How to make your smooth­ies health­ier

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Agnew For the Amer­i­can-States­man

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.

Sweeten wisely

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.

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