is a critical part of that stage. Check your teeth before getting out of the car and greeting co-workers or clients.
- Rinse your smoothie vessel quickly after consuming. I like a pint-size ball jar with a lid when I’m on the go. Nate prefers a steel pint glass with a coozie (great for a coffee stop later in the day). When we’re hanging at the house, it’s usually just a glass pint. Whatever your chosen vessel, once you finish the goods I recommend a thorough rinse at very least before stashing it in your car/purse/office sink. We’ve come up with healthy method of filling the cup back up with water from our water bottle and just swilling it around as your drink the water. Get that little extra boost of ingredients with a nice dose of hydration, ya know? I’ve found that even the strongest of dishwashers won’t clean a smoothie glass that has been crusted for a day. This gives you a head start.
My Go-To Smoothie Recipe:
- *Usually provides 2 pints
- *Measurements are (always) approximate
- 2 bananas
- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
- 2 huge handfuls of spinach OR 3-4 stalks of kale w/o the stalk
- 1 large scoop of almond (or peanut or sunflower) butter
- 2 teaspoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons ground flax
- 4-5 good shakes of turmeric
- 2 teaspoons of carob powder
- 1/4 inch fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup plain milk kefir
- 3-4 ice cubes
- blend while adding coconut water or plain water until desired consistency
I’d like to point out here, that this is my generic recipe… I veer occasionally depending on my mood and ingredients available. If I go overboard on the ground flax or chia seeds it can be too hearty and I won’t finish it. If I’m wanting something more nutrient packed and less fruity I scour the fridge for additional vegetables. If I want a more “green juice” approach I add the lemon and apple and skip the kefir, banana and carob. Sometimes just kefir, banana and berries sounds delicious to soothe an upset tummy before bed. Feel free to play around with more or less of an ingredient and to taste before you commit to pouring the concoction into the glasses and calling it good. Typically, it pays to start small and simple and add more each day. Don’t freak out when you run out of a certain ingredient… this gives you the perfect excuse to try something new like leftover quinoa or sweet potatoes from last night’s dinner.
So there we have it, Smoothie Crafting 101. I’d love to hear your stories of smoothie adventures… do you have a favorite recipe to share? Tell us about them in the comments. Also, if you’ve been watching someone pack their daily smoothie full of artificial ingredients and sugars forward along this blog to give them some helpful hints on how to mix it up a little. It never hurts to think outside the box. Usually, those who are accustomed to enjoying a smoothie in the morning are making an effort to “be healthier” by not indulging in a heavy hot breakfast. It’s easy to be sucked into marketing and ease of a magical powder that makes your smoothie “nutritious” but let’s get back to our roots and understand that real food has always been available to do the job on it’s own. Enjoy the journey of discovering what works best for your body!
Cheers to your Health and Happiness!