I’m sure you’ve seen smoothies of all colours, flavours and weird ingredients absolutely everywhere lately, especially on social media. They sure do look incredible! The colours, the crazy toppings all the beautifully styled and layered into a tantalisingly over-filled glass. No Insta-worthy shake is complete without an abstract superfood or unheard-of ingredient like cacao nibs, bee pollen, Himalayan cherry root, powdered crickets, edible irises, camel milk or dried beetroot… Ok, I made up one of those (yes, just one) but you get the idea – the main criteria of a smoothie (or even better, a smoothie bowl) is dictated by how photogenic it is. Of course it’s great to see people embracing healthy food and making it trendy, but let’s not be fooled by the “health halo” that surrounds some of these foods. Just because you look incredible slurping on a smoothie artwork, perhaps they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be….
So apart from being really ridiculously good looking, what do you look for in a smoothie, and why should you include them in your diet??
Well before Instagram, smoothies were a quick, simple and nutritious meal replacement, ideal for people as post-workout recover or those with busy mornings and little or no skill in the kitchen. “That’s me!” I hear you yelling over the whir of your NutriBullet.
Ok, so you want to jump on the smoothie bandwagon but are (rightly) concerned about the actual health value of your concoction? And you don’t want to become one of those superfood enthusiasts nobody wants to have round for dinner. Good, read on because if you’re not careful your beautifully styled masterpiece might be disguising a super-sweet, high-fat milk shake with no more nutritional benefit than a McFlurry.
THE GENERAL GOAL is to create a quick, easy and nutritious meal or snack that won’t blow your energy budget. You are looking for something with:
- A decent helping of protein to keep you full and repair muscle tissue (especially important after a workout)
- Healthy fats such as those from nuts, seeds and avocados to keep you full and add extra nutrients to your day
- Minimal sugars (particularly refined sugars and fructose)
- Fibre to aid digestion and fill you up
- Extra greens, vegetables or high nutrient foods so you’re not just consuming empty calories
- Avoid turning your smoothie into a superfood cocktail – keep it simple, eat real food and remember the health-halo and food-wank factor! Don’t be tricked by the marketing.
PROTEIN – It’s great to include a lean protein source such as a handful of nuts, dollop of low fat live yoghurt, chunk of ricotta, tofu or cottage cheese, a tablespoon of chia seeds, linseeds, hemp seeds, plain protein powder or nut butter. Chia and flax/linseeds are a good option as they contain plenty of soluble fibre, omega-3 and protein – a triple threat that will keep you fuller for longer. As I’ve discussed before, drinking your calories tends to result in over eating so adding some protein can help reduce this effect (but not eliminate it). Plus if you’re training you want to squeeze small amounts of protein in wherever you can. Check out the article on choosing a protein supplement for more info.
SWEET DELIGHTS – So your healthy smoothie still needs to taste good and that will mean a little sugar. The best way to sweeten your smoothie is with whole fruit – this way you’ll get the benefits of fibre and the sweetness of unprocessed natural sugar. Using frozen stuff will not only mean you’ll always have some at hand, but your smoothie will be thick and deliciously chilly. Frozen bananas give your smoothie both sweetness and a lovely creamy texture while blueberries are low in energy and high in antioxidants (although not as sweet). Mangoes, peaches, kiwi fruit, strawberries, blackberries, apples and pears are great too but try experimenting with your favourites. Don’t overload the fruit as while still healthy, is also high in sugar.
Not sweet enough? Skip the honey, sugar and agave by adding an extra frozen banana or few fresh dates instead. Rice bran or rice malt syrup is a good, low fructose choice if you wish to ‘quit sugar’.
GREENS & VEGGIES – add kale, spinach, lettuce or herbs like parsley to add an extra serve of leafy green vegetables to your day. While they are great, the oxalates in these vegetables can inhibit calcium absorption, so consider that if your only source of calcium is via your green smoothie. There are a ton of bullshit powders that should only be used as a last resort when you can’t get your hands on fresh produce – a small handful of the real stuff is so much better. And cheaper.
HEALTHY FATS – adding nuts like almonds, macadamias, walnuts, cashews, brazil nuts and pecans not only provides protein and fibre, but also heart-healthy fats. Seeds like pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sunflower seeds, avocado, chia seeds and flax/linseeds are a good source of vitamin E and omega-3 ALA. A teaspoon or two of coconut oil is can be a good way to increase satiety and gives your smoothie a lovely coconutty, creamy texture. Just watch your portions – a handful of nuts or a teaspoon of coconut oil is plenty. Add avocado for a creamy texture, extra vitamins, filling fats, minerals and fibre.
Finally, your LIQUID. It’s essential you choose wisely here – a low sugar, low fat option such as coconut water, skim milk, or unsweetened almond or soy milk is great. Avoid fruit juice, which is high in sugar and some sweetened milk alternatives (many commercial rice, oat, almond and soy milks are heavily sweetened). If in doubt, plain filtered water is actually a great zero-calorie choice. Providing you include a variety of tasty ingredients, you won’t even notice!
Muesli – skipped breakfast? Add natural muesli for extra fibre, slow releasing carbohydrates and protein.
One last thing – Drinking your calories doesn’t leave you with the same sense of fullness (satiety) as chewing and eating solid food. So be careful if you’re adding a smoothie into your diet that you’re compensating by taking something (hopefully unhealthy) away. Otherwise you’ll end up eating more overall and wondering why your weight loss isn’t working!
I don’t have pretty pictures of my smoothies because I’m a crappy food stylist and I own an iPhone, not a $6000 camera. Sorry.
Smoothie 1 – low in energy but high in fibre
- ½ avocado
- Large handful of baby spinach or kale
- 1 frozen banana
- 1Tb chia seeds
- 1½ cups coconut water or plain old still water
- Need it sweeter? Add 5 dates.
- Been training and need your 25gm of protein? Add 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds, serve of brown rice or WPI protein powder.
Smoothie 2 – higher in carbohydrate yet still delivering plenty of fibre and some protein to keep you full
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- ½ frozen banana
- 2 kale leaves or large handful of baby spinach
- 2Tb pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- 1½ cups water
- 1/2 cup oats or tablespoon of Greek yoghurt (this will give your smoothie a creamy quality without using sweetened oat or rice milks)
Smoothie 3 – chocolate!
- 2tsp raw cacoa powder or regular cocoa
- 5 dried or fresh dates (no pips)
- 30gm almonds, preferably raw and soaked
- Handful of ice
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk
Smoothie 4 – breakfast on the run
- 1/2 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen)
- 2Tb Greek or natural yoghurt (use coconut yoghurt if you don’t do dairy)
- 1tsp chia seeds
- 1Tb sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup natural muesli
- Skim milk or alternative