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Smoothies have been uber popular for the past several years, and it seems like that won’t be slowing down soon. They’re a great snack option, and even a meal replacement on the go (ie. a breakfast smoothie for when you’re running late), as long as they’re well built.
In this post, I’ll teach you how to make healthy smoothies by focusing on the most important nutritional components that make them up: high in nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, low in added sugars, and delicious all the way. I personally prefer to use only real foods in my smoothies, in order to avoid excess sugar and other additives that can be found in packaged add-ins.
These beverages are not just creamy and refreshing, though. I find that smoothies are excellent vehicle for adding more high nutrient foods to our diet (cough-green veggies-cough).
This is especially helpful for those of us who aren’t getting enough foods like fruits and vegetables daily. Maybe because of food preparation constraints or simply because we just don’t like how they taste. For example, blending spinach into berries and some Greek yogurt can be more favorable option for people who can’t bear to eat it in a traditional vegetable form. They’re still getting all the needed nutrients, but in a tastier package. How’s that for a win-win?
How to make a healthy smoothie with whole foods
As we can see, smoothies can be healthy and they can definitely help us incorporate a large variety of nutrients into our daily eating patterns, due to the ingredients used to create them. When we use whole foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy products, seeds and nuts to prepare them, we’re injecting our diets with all the nutritional goodness they provide, in an easy, delicious way. They can also be conveniently portable, to boot, especially with the rise of personal blenders!
Buy it here: Personal Smoothie Blender
The most common, healthiest ingredients, and main nutrients that make up healthy smoothies are the following:
- Fruit: Provide nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber
- Vegetables: Contain vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber
- Dairy products or plant based alternatives: Are an excellent source of calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D and potassium
- Nuts and seeds: Rich in protein, fiber, B complex vitamins, vitamin E, folate, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients
An additional benefit that smoothies provide over juices is that the fiber component of the ingredients remains right in the drink, as the peels can be smoothly blended in. I remember in the 90s when suddenly everyone was buying juicers to make healthy drinks, but these would strip out all the valuable fiber from the ingredients. Sure, we were all getting more vitamins and minerals and carrots into our diets, but missing out on the health benefits that the peels bring.
What are the healthiest things to put in a smoothie?
You can prepare healthy smoothies with a great variety of ingredients. To pack a nutritional punch, I recommend that a smoothie include the following components:
- Protein sources
- Healthy fats
Smoothie ingredients list
Here are some of my favorite picks for each of the components. They’re full of nutrients, full of great flavor and lend well to being, er, “smoothie-fied” (I don’t think that’s an actual word, tbh).
- Fruits: Strawberries, blueberries, acai and raspberries offer great antioxidant benefits and lend a sweet and tart flavor that, when paired with vegetables, help the latter gain palatability. Bananas add sweetness and a creamier texture, especially when frozen. Tropical fruit like mangos, pineapple and papaya give your smoothie greater variety and a bonus “exotic” factor. When applicable, try to leave the peels on for greater fiber benefits.
Tip: If you use frozen fruit, there’s no need to add ice since the icy texture will be taken care of. They’re also more budget friendly than fresh, last longer, yet have the same nutritional properties. Click here for more on the nutritional benefits of frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Vegetables: Green, leafy vegetables tend to go well paired up with fruit in smoothies, especially those like spinach, kale, romaine lettuce and swiss chard. Other veggies like beets, celery, carrots and cucumber are also nutrient rich options. Leaving the peels on will increase the fiber content of your smoothie.
- Protein: Foods like low fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese or plant based equivalents (like soy milk) are great protein sources in smoothies. Protein is digested more slowly than carbohydrates, therefore, it helps keep us fuller and satisfied longer.
- Fats: Nuts, nut butters (almond butter, peanut butter), seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds) and avocado provide healthy fats in a smoothie. Like protein, fats also take longer to digest, improving satiety.
How to blend a smoothie
Preparing a healthy smoothie is as simple as placing all the ingredients in a blender and then serving. But the key to incorporating everything into a silky smooth beverage is the blender. It’s important to have a high speed blender for smoothie making. Traditional blenders aren’t strong enough to combine fiber rich foods like fruits and vegetables into a lump-free consistency. They also make blending even tougher ingredients, like nuts and seeds, a breeze.
Buy it here: NutriBullet Pro
Once you’ve added all your ingredients into your blender, it’s go time. Depending on your blender, and smoothie ingredients, you may need to start out on a low setting (or pulse) before getting up to top blending speed. Some blenders even come with a handy smoothie button for extra easy smoothie making.
Try to blend the smoothies until the liquid is fully circulating within the blender for about 5 seconds. Total blend time is usually between 30 to 60 seconds depending on the ingredients.
Smoothie meal prep packs
Smoothie packs are a heaven sent solution for those who don’t have enough time to prepare them. You just pack up the ingredients in a Ziplock bag and store it in the freezer until needed. Then it’s just a matter of dumping all the contents in a blender and presto: your smoothie is ready! You can also take them to go in handy smoothie bottles.
Buy here: Smoothie Bottles
You can dedicate a few hours once a week to batch prepare your smoothie packs, and then have them ready to use at a moment’s notice. I mean, I’ve never heard of a smoothie emergency, but you might as well be prepared! But seriously, it’s a great time saver. And handy for when the kids want a snack after coming home from school in a ravenous mood (I’m sure mine can’t be the only ones who do this)!
Liquids for smoothie packs, such as milk, yogurt, coconut water or juice can be frozen in ice cube trays and then added to the Ziplock bag with the rest of the ingredients. Around 2-3 cubes is good enough per smoothie.
It’s also a good idea to use one bag per smoothie. Make sure to label it with the date when it was packed. Smoothie packs can last around three months in the freezer, as long as there aren’t constant fluctuations in the power system.
Tip: Try to squeeze all the air out of the bags as much as possible to avoid freezer burn.
Smoothie bowls are basically just a smoothie but prepared with less liquid. It’s therefore thicker and is meant to be eaten with a spoon. This is a good option for those who don’t feel satisfied due to the liquid consistency of a typical smoothie, and prefer the sensation of “eating”.
Due to its thicker consistency, a smoothie bowl is a great recipient for toppings such as nuts, seeds, granola or dried fruit, which add some crunchiness and help promote satiety. These toppings also add more protein, fiber, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, thereby improving even more the smoothie bowl’s nutrient profile.
More tips on making smoothies
As you can see, there’s a grand variety of foods that can be used to make nutrient rich, healthy smoothies or smoothie bowls. The key is to use those that help you meet your nutritional needs and satisfy your personal tastes. And feel free to be creative with your fruit and vegetable choices, for greater variety.
I also recommend being careful with sweeteners such as honey, coconut sugar or agave, since these do have calories and have the same net effect in the body as regular sugar. I prefer to let the fruits’ own sugar sweeten the smoothie up.
Here, I include a smoothie recipe I frequently prepare since it’s easy, quick, and most importantly, my kids love it!
Strawberry and Spinach Smoothie
- 1 cup Frozen strawberries
- 1 cup Fresh spinach
- 1 container Vanilla Greek yogurt, low fat, low sugar
- ½ cup 1% Low fat milk, or plant based milk
- 1 tbsp Ground flax seeds
- Add all ingredients to a high speed blender.
- Blend until smooth and lump free.
- Serve immediately.
- You can use less liquid and make a smoothie bowl.
Would you like more healthy smoothies recipes like these? If you subscribe to my email list, you’ll receive my ebook, “A Smoothie a Day”, FREE, for a week’s worth of smoothie inspiration. Simple recipes, made with real foods, low in added sugar and rich in nutrients…..what are you waiting for? Download your copy today!
So tell me, are you more of a smoothie person or part of #teamsmoothiebowl? Do you have a favorite ingredients combination for smoothies? Do you think they’re a good idea for including more fruits and veggies in your diet? Sound off in the comments section below!
Hi! I’m Melissa, Registered Dietitian and mother of two dragons. When I’m not talking nutrition you can find me rolling around the floor with my kids, sewing, crafting, cooking or missing the 90s (seriously, music just isn’t the same). Read More…