By Debra Soufleris, B.S., DTR
I was shocked the other day when the kids and I were running some errands and started to get hungry for a midday snack. We stopped at a smoothie shop, thinking this would be a healthy option to hold us over until dinner. To my surprise, the majority of the smoothies, even in the small size, contained close to 60 grams of sugar with hardly any protein or fiber! In comparison, that’s way more than a 12 oz can of soda, which has about 40 grams. This amount of concentrated sugar will spike blood sugar levels and won’t satisfy your hunger for any length of time. Not exactly my ideal healthy snack option, and more like a dessert.
Don’t get me wrong; smoothies can make for a healthy, convenient meal replacement or snack. However, they need to be balanced with the right mix of ingredients in order to get my stamp of approval. Most of the ones found at smoothie shops are loaded with too much fruit, fruit juices, and sugary nut milks. Many are lacking enough protein, fiber, and healthy fats to balance things out and keep you satisfied.
The Magic Formula for a Well-Balanced Smoothie:
It’s all About that Base – 1 cup
Choose your base depending on your taste preference, desired texture, and any dietary concerns such as a lactose intolerance. If you’re trying to keep calories low, and are just having a snack, feel free to use good old water. It’s important to choose a base that does not have any added sugars. Many of the non-dairy milks have too much added sugar, so it’s best to opt for the unsweetened variety and let the natural sweetness in the fruit shine. Steer clear of fruit juices since they are a concentrated source of sugar with no additional fiber. Regular milk or soy milk works well and will provide a good amount of protein. Most of the non-dairy milk options provide little protein, but do contain calcium and vitamin D.Be sure to check the label. You can also opt for coconut water, which will add some natural sweetness and a boost of electrolytes. Perfect for refueling after a long run.
Nutrient Dense Fruits & Veggies – ½ – 1 cup
Ideally, you want your smoothie to include both fruits and vegetables for a powerful boost of antioxidants and added vitamins and minerals. Make sure you keep your fruit to no more than 1 cup. If you’re using a banana, that means 1 banana, or you can have half a banana and add ½ cup of another type of fruit for variety. I love adding frozen vegetables for a low-calorie nutrient boost to my smoothies. They are less pungent than the raw variety and eliminate the need for ice, which will just water down your smoothie. Good vegetable choices include spinach, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or my favorite: cauliflower. Veggies are jam-packed with nutrients and fiber and add a nice creamy texture. It’s always a good feeling when you can sneak in an extra serving of veggies.
Powerful Protein – about 20 grams. Satisfying Fat – 1-2 tablespoons
A balanced smoothie should always include a protein source and a healthy fat. This will help reduce a spike in blood sugar levels, add additional nutrients, and help keep you full until the next meal. Some ingredients include both protein and fats such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, nut butters, and many seeds like hemp, chia, ground flax, and sunflower. Other good sources include a scoop of your favorite protein powder, avocado (which adds a nice creamy richness), cocoa nibs, or coconut chunks. Be mindful of portion sizes and keep the higher calorie nut butters and seeds to 1-2 tablespoons. If using avocado, use only ¼ of the fruit.
Here’s one of my favorite go–to smoothie recipes:
Very Berry Smoothie
1 cup unsweetened cashew milk
1 scoop vanilla pea protein powder
1 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup frozen cauliflower
1 tablespoon chia seeds