If you often turn to smoothies as a way to eat better and lose weight, you’re not alone. These nutritionally dense beverages are delicious and have gotten a lot of good press thanks to celebrity juice and smoothie cleanses.
If you use the right ingredients, a smoothie can satiate your hunger while providing valuable fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Smoothies can help us pack in heaps of important nutrients and can be a delicious and healthy way to begin the day, tide you over on a fast day, or fill you up between lunch and dinner.
But even the healthiest-looking smoothies (and their ingredients) can contain too much sugar and the wrong types of fats, interfering with health and weight loss goals. Read on to discover how to make the ideal smoothie and what ingredients to use.
How do I make the perfect healthy smoothie?
- Include Protein
We eat when we feel hungry, and if our hunger isn’t satiated, we’re more likely to look for something higher in fat, salt, and sugar later on to scratch that itch. It is for this reason that smoothies should contain at least some protein, as protein provides a high satiety factor. Alongside protein, fiber and some healthy fats make a smoothie nutritionally complete, which should always be your goal.
Many studies have shown that a specific combination of amino acids that total 20 grams of protein helps satiate our hunger, telling our brains that we’ve consumed enough. This results in us staying fuller for longer periods.
Here are some healthy protein sources that work well in smoothies:
- Silken tofu
- Greek yogurt (unsweetened)
- Plant-based protein powders like pea, hemp, soy, and brown rice protein
While protein is something to aim for in your smoothies, sugar is something to watch out for – make sure you check the label and see how much sugar is hidden in your protein powder. You want the sugar content to be as low as possible, especially since you’ll almost certainly add at least one piece of fruit to your smoothie.
- Keep Sugar Low
Of course, it isn’t necessary (or realistic) to avoid all forms of sugars entirely. Fruit is, of course, good for you in many ways, but it is possible to get too much of a good thing. As a general rule, stick with about a cup of fruit per smoothie, and if you want to opt for lower-sugar fruits, go for raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries rather than tropical fruits like mango and pineapple.
Whatever you do, do not remove the pulp! This is necessary fiber that will help your body manage the energy in the smoothie.
All fruits contain naturally occurring sugars in varying quantities, but it’s also important to look out for added sugar in things like protein powder, juices, and even nut butters. If you want to add a sweetener, choose Stevia or a similar calorie-free natural artificial sweetener over something like maple syrup or agave.
- Do Not Add Fruit Juice
When it comes to choosing a liquid base for a smoothie, everyone has their preferences. Some people are happy with a subtle taste and add water to their smoothies, whereas others prefer something creamier and might add their favorite plant-based milk. Some people want their smoothie to taste like a milkshake and add liquid cacao to their smoothie.
However, the most common base is often fruit juice - after all, it’s made of fruit too, right? In theory, this is correct, but we can often overlook the amount of added sugar in fruit juices, so be sure to check the label before you go putting overly sweetened juice into your smoothies. It’s also often pure fruit juice, meaning all the pulp has been extracted. This essentially makes it pure fructose in a carton!
Whatever you choose, note the nutritional value of the liquid you put into your smoothie and adjust it according to your weight loss, weight gain, or health goals.
- Embrace Greens
Greens offer a great source of fiber and iron, making them the ideal addition to any smoothie. Some people are put off by the idea of adding something green to something they want to drink, but raw vegetables rarely have strong flavors.
If you want to add greens to a smoothie purely for the nutritional benefits, go for milder flavors like spinach and kale. These flavors can go undetected amongst all the fruit and offer you a ton of health benefits, so it’s definitely worth it.
- Don’t Forget Your Healthy Fats
Fats are another helpful element to consider when building your smoothie. Healthy sources of fat can help boost that satiety factor, stopping you from reaching for the cookies mid-morning.
Adding a healthy source of fat to your smoothie will make it more nutritionally complete: remember, you’re aiming for that holy trinity of fat, fiber, and protein.
You can find these healthy fats in things like almond, cashew, or coconut milk. If you like a thick smoothie, add a scoop of your favorite (ideally organic) nut butter, or sprinkle some seeds on top of your smoothie bowl.
Just make sure it’s made with pure nuts, otherwise, your smoothie will contain unnecessarily high amounts of sugar! Another popular source of fat in smoothies is avocado. Avocados are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids, contributing to good heart health. They’re also a great source of fiber and did you know that they contain more potassium than bananas?
In short, there are so many variations of the same few smoothie recipes, which provide options for everyone, regardless of health goals and taste preferences. So, whether your smoothie is part of your morning ritual, a new beverage to coincide with weight loss or gain, or a side dish at breakfast, there’s no reason why it can’t be satisfying and healthy. It just takes a little thought about what you’re putting in the smoothie so you’re realistic about what it contains.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.