Whether you’re constantly on the go or just looking to spice up your diet, smoothies make great meal replacements! But, how do you create the perfect blend? In some cases, your smoothies might be too bitter or tart. In other cases, they might be too thin or watered down. In many cases, your smoothies might be perfect in taste and texture but subpar in overall nutritional quality.
In all cases, it boils down to the ingredients you choose. And, choosing the ‘right’ ingredients alone can be a challenge.
Obviously, you want to choose the highest-quality ingredients for your smoothies. But, how do you choose high-quality ingredients without compromising on taste and texture? Believe it or not, it is possible to create an all-around perfect smoothie. To help you out, I’ve crafted this simple and straightforward guide to making the tastiest and most nutritious smoothies possible. Of course, you’ll need a blender.
Use Milk as a Liquid Base
Milk is a common, convenient and flavorful liquid base for smoothies. Obviously, the more milk you add, the thinner your smoothie will be. In and of itself, milk supplies an abundance of high-quality protein, calcium and vitamin D, which collectively support muscle maintenance and bone health. I must emphasize that cow’s milks and fortified soymilks are best, as popular plant-based milks derived from almond, coconut and rice do not supply any of these nutrients.
Kefir is another great option. Made by adding kefir grains to milk (traditionally cow’s milk or goat’s milk), kefir is essentially a cultured drink that has a similar taste and nutritional profile to that of yogurt (see below for more details). Since it has a much thinner texture than yogurt, I’m grouping kefir with milk. Now, if you’re not a fan of these milk options, use whichever milk you choose, as there are other ways to get in that protein, calcium and vitamin D. Just keep reading!
Pick a High-Quality Yogurt
While you could easily stop at milk, yogurt is an excellent way to power up your smoothies with more muscle-building protein, calcium, and essential probiotics that support gut health and immunity. I mostly recommend using strained (Greek-style) yogurts over traditional, unstrained varieties, as they tend to be higher in protein, lower in sugar, and contain more probiotics. Due to the ‘straining’ of lactose, they’re also suitable for many individuals with lactose intolerance.
Similar to the commonly used banana, adding strained yogurt can give any smoothie a ‘smooth’ creamy kick. In addition, an average serving contains just as much potassium but with less sugar. If your diet is dairy-free, but you still enjoy the texture of yogurt, you can add plant-based protein powder to your favorite dairy-free yogurt to boost its nutritional quality. I’ll talk more about protein powders a little later.
Finally, let me emphasize here that not all yogurts are created equal, as a lot of them are packed full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Don’t take any yogurt at face value—Not even dairy-free brands! Always read the ingredient list and avoid yogurts that contain added sugars.
Throw in Plenty of Vegetables
Smoothies are a great way to load up on vegetables. Leafy greens are wildly popular as they’re relatively low in calories, practically sugar-free, packed full of fiber, and rich in a variety of disease-fighting antioxidants. Kale, spinach and Swiss chard, make great choices as they are virtually tasteless. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, simply add 1-2 cups or handfuls of these leafy greens to any smoothie recipe.
Other vegetables that make great options for smoothies include carrot, beet, squash, zucchini, and peppers. Equally rich in fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients, these veggies can bring unique sweet and savory flavors to smoothies.
Include Fruits in Moderation
Rich in vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants, fruits are definitely a must-have in smoothies. While some fruits like banana and avocado are great for giving smoothies a creamy texture, others like berries (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries) and melon are good for added sweetness. Although fruits are incredibly nutritious and undoubtedly necessary for good health, many house very large quantities of natural sugar (fructose).
To avoid consuming too much sugar, it’s best not to include more than 1-2 servings of fruit in a single smoothie. Consider using a fruit-to-vegetable ratio of at least 1:2 or even 1:3. In other words, for every serving of fruit, add 2-3 servings of vegetables. It’s also a good rule of thumb to incorporate fruit varieties that are naturally lower in sugar such as berries, citrus, and avocado.
Don’t Forget the Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds can bring unique flavor and texture to virtually any smoothie. Naturally high in health-promoting fats (monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids), protein, fiber, and countless vitamins and minerals, they’re also among the most nutritious add-ins. When it comes to nuts and seeds you have a variety from which to choose including almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pecans, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and much more.
Though loaded with nutrients, nuts and seeds are also significantly high in calories (170-200 calories per 1/4-cup serving) due to their fat content. So, if you’re trying to lose or manage your weight, it’s important to monitor your portions. No need to include more than 1/4 a cup in a single smoothie.
Try Butter for Thickening
You can make your smoothies even ‘smoother’ and thicker by adding 1-2 tablespoons of high-quality butter derived from nuts or seeds like peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds or pistachios. These butters are just as nutritious as their whole counterparts, as they contain sizeable amounts of protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals.
The healthiest butters are generally organic, low in sugar, and minimally processed. Soy butter is another great option, as it has similar taste and texture with a richer protein content. Now, if you use any of these butters in a smoothie definitely cut your typical serving of whole nuts or seeds in half (if you even add them at all), as they are equally high in calories.
Incorporate 100% Whole Grains
You can significantly improve the overall nutritional value of your smoothies by adding quality whole grains like quinoa, barley, and rolled oats. Due to their collective composition of fiber, fat and protein, whole grains tend to slow down the digestion of any carbohydrates housed in smoothies. This helps reduce unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels and also increases the filling effect of your smoothies.
To reap the benefits of whole grains, a half cup (dry) is all you’ll really need. Simply pre-soak or partially cook your grains and let them chill in a bowl overnight for easy blending the next day. Many whole grain varieties are also available in the form of powder. When it comes to rolled oats, another option is to blend dry oats to a powder prior to mixing them.
Add Nutrient ‘Boosters’ to the Mix
Nutrient-dense ‘boosters’ like pure cocoa and matcha powders in addition to bittersweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger can naturally enhance the taste of virtually any smoothie. But, they’re much more than just flavor enhancers! In fact, the collective nutritional characteristics of these flavorful add-ins can help you manage your weight, prevent chronic diseases, and improve your overall health.
Each contains their own specialized cocktail of anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting compounds traditionally known to treat a wide range of ailments from the common cold and digestive disorders to heart disease and cancers. They also have powerful appetite-suppressing effects helping you to eat less throughout the day. Just a few sprinkles go a very long way so try them all!
Use Protein Powder if You Wish
To up the protein content of any smoothie you can add a scoop (or two) of protein powder. There are many varieties from which you can choose including whey, casein, egg, soy or other plant-based proteins. I personally don’t use these powders often but when I do, I prefer whey or plant-based varieties. I highly recommend trying out a variety of protein powders until you find one that works for you.
Good powders generally contain at least 15 grams of high-quality protein with less than 5% of total calories comprised of sugar. Many are also fortified with key vitamins and minerals, which gives you more nutritional bang for your buck. Be sure to read the ingredient list on any powder you choose and avoid those containing artificial sweeteners, added colors, preservatives, and other unnecessary additives.
Tying It All Together
In addition to choosing the right ingredients for smoothies, the order in which you add them to your blender makes all the difference. From bottom to top, I recommend first adding your liquids to the base of your blender pitcher followed by any powders or boosters you choose to use. From there you can pile in soft ingredients like leafy green veggies, yogurt and/or butter, followed by firmer veggies and any other hard ingredients.
Now, if you prefer the taste of a cold smoothie or if you’d like to increase the overall thickness of your smoothie, add about 5 or 6 cubes of ice to your picture. Another option is to pre-freeze your fruits and vegetables prior to blending them. Such add-ins would be considered ‘hard’ ingredients so top off your blender pitcher with these.
And there you have it—A simple and straightforward to making perfectly textured smoothies bursting with flavor and nutrition. All that’s left to say is cheers!