Most people would consider a smoothie a healthy choice. As a nutritionist, I would agree that smoothies have the potential to be great, but they’re not for everyone. In addition to that, I find that a lot of people are doing their smoothie all wrong. I often include smoothie recipes when offering meal guidance to clients. In doing so, I teach them how to build a smoothie that will digest well, keep them full, give them all day energy and support their metabolism. With a few tweaks, you can turn your smoothie into a nourishing and satiating meal.
WHY BLOOD SUGAR IS KEY FOR SMOOTHIE SUCCESS
The most common mistake when it comes to smoothie making is a lack of blood sugar regulating ingredients. Berries, bananas and greens are all good foods, but when blended up and consumed without anything to slow down the absorption, this seemingly healthy combo leads to blood sugar dysregulation. What does that mean for you? Increased cravings, elevated hunger hormones, mood swings, a less than efficient metabolism and fatigue later on. Green smoothies are healthy though, right?! Part of eating well is knowing how to combine foods properly. By adding in some easy to digest protein and some slow burning fat + fiber, you lessen the insulin response and do your metabolism a major favor. A smoothie with a little more sustenance, though higher in calories, will set you up for a better day overall. Not only will you feel satiated after drinking your smoothie, your cravings will be reduced, energy and brain power will be high and your need for snacking throughout the day will be decreased. Along with adding in the protein, fat and fiber, being mindful of the amounts of fruit and natural sweeteners used is important. It is possible to make a sweet, dessert-like smoothie without adding in the high glycemic ingredients (see recipe below). Keep in mind that when fruit is blended, it requires less time to breakdown and therefore has a more dramatic effect on blood sugar levels.
I typically recommend that my clients favor berries and avocados over the other fruits. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good banana, date and almond butter smoothie! But as far as daily smoothie drinking goes, utilizing the formula below lends itself to high energy, balanced hormones and fat burning, all day long.
SMOOTHIE BUILDING 101
FAT (1-2 servings)
Fat digests the slowest of all the macronutrients and is the main nutrient involved in keeping us fuller, longer. More fat = decreased hunger hormones. If you know it’s going to be a high demand day or you know you may have fewer opportunities to eat, including higher amounts of fat in the morning is extremely supportive. Some of my favorites include almond butter, sunflower seed butter, coconut oil, coconut butter, avocado and MCT oil.
FIBER (1-2 servings)
Fiber, like fat, works to slow down the absorption of the smoothie, therefore, reducing the spike of insulin and giving us better blood sugar stability. Fruits and vegetables still contain sugar, and like I mentioned above, when we blend fruits and vegetables, it speeds up their absorption. Slowing the process down with some fiber will again, keep us fuller, longer. In addition, fiber feeds a healthy gut + aids in digestion and elimination. Of course berries, avocados and leafy greens are all stellar sources of fiber. In addition, adding a tablespoon or two of chia seeds or flax seeds is a great way to up the fiber content of your smoothie.
PROTEIN (1 serving)
While fat keeps us fuller, longer, protein is responsible for filling us up initially. It also helps to turn off hunger hormones, while reducing cravings, especially sugar cravings, for the remainder of the day. Protein supports healthy metabolic function, while stabilizing blood sugar. As far as quantity and sources of protein go, everyone is a little different. Some people thrive off of more plant protein, while others require more animal protein. Finding a quality protein powder that works for you and your body is helpful. Some options include whey protein, pea protein (easy to digest), hemp protein and my personal favorites, bone broth protein powder and grassfed collagen peptides (both extremely good for rebuilding the gut). If you’re adding sufficient fat to your smoothie, you may be able to omit the protein or opt for something like almond butter + chia seeds for your main protein source. I find that my protein requirements are constantly fluctuating and I’ve learned how to intuitively follow that. That said, a serving of 15-25 grams of quality protein, first thing in the morning is a good rule to follow, especially when we’re talking smoothies replacing meals.
Adding fiber + micronutrients via greens and none starchy vegetables is also important. Greens are probably the easiest thing to add, and depending on which ones you choose, they often have little to no effect on flavor. Some other ideas are frozen cauliflower, which gives the smoothie a nice creamy consistency, while thickening it (see recipe below) and frozen zucchini. I prefer steaming my vegetables at the beginning of the week and then freezing them, but you can decide whether you cook them or keep them raw.
Boosters consist of anything that adds nutritional value to a smoothie. Typically consumed in smaller quantities, some booster could include herbs and spices like cinnamon, cardamom or turmeric, adatogens like maca, ahswagandha, rhodiola or reishi and things like bee pollen, spirulina, greens powders, collagen, etc. Maybe you’ve never heard of a lot of these things, which is fine! The beauty of booster foods is that they don’t have to be fancy. They can be as simple as cinnamon, which helps with circulation, digestion and blood sugar, or as “out there” as reishi mushroom which boosts immunity and lowers stress hormones. By adding in booster foods, we kick our metabolisms into high gear and support all day energy.
Now, before you go adding 10 different “superfoods” to your smoothie, ask yourself, what does my body need? I like to stick to 1-3 boosters, depending on what my body is calling for. Right now, I’m loving ashwagandha and pine pollen for stress reduction, adrenal support and hormonal balancing.
If you're a smoothie regular, including these components will be supportive for metabolism, blood sugar stability, regulating hormones, muscle build + fat burn and overall body balance.
Other things to consider when it comes to drinking smoothies…
Though they’re blended, smoothies have the potential to cause some people digestive upset. This can be due to the fact that they’re often filled with frozen + raw ingredients, which can compromise our digestive fire, causing us to feel heavy and/or bloated afterwards. If this is the case for you, you may consider choosing non frozen ingredients, cooking your vegetables before adding them, adding warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom to aid in digestion or moving away from smoothies all together.
If you’re someone who feels like smoothies never fill you up or you feel fatigued/low energy when you have smoothies, the formula above should solve that. In addition, if you’ve tried using smoothies and green drinks as a means to lose weight and it hasn’t worked, the recommendations above should correct that. Often times, people make the mistake of skimping on calories and in doing so, unknowingly compromise blood sugar + hormonal balance, resulting in weight loss resistance.
The recipe below is a simple guideline for a balanced smoothie/smoothie bowl. Follow the recipe as is, or swap ingredients as you wish. Feel free to play with different fruits, fats and herbs.
SUN-BERRY BLISS SMOOTHIE BOWL
1/3 cup almond or coconut milk
1 serving vanilla protein powder
1 tbsp. sunflower seed butter
1 tbsp. chia seeds
3/4 cup frozen cauliflower
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
5 ice cubes
1 tsp. mucuna
1 tsp. maca
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Dash of pink mineral salt
Optional stevia to sweeten
Combine all ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until smooth
Top with bee pollen, coconut flakes, berries, almonds, or whatever feels intuitive