Smoothie Building 101
This post is a bit different than my typical posts, but I think it's important! Smoothies are big these days, but how do you build a well-balanced smoothie? Some smoothies are really balanced and nutritious, but some end up really high in sugar, and packed with way more calories than we give them credit for. Follow the steps below to make sure your smoothie is full of all the right things, and isn't an unexpected sugar and calorie bomb.
Did you know that a Jugo Juice PB & Chocolate smoothie has 438 calories and 53 grams of sugar!? - yikes. At least it has 9g of protein to balance that out a bit. That doesn't mean this smoothie is terrible, but my point is that many people would use this as a snack or drink with a meal, but unless you're a large man 438 calories is a meal. 53g of sugar is also on the scary side, and I suspect that sugar isn't only coming from natural sources. To compare, the mango magic smoothie only has 303 calories, but it has a whopping 68g of sugar in it, and only 1g of protein and 3.2g of fiber to slow down the absorption of that sugar. As a reference, 68g of sugar is the equivalent of 17tsp!!! I know some of it is natural sugar from the mango, but that plus the lack of balance from other nutrients is enough to keep me away from this one.
After saying that, I have to say that smoothies can also be a great way to get lots of vitamins and minerals and healthy whole foods into your body, but they have to be made right. So how do you make a more nutritional smoothie? The key is balance: Smoothies tend to be high in sugar and our bodies absorb sugar in liquid forms quickly. You want to slow down the absorption of the sugar by balancing it out with fiber, protein, and healthy fats. These are all important components of a healthy meal as well, so if you're using your smoothie as a meal replacement pay extra close attention!
Building a Balanced Smoothie:
1. Pick your fruit - Limit your fruit to 2 servings (about 1 cup, or 2 small-medium pieces).
You wouldn't sit down and eat 2 bananas, an orange and an apple, so why would you drink this much fruit in one go? Fruit is excellent and nutritious - it's a great source of vitamins and minerals and fiber, but it's also sweet so adding too much ends up compounding the amount of sugar your body has to deal with, and it also takes the place of other important smoothie components. Just to be clear, I'm not recommending you add all of the fruit from the picture into one smoothie, just showing some examples. Frozen Fruit works really well :) Really, you can choose whatever kind of fruit you like, so I won't bother listing options here. Some of my favourites are bananas (freeze ahead of time), frozen berries, frozen mango, and honeydew.
2. Pick your protein
The amount of protein you need varies individually, and it also depends on how you're using your smoothie. If it's a meal aim for 15-25g and if it's a snack a little less is ok. Although most of us don't fall short on protein in our diets, it's important to include in a balanced meal. Protein helps to slow down digestion and make you feel full. It'll help make your smoothie stick with you and feel more like a meal than a snack. There are lots of protein options out there - here are some to choose from:
- plain yogurt or greek yogurt (greek yogurt has more protein)
- silken tofu (*make sure you find silken tofu. Regular tofu doesn't work!)
- skim milk powder
- egg whites (the ones in the carton are pasteurized)
- hemp hearts
- protein powder - any flavour or kind, but make sure you check the ingredients and choose one without added sugar!
3. Add some greens (lots!)
Smoothies are a great way to boost your intake of leafy greens - add 2 handfuls at least! No, you won't taste them if you build your smoothie right. You can use any greens you have around, and you can also freeze them ahead of time. The most mild- tasting greens are baby greens and spinach. These tend to be the ones I use the most. Kale is also popular, but it tastes a bit more bitter.
4. Bump up the fiber
Fiber is another one of those nutrients that slows digestion. It helps to keep the blood-sugar response to a meal in check, and makes you feel FULL. It also helps keep your bowels healthy and can help regulate cholesterol levels. Unlike protein, most north americans don't get enough fiber daily, so the extra boost is a good idea. If you're adding fiber to your smoothie, don't add it and let it sit in the fridge - your smoothie might become really thick and gummy. Add the fiber, blend, and drink it right away. Add anywhere from 1tsp - 1 tbsp. If you don't have much fiber in your diet right now, go slow - start with 1tsp and work your way up to more (your bowels will thank you). Make sure you're drinking lots of fluids if you're increasing the amount of fiber in your diet.
here are some options to choose from:
- oat bran (or oats)
- hemp hearts
- chia seeds
- psyllium husk
- ground flax seeds
5. Add some healthy fats
This one is optional, but if you're using your smoothie as a meal, some healthy fats might not be a bad way to go. They also help make you feel full, slow down the digestion of the sugar, and are good for you! Just keep the amount in check. If you take an omega 3 supplement you can break the capsules and add the oil to your smoothie. If you have enough flavour you shouldn't taste it.
Here are some healthy fat options:
- flaxseed oil
- 1/8-1/4 cup of nuts
- 1 Tbsp tahini
- 1 tbsp nut butter
- 1/8-1/4 avocado
- hemp hearts
6. Add-ins for flavour
You're almost done! These are just some ideas for nice little extras you might want to play around with to flavour your smoothie. I'll do some more blog posts in the future with some more specific recipes, and I've included some ideas below.
Here are some suggestions:
- Nut butter or PB2 (dehydrated peanut butter)
- Vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- fresh mint leaves
- almond extract (very small amount)
- instant coffee
7. Choose your liquid - skip the juice!
Obviously, you need some liquid to turn this all into a drink. Juice is where many people go wrong - juice just adds extra sugar with not a lot of extra nutrients. Stick with water, milk, or a milk alternative. Milk and milk alternatives give you the added benefit of calcium, plus a nice creamy texture. If you're thinking your milk base will give you extra protein, only cow and soy milk offer this benefit. If you're using an alternative milk always choose unsweetened!
Here are some common choices:
- cows milk
- unsweetened soy milk
- unsweetened almond milk, or other unsweetened nut milk
- plain yogurt plus water
- small frozen banana + 3/4 cup frozen blueberries + silken tofu + 2 handfuls spinach + oat bran + skim milk
- large banana + 1/2 scoop protein powder + 2 handfuls baby kale + ground flax + 1 tbsp peanut butter + 1 tbsp cocoa powder + soy milk
- 1 cup honeydew + 1/3 c pasteurized egg whites + 2 handfuls spinach + hemp hearts + fresh mint leaves + ice cubes + water
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree + small banana + vanilla protein powder + 2 handfuls greens + chia seeds + skim milk + ice cubes + pumpkin pie spice
- 3/4 cup strawberries + 1 kiwi + skim milk powder + 2 handfuls baby spinach + hemp hearts + ice cubes + skim milk
You get the idea. Do you have a favourite smoothie recipe? Share it by commenting below.
Really, the nutrition will vary depending on what goes into your smoothie, but I'll use the top smoothie as an example. I used 1/2 cup silken tofu (~ 1/2 box), 1.5 cups skim milk and 2 Tbsp oat bran.
Now you can see that with a similar amount of calories to the Jugo Juice smoothies I talked about above, you've ended up with a way more balanced nutrient profile, and all naturally occurring sugars from the fruit and milk. 391 calories is on the small side for a meal, but throw in a tbsp of nut butter, some more protein or milk and you've got it made.
- Only 23 g of sugar compared to 38-68
- 27 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber - to help meet your daily needs, slow down digestion, and keep you full for longer.
- 5g of fats from healthy sources (in this case they're coming from the tofu).
- Look at the micronutrients! With fresh ingredients and milk as the liquid you get many vitamins and minerals and are well on your way to meeting your daily calcium needs.
- Using tofu as the protein source boosts the iron and the calcium in the smoothie.
Happy blending! :)