Last week, I shared some of the dangers of smoothies – you can recap that here – and why some people might actually be harming themselves with unhealthy smoothies.
But now, the question is how do you enjoy your smoothie the right way, the healthiest way for you?
Here are a few tips for making the healthiest version of a smoothie for you, and a few tips and tricks to keep in mind the next time you step in front of that blender:
1) Don’t buy those pre-packaged smoothies without checking that nutritional label first! Aside from the fact that many of them have added unnecessary chemicals and preservatives to ensure the shelf life of the product – yes, even refrigerated products have shelf life concerns… what do you think that expiration date is all about? – but so many of them have added sugar without even admitting it on the label. Whenever you see “juice concentrate” on that label, know that it’s “industry speak” for “added sugar.”
2) Be mindful of the nutritional profile of your smoothie. Take a program like SparkPeople.com or MyFitnessPal and enter your entire smoothie recipe into the recipe calculator, while being mindful of how many 8oz cups the recipe puts out. Many smoothie recipes I’ve seen have almost 80g of sugar in one blend—which, wow…that’s a lot—while others might be low in sugar per 8oz serving, but if you’re drinking 32oz of it, that adds up. If you’re wondering what a healthy range might be, look at it like this: the average soda carries about 28g of sugar for every 8oz of drink. Is your smoothie in the soda range? Remember, calories do matter.
3) Try to be mindful of the amount of protein in your smoothies. Lots of things (from 2% fat Greek yogurt, to tofu and nut butters—though highly caloric) can add high amounts of protein to the average smoothie, not only filling you up, but also providing the much-needed amino acids necessary for strength and muscle development.
4) Did you notice that I said 2% fat Greek yogurt, and not simply fat-free? Yes, baby, your smoothies need fats! Healthy fats—from nut butters to avocado, flax seed to flavored oils (you can flavor your own organic canola oil, or test out a peanut or walnut or coconut oil)—are a necessary part of a healthy diet. Not just because you need them to feel full, but also because the fat is necessary to absorb certain kinds of vitamins, specifically the ones that affect your hair, skin and nails.
5) Cut down on the amount of fruit you use in your smoothie. You want your smoothie to be tasty, I get it, but it also needs to be strategic. Find blends that taste great together, while also using minimal sugar. Use fruits that have a powerful taste, strong enough to overpower any major bitterness you might encounter in your blend. My favorite examples of this are papaya, peaches and bananas – sweet when ripe, and flavor-dense enough to wipe out any bitter flavors. Try to keep your ratio of 6-to-1: six cups of vegetables for every one-cup (or half cup!) of fruit.
6) Check the sugar contents of the non-fruit items you’re including in that blender. How much sugar is in your Greek yogurt? How about that coconut water? Is your almond milk flavored? Is your peanut butter hiding some sugar? I’ve easily listed a good 40g of sugar right there. Almond and soy milks are great options…when unsweetened. Coconut water can be a great option…when it doesn’t contain more than 4g of sugar in a serving.
7) Consider adding some naturally-occurring fiber to your smoothie. Chia seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, even chickpeas or rolled oats can make a huge difference in the fiber content of that smoothie. Be sure to add it to your blender last, though – you don’t want to blend it so much that you destroy all of the fiber it has to offer!
Lastly, my thinking always extends to the reality that juicing and smoothie drinking won’t be forever for everyone, so I’d strongly encourage you to start throwing all that tasty goodness into a salad! Make the healthy progression toward cooking and chewing those veggies, and – like I always say – your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs her journey from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer and nutritionist. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on Facebook and Twitter.