TO YOUR HEALTH
How to make your smoothies healthier
As the dog days of summer set in, so does the desire to consume cold beverages throughout the day.
For many people, smoothies are a go-to option for breakfast in the summer. They are quick, portable and just the right temperature as we continue to tally up the 100 degree days here in Austin.
But are they a healthy option? It depends.
Smoothies can quickly become a sugar trap with the caloric equivalent of a milkshake, but when done right, they can be convenient vehicle for getting a variety of fruits and vegetables into your day.
When planning any meal, it is important to include carbohydrates, protein and fat. The same
mentality should be applied to smoothies. Carbohydrates provide us with glucose, our body’s main fuel source. Protein helps us build muscles and repair cells, but it also helps us feel full longer. Fat not only takes longer to digest (cau sing you to f eel full longer, as well), but it also helps our bodies absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A,D, C and K) we are getting from the fruits and vegetables we consume.
Using these tips on building a
healthier smoothie can make smoothies a great option for a breakfast or snack on the go. If digestion is a problem or you have problems chewing, smoothies can also provide a valuable source of nutrition. And a green smoothie can easily be turned into an “Incredible Hulk” smoothie, which can draw children into loving their greens.
Try these simple ideas the next time you pull out the blender:
Choose fruit that has lower sugar content
Fruit is the main carbohydrate source in smoothies, providing fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Most berries, such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, are low in sugar. So are grapefruit, guava and avocado. (Yep, avocado is a fruit!)
Bananas are often used in smoothies to make them thicker, but one medium banana provides 14 grams of sugar. Try using half a frozen banana and filling the rest with fruit with lower sugar content.
One way to save money on frozen fruit is to freeze it yourself. When I see a sale on fruit such as strawberries, I buy extra, rinse them, freeze them on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan, and then throw them all on a freezer bag. Freezing the fruit before putting it in a freezer bag will help you avoid that dreaded ball of frozen fruit that is impossible to separate.
You can do this with bananas that have become just a little too ripe for eating by themselves, but remember to cut them in half before freezing so you can cut down on the total amount of bananas — and sugar — in your breakfast.
Include protein and fats
Protein and fat slow down digestion and thus help you stay fuller longer. Digesting food slower can also help prevent blood sugar spikes. Using a liquid base with protein, such as milk or soy milk, is a great way to make sure you are getting protein in your smoothie, as well as calcium.
An important piece of info about protein in drinks: Other liquids used in smoothies such as almond milk and coconut milk generally do not contain protein. If you use those, make sure you are getting protein from another source such as plain yogurt or nut butters.
One of my favorite ways to get healthy fats in a smoothie is by using avocado. A little will go a long way, too. Avocados contain fiber and are high in vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E and vitamin C. Next time you want to add creaminess to your smoothie, try adding 1/3 of a medium avocado. You will not regret it!
Don’t forget your greens
A few handfuls of spinach, kale or Swiss chard will up the nutrient profile of your smoothie without negatively impacting the taste. Plus, you are getting the benefits of less sugar and lots of antioxidants, fiber and other essential nutrients.
Why stop with green vegetables? Try adding shredded carrots like in our carrot cake smoothie recipe, or even pumpkin or butternut squash puree.
It does not make much sense to choose low-sugar fruits and then dump and spoonful of honey or sugar into your smoothie. Try adding spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, or a dash of vanilla extract.
One whole foods approach to sweetening your smoothie is by adding dates. Three dates (the amount in our carrot cake smoothie recipe) provide about 11 percent of your daily needs for potassium (a nutrient lacking in many Americans’ diets), about 11 percent of the recommended daily amount of iron and about 15 percent of your daily fiber needs. Dates are also high in sugar and calories, so enjoy them in moderation.
We polled readers to find out if they use ice in smoothies, and most of them don’t, unless they are trying to make a lower-calorie smoothie or sneak a little extra hydration into their breakfast drink. Oats and chia seeds are great for thickening up smoothies and making them more filling.
Central Texas Food Bank dietitian Mary Agnew makes smoothies healthier by adding protein and fats to the blender and cutting back on high-sugar fruits, juices and yogurts.
Avocados are an excellent addition to smoothies because they add protein, healthy fats and a nice creaminess to the final product.
This carrot cake-inspired smoothie is sweetened with dates and uses raw shredded carrots.
We used a handful of liquids in our smoothies to see which ones tasted the best. Dietitian Mary Agnew says to make sure to check the label for both sugar and protein. If you have a lot of sugar in your ingredients, you might use a lighter liquid, such as almond or soy milk, instead of fruit juice, but if you want to pack in as much protein as possible, use soy milk or regular milk.
Smoothies can be healthful if you use the right ingredients. Soy milk can add protein, and frozen fruit can sweeten smoothies made with spinach and flaxseeds. Use ice if you want to make a lower-calorie drink.
You’ll need a blender to make a smoothie, and blenders don’t work very well unless you add some liquid. If your ingredients are all frozen solid and you’re using a lowpowered blender, you might have to wait a few minutes for the fruit to soften in order for it to blend.