How to make a really healthy smoothie
If your new year's resolution is to get fit you may be planning to start the day with a smoothie. But how good for you are they and could you make them healthier?
Monica Shaw, the author of Smarter Fitter Smoothies, gives us her 5 top tips:
"Just because a smoothie is a smoothie doesn’t automatically make it healthy. Many smoothies, especially pre-bottled smoothies, are full of as much sugar as a can of Coke. Even if it’s not refined cane sugar, fruit sugar is still sugar and all that energy (energy = calories) can add up to a real sugar crash not long after you’ve had your last straw-ful (or spoonful if you drink your smoothies like I do).
So what makes a smoothie “healthy” versus a sugar bomb? It’s all about balance. A healthy smoothie should be a whole lot more than fruit alone. Vegetables, nuts and seeds all contribute to make a smoothie that’s a healthy balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Now that you know that, here are the 5 ingredients you need to put it all together and turn it into a delicious healthy smoothie.
1. Fruit AND Vegetables
A smoothie should contain both fruits and vegetables in the blend to maximise nutrient potential and balance the flavour, too. I aim for one fruit portion in a smoothie, and let the rest come from vegetables. Use about two big handfuls of any combination of fruit and vegetables. Aim for at least a 2-1 ratio of vegetables to fruit. You can choose from whatever suits your tastes or what’s available in your area. In my kitchen, these are my core fruit and vegetables:
* Fruit: apples, pears, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple
* Vegetables: Beetroot, cucumber, carrot, celery, kale, spinach
2. Something creamy
Avocado is my go-to for making a smoothie creamy. Other favourites are whole nuts, flax seeds and sometimes even cooked grains. These same ingredients also add healthy fat and fiber to my smoothies, thus making them all the more satisfying. Add enough of these ingredients with a bit of ice and you’ll feel like you’re drinking a milkshake!
- Avocado (~1/2 avocado)
- Whole nuts, especially cashews and almonds (a small handful, ~10-15g)
- Cooked grains such as millet or quinoa (1/4 − 1/2 cup)
- Flax seeds (a couple teaspoons)
3. Something sweet
This is one of those “to taste” sort of things. I rarely add sweetener to my smoothies; the fruit is plenty sweet enough. If I do add “sweetener”, it’s almost always dried fruit. Here are a few more natural ways to make your smoothies sweeter:
- Dried fruit: Dates, prunes, mulberries
- Naturally sweet fruit: bananas, pineapple
- Date Paste
- Coconut Nectar
- Yacon Syrup
Still not sweet enough for you? You could add agave nectar, maple syrup, date syrup or honey but this is basically adding pure sugar to your smoothie which I try to avoid.
Here’s a trick: if you think your smoothie isn’t sweet enough, try adding a small pinch of salt. It sounds counterintuitive but salt help brings out the sweetness and flavour in foods - I almost always add a small pinch of salt to my smoothies.
I like a thick and creamy smoothie so tend to add just enough liquid to get the blender going. But you can add as much liquid as you like to achieve the consistency you’re after.
- Water (my favourite)
- Fresh pressed fruit and vegetable juice (my second favourite)
- Iced tea (tea you’ve brewed yourself and then chilled, not that Lipton junk)
- Nut or seed milk
- Coconut water
5. Optional add-ins
A few extras can help lift a good smoothie to a whole new dimension of awesomeness. Here are a few add-ins I like:
- Fresh herbs, especially mint
- Lemon or lime
- Dried spices, especially cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and even turmeric (not too much!)
- Fresh ginger
- “Fragrances” like orange flower water and rose water
- Psyllium husk - a source of fiber and also thickens the smoothie
- Powders such as hemp protein, acai, spirulina and chlorella - tasty and highly nutritious. I’m a big fan of the powder line-up from naturya.com.
Putting it all together
Once you've got your ingredients, there isn't much more to making a smoothie than blending. But there are a few tricks that can make it easier.
- Put high-moisture ingredients into the blender first. They'll blend easily and release a lot of their fluid to help make blending everything else easier.
- Add a little bit of liquid to start, then add more as your blender needs it to really get everything blitzing and to the consistency you desire. I like a really thick smoothie so try to minimize the liquid as much as possible.
- Add your ice at the end. This is especially true if you've added leafy greens to the blend. I like to make sure everything is blended up nice and smooth, and then blend the ice at the end to chill it down.
- It’s worth saying: use the best blender that you can afford. I recommend the Froothie Optimum 9400 which is cheaper than a Vitamix and blends even tough vegetables like raw carrots and beetroot like a dream.
Serve your smoothie in a nice glass and add some garnish (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut flakes, chopped nuts, seeds, granola... I could go on). Take time with your smoothie. Sip it slowly. "Chew" it. There's good stuff in there - it deserves to be savored!
For me, one of these smoothies - with garnishes - is a meal in itself. One smoothie, prepared as described above, typically has about 250-350 calories. Add a bit of garnish and the result is immensely satisfying - you don’t need toast, bagels or cereal, and you won’t want it either. This what I have for breakfast every day and I’ve never felt better.
During autumn and winter months I like to take advantage of seasonal pears and kale and make the smoothie below.
Pear and Avocado Smoothie
Fresh pear and avocado go really well together. The avocado, combined with the flaxseed, make this smoothie super thick and creamy. You can substitute the flaxseed with other nuts or seeds, or omit completely if you don’t have it to hand.
What I like about this smoothie is that you know the avocado is there, and the pear gives it just a little sweetness (if you like it even sweeter, you can add a few dates, but I prefer the less sweet version; it allows more of the avocado and pear flavours to come through).
Taste aside, the smoothie is full of all of the good stuff that makes it balanced and wholesome. It’s got loads of fiber from the pear, flax seed and leafy greens, plus lemon which aids digestion and avocado for healthy fats and delicious creaminess.
320 Cals, 21g Fat, 29g Carbs, 5g Protein, 13g Fibre
- 1 large pear (~150g)
- ½ avocado (~50g)
- ¼ small lemon, peel removed
- 1 handful of kale or spinach (~1 cup)
- 1 heaped tsp flaxseed (~5g)
- 1-2 dates (optional)
- A few ice cubes
- Small pinch of salt
Combine everything in the blender and add a little bit of water. Start blending and add more water as needed (the less water, the thicker the smoothie!).
If you'd like more of Monica's delicious smoothie recipes you can order her book Smarter Fitter Smoothies via her blog, Smarter Fitter. All the recipes are vegan and dairy-, soy- and gluten-free. Text and photographs © Monica Shaw.
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