I love smoothies. Simple as that. I have a smoothie for breakfast about 5 days a week because they are quick, easy, delicious, and I can get a ton of nutrition into me in the morning in one glass. Another reason I love them is for their versatility, it never gets boring. I can change the flavors to suit not only my nutritional needs but my emotional needs. Sometimes you feel like chocolate, something rich and creamy, and smoothies are a great way to meet those needs through whole-foods and in a healthy way.
However, it is important to note that not all smoothies are created equal. When working with clients they will often tell me they drink smoothies already in the morning, but after further investigation, I realize their smoothies are full of sugar and juices and lack protein, fiber, and veggies. These types of smoothies can work against you by spiking your blood sugar which can impact the feeling of anxiety, increase cravings, and cause a major blood sugar-crash by mid-morning. This blood-sugar rollercoaster can impact your mood as much as your health throughout the day so a revision of that morning smoothie can make a big difference.
I see a lot of these sugar-laden smoothie recipes posted online and conventional smoothie chains offer smoothies that can contain more grams of sugar in one glass than your dietary recommendations for 1-2 days. Excess sugar in the body in addition to impacting mood, cravings, and blood sugar directly impacts weight and inflammation within the body. This does not mean that smoothies are “bad”, it means that you need to be mindful of the proper ratio of fruits to other smoothie ingredients in your blender and curate a more balanced cup. Let me share some of my favorite strategies:
1. Rethink the Liquids
Often smoothie recipes can suggest juice as a liquid for your smoothies but this can increase the sugar content of that healthy shake by a ton. I would rethink the juice and select unsweetened nut milk, water, unsweetened coconut water, and herbal teas. I like to make a pitcher of cold antioxidant-rich tea like hibiscus or green tea and keep that in the fridge. It is a great way to add flavor and nutrients to your smoothie without the fruit juice. Check out my Hibiscus Tea recipe to see how to make hot tea into cold, and if you want to make your own nut milk that can cut hidden sugars down even more.
2. Make Friends with your Greens
I am never shy when it comes to adding greens into my smoothie, this is a water-dense and easy way to increase the fiber content of the smoothie which helps to manage blood-sugar. By adding a handful of greens we can increase our vegetable content compared to the fruit in the smoothie which is important to keep sugars low and nutrition high. If you are new to adding greens to your smoothie starting with a neutral very water dense lettuce-like green leafy lettuce or romaine can be a good place to start, then graduating to spinach and moving your way up to adding kale and chards. You can have fun and try them all as your palette adjusts to less sweet and you can feel the difference in energy levels throughout the morning.
3. Explore Non-Conventional Veggies
So avocado’s and greens are commonplace additions to a smoothie, they add great nutrition and thickness to a smoothie. However, there is an entire world of smoothie-friendly vegetables you may not yet have explored. Sliced zucchini is an excellent way to thicken the smoothie, add additional nutrition like Vitamins A & C while having a neutral flavor. Cucumber & celery are also very water dense and another way to up your veggie needs without altering the flavor of the smoothie too much. Finally, mighty cauliflower! Wait.. wait, before you think I am off my rocker these white florets are perfect to freeze and add to the smoothie because they are another low-sugar vegetable. Cauliflower adds a thick and creamy texture, and are high in fiber which again remember helps to slow blood-sugar spikes. For all these veggies I like to chop them up small, toss them into a bag and freeze them. This way adding 1/2 – 1 cup of veggies is quick and easy in the morning for my breakfast shake.
4. The Perfect Balancing Act
I am sure you have seen many different Infographics on social media showing you “How to Make a Perfect Smoothie”. In the field of nutrition, things are always changing and there are different options daily of what you should and should not eat, my rule of thumb is it’s best to not overcomplicate or to overthink things. I follow a simple loose guideline when making my smoothies that can help to create my low-sugar and a highly nutrient-dense smoothie. I add in my water or low-sugar liquid as outlined above, then I toss in about 50% of veggies which typically includes a huge handful of greens and 1/2 cup of frozen zucchini or cauliflower. Next, I add in about 20% protein (hemp hearts or plant-based protein powder) and the 20% healthy fats (this could be some ground flax seeds, Omega 3 healthy oils, or a scoop of nut butter which would serve as my protein and fat). What is left is 10% of the smoothie which is dedicated to my carbohydrate, I may consider 1/2 a small banana, 1 pitted date or 1/4 cup frozen fruit. This provides me with a well-balanced smoothie that won’t spike my blood-sugars nor leave me anxious and full of cravings.
5. Healthy Additions
A sprinkle of this and a dash of that is how I typically like to finish off my smoothies. A scoop of grass-fed collagen powder is a great way to add in more protein and benefits. Maca root is a beneficial powder that can be added to boost energy, balance hormones, and increases glucose tolerance. You don’t need a lot of Maca powder, it is best to speak to your consultant at the supplement store or a Naturopath that can help you in learning the right dosage. Tumeric is well known and researched for its health benefits regarding immune function and inflammation, a little pinch into your smoothie can supercharge your healthy smoothie. Finally, the most used spice in my house- Cinnamon. Cinnamon contains chromium which can help to balance blood-sugars in the body, along with fiber, iron, calcium, and manganese. Plus it adding a warming spice to your smoothie that simply tastes delicious!
The most important rule of smoothie making though, have fun! get creative and keep exploring the different flavor combinations as a way to easily and quickly add in whole foods nutrition into your cup. Enjoy health, one sip at a time. For more smoothie recipe ideas check out the Drinks Section on the Recipe page.