Lisa Samuel, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist
Dear Nutritionist: I’d like to start incorporating smoothies into my breakfast routine, but I want to make sure I’m doing it right. Do you have any suggestions?
Smoothies can be a great way to add extra fruits and vegetables to your day. But, there are a few guidelines to follow. To build a smoothie that will give your brain the fuel it needs to think, and keep you full and satisfied until the next meal, it should contain four main elements, as described below, and include foods with no added sugars. You don’t want to turn your smoothie into dessert.
Choose from whole food sources of protein. If you eat dairy products, milk, plain yogurt, or cottage cheese are all good sources of protein and can provide a tasty base for a smoothie. Other sources of protein are nuts or nut butters; seeds like hemp seeds, chia seeds, or pumpkin seeds; whole oats; or tofu.
Fat is satiating—it makes us feel full and satisfied. Plus, healthy sources of fats, like monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, help us better absorb all the nutrients in a smoothie. Healthy sources of fat include avocados, nuts and nut butters, and seeds. Seeds like hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds provide protein, fiber, and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids. For a thick and creamy smoothie, add avocados.
Carbohydrates are like gas for an engine—they give us the fuel we need to work and play. Without carbs in our morning meal, our brain doesn’t have energy to help us think, resulting in brain fog. If you use milk or yogurt as a smoothie base, both of those are also good sources of carbohydrates. Fruits and dried fruit are also healthy sources of energy and fiber. If using a milk alternative as a smoothie base (almond, hemp, rice, or coconut milk, for example), be sure to choose an unsweetened version. Add sweetness to smoothies with fruits. Bananas and dates are both naturally sweet and add thickness to a smoothie. Frozen bananas are my favorite trick for a thick and creamy smoothie!
Fiber keeps us full longer and keeps blood sugars nice and even, so it’s an important component of a morning meal. There are many ways to add fiber to smoothies, including fruits, dry fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Aim for at least 4 grams of fiber; it’s pretty easy to do. For example, one banana, half of an avocado, or two pitted dates all have about three grams of fiber each. Adding vegetables is a great way to sneak in some extra nutrition and fiber. Vegetables like spinach, kale, cauliflower, carrots, and beets can just disappear in a smoothie. Great for picky kids, too.
Keep the handy chart (below) in your kitchen to help you build the perfect smoothie. Of course, it doesn’t contain all possible smoothie combinations, but it will help you start to build your perfect smoothie!