With warmer weather comes changes in the way we eat or in the foods we choose—at least here in New England. Access to fresher vegetables grown locally and seasonal fruits like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries help us to eat healthier foods at this time of the year.
Right about now, smoothies begin to edge out hot cereals like oatmeal for breakfast. Oats are high in soluble fiber; the kind of fiber that helps to reduce cholesterol. The American Heart Association suggests that our daily goal for soluble fiber is 5-10 grams a day. Rather than forego the great nutrition oats offer, just add it into the blender! Adding 1/2 cup of rolled oats to a smoothie adds two grams of soluble fiber. Just blend well!
There are plenty of commercially prepared smoothies or smoothie bars (ka-ching!) but the best kinds are the ones you make yourself. Not only are you ensuring good nutrition, you are also helping the environment by cutting down on plastics.
When making a smoothie, skip the fruit juice and add fresh or frozen fruits instead. The fiber is MIA in juices. Apples, pears, mango, kiwi, and strawberries are good sources of soluble fiber for fruits. Pineapple and papaya have natural enzymes (bromelain and papain) that help to digest your foods, so throw in a few slices of those, too.
I use unsweetened almond milk as a base for mine. It’s less expensive than cow’s milk and I am adding a protein powder anyhow, so I don’t need all the extra protein from milk. Or, you can also use oat milk (sadly, there’s no soluble fiber left behind in the extraction process) or plain water. Some people like the tropical flair in a smoothie—coconut water would work nicely for that flavor. I am not a fan of coconut milk, as it’s higher in saturated fat.
Adding kale or spinach to smoothies is another popular addition at smoothie bars. Unless you have a high powered blender, I’d de-stem and de-vein those greens beforehand. Both veggies are high in folate, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Adding fiber also keeps blood sugars down. It takes longer for the body to process fresh fruit versus refined juices that can spike blood sugars in a short amount of time. Fiber also keeps you fuller, so you are less likely to snack on unhealthy munchies.
Adding protein to smoothies delays blood sugar spikes, as well. There are a lot of ways to add protein but the easiest way is to use protein powders. I know there are so many to choose from. I don’t digest pea protein well (that’s the major ingredient in the plant-based ones) so I use an unflavored whey protein powder (I like the Whole Foods 365 grass-fed, whey protein isolate one as there’s no lactose, artificial sweeteners, or sugars added into it). I figure everything I am adding into the blender will flavor my drink to my liking. One scoop of protein powder has about 25 grams of protein. If you are using the smoothie as a snack, you can cut that amount in half.
Cottage cheese and Greek yogurt also pack a lot of nutrition for calcium and protein. One half cup of Greek yogurt gives you 11 grams of protein and also adds probiotics—live active culture bacteria that are good for the gut. I blogged on the benefits of this with Kefir (https://www.eatrightboston.com/post/kefir-s-health-benefits). One half cup of cottage cheese gives you 13 grams or protein. Just watch the sodium content if you are on a low salt diet.
Stevia is the artificial sweetener that is found in a lot of protein powder products. It is derived from an herbal shrub native to South America. Stevia sweeteners are made by extracting compounds from the plant’s leaves to remove its bitter flavors. Commercially, stevia appears in green or white packets. Stevia sweeteners are 200-350 times sweeter than sugar, so you don’t need much to sweeten your beverages. Like I said earlier, I don’t use these products—I find them too sweet. You can always add in sweetness but can’t take it out!
Another way to add a dose of heart healthy nutrition to a smoothie is to add a few slices of avocado, 1Tbl chia or 2Tbls ground flax seed. These are high in monounsaturated fats and omega 3-fatty acids…and fiber! Chia seeds are a little sticky and can mess up the inside of beverage containers, though.
I always start off with a very basic palette that’s why I use an unflavored protein powder. If you want to change it up, you can add things to it. Say you are craving chocolate—add some raw cacao powder to it. One tablespoon has fifteen calories and 0.5 grams of saturated fat. Or add some powdered peanut butter if you are hankering for a nutty taste. Two tablespoons has 45 calories as compared to its nut spread counterpart’s 190 calories. The oils have been pressed out of the powdered version, so the calories are reduced.
I have heard some people freeze their smoothie mixture in ice cube trays and use them as mini treats for themselves and their pets! I have not tried that yet. Let me know how it goes if you try it!