The concept of a smoothie is simple: toss some fruits and veggies into a blender, add a liquid, and throw in some ice. Sounds healthy, right? Not always. What started as a cold brew for healthy food connoisseurs has now become a regular meal replacement option with endless ingredients, many of which can add unnecessary calories to your diet. Here’s what you need to know about smoothies, including what to add to make them healthy and which ingredients to leave out.
What is a smoothie?
A smoothie is a thick, mixed drink with fruits and vegetables. Although it is very similar to a milkshake, the use of fruits and vegetables (compared to ice cream or milk) is what sets a smoothie apart from the popular dessert treat.
The smoothie’s place in American culinary history coincided with the invention of the blender in the 1930s. Back then, the ingredient list was simple: fruit, juice, and ice cream.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that smoothies were commercialized with the opening of Smoothie King, a privately held smoothie company that blended yogurt, protein powder, fruits, and vitamins. In the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of smoothies was heavily marketed and appeared on supermarket shelves and in local coffee shops.
What should be in a smoothie?
A smoothie consists of three main components:
- A liquid (usually juice, milk, or water)
- Fruit or vegetables
From there, you can get creative with how you prepare your smoothie. Here’s an overview of some of the most commonly used ingredients.
- Berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes)
- Stone fruit (apricots, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, plums)
- Tropical fruits (guavas, kiwi, passion fruit, papaya, pineapple)
- protein powder
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- peanut butter powder
- Fruit juice (limit to ½ cup)
- coconut water
- Non-dairy milk (almond, oats, pea, soy)
Non-Dairy Protein Alternatives
Milk (8 grams of protein per cup) and Greek yogurt (16 grams of protein per cup) contain proteins needed to build tissues and serve as a source of energy. But be it lactose intolerance or a milk allergy, not everyone can consume these popular smoothie ingredients.
Alternatively, here are three options that contain fat, fiber, and protein that will give you energy and help you feel full:
- Nut butters (almond, cashew, hazelnut, pistachio, pecan, walnut)
- Chia seeds
- Flax seed
How to make healthy smoothies
Liquids, such as smoothies, can also be a sneaky source of calories because they don’t fill you up as much as solid foods and can easily be consumed in larger amounts.
Try to keep your smoothie around 300 to 400 calories – portion size is key in the difference between a healthy smoothie and a frozen drink that will increase your waistline.
When preparing your smoothie, add your liquid and fruits and vegetables first. Ice goes in last to keep it from taking up too much space in the blender.
Here are some tips to keep your smoothies healthy:
Limit fruit to 1 cup: While fruits are healthy, they still have calories and natural sugars that can sneak up on you. Be wary of overloading your blender with too much fruit, especially when using many different varieties.
Add a handful of greens: Kale and spinach contain dietary fiber that can help you feel full for longer.
Low-fat liquids are your friend: Skim milk, coconut water, and unsweetened almond or soy milk make for great options that don’t add too many calories.
Use Greek yogurt for extra protein: Greek yogurt is a good source of protein, although you should limit the serving to no more than a cup. If you skip the yogurt, add unsweetened protein powder.
Boost flavors with herbs: Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and vanilla extract all add flavor without extra calories. Avoid sweeteners, especially those that may appear healthy (maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar, etc.)
Make it a full meal with fats: Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and have antioxidant properties, but a smoothie without protein or fat may not keep you full for long. Throw in ¼ of an avocado, a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter, or a tablespoon of flaxseeds or chia seeds to get the most bang for your buck.
Healthy smoothie recipes
Whether it’s strawberries and lemons or blueberries and lemons, berries and citrus go well together. For this smoothie, blackberries team up with limes to form a flavorful tandem. The addition of Greek yogurt for protein and frozen banana as a thickener round out this smoothie.
Don’t be put off by the green color of this smoothie. Yes, the veggies help fill you up, but spinach is mild enough for the tropical flavors (mango and coconut) to shine through. Add a squeeze of lime and this smoothie will make you think of the beach without feeling guilty.
Orange Mango Creamsicle Smoothie
Creamsicles are a quintessential summer treat, combining the citrus flavor of orange with the sweet, creamy texture of vanilla ice cream. But there’s a reason they taste so good: They’re packed with saturated fat and added sugars. This healthier smoothie version features Cara Cara oranges, which are naturally sweet, along with sugar-free protein powder vanilla.
Creamy Avocado Smoothie
Avocados are known as the star in guacamole and are actually an ideal smoothie ingredient. For starters, they’re full of good fats, dietary fiber, and vitamin C. Plus, they help create a smooth, velvety texture. The addition of bananas, pineapple and apple provide a natural sweetness, while the baby greens (spinach or kale) add even more vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K).
Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie
This recipe turns a fattening dessert treat (chocolate peanut butter shake) into a healthier, less guilt-inducing drink. While it’s hard to recreate the real thing, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla almond milk, and the frozen banana help form a chocolatey mixture, while the peanut butter adds fat and flavor. For even more peanut butter punch, you can also add a scoop of peanut butter powder.
Answering frequently asked questions about smoothies
If you’re new to the smoothie scene, we’ve collected some frequently asked questions about making and storing smoothies.
How long can smoothies keep in the fridge?
When you make a large batch of smoothies, you can keep them in the fridge for up to two days. You can also freeze them for several months.
Why is my smoothie so frothy?
After blending your smoothie, you can see foam on the top layer of your drink. This foam comes from insoluble fiber found in many fruits and vegetables. These fibers do not dissolve in water and instead remain separated. However, there is nothing wrong with this foam. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool to help it pass through your gut.
Can you make smoothies in a food processor?
Just because you might not have a blender doesn’t mean you can’t make a smoothie. A food processor works great for mixing your ingredients.
How do you make a smoothie thicker?
There are many ways to make a thicker smoothie. The easiest way is to freeze your fruit or buy it prepackaged from the frozen section of your local supermarket. Fruits high in soluble fiber, such as bananas, mangoes, peaches and avocados, act as natural thickeners. When broken down, the soluble fiber mixes with water to form a gel-like consistency.
You can also add grains (oats) or seeds (flaxseeds/chia seeds) to add texture. These ingredients are also full of soluble fiber. For flaxseeds and chia seeds, pre-soak them in water to help activate the starch.
For more healthy living tips and wellness trends, visit the INTEGRIS Health For you blog.