A Dietitian’s Secrets to Healthy and Delicious Smoothies

Avoid sugary juices, and add powerful protein to your blender.
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Avoid sugary juices, and add powerful protein to your blender.

A cool, refreshing smoothie is a convenient meal replacement or snack, especially during these hot summer months. But with a plethora of ingredients and supplements to add to your drink these days, it can be easy to down a high-calorie concoction without key nutrients you need to fill up and stay satisfied. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know that the secrets to a healthy, balanced smoothie are the same as the secrets to a healthy, balanced diet. Use this guide to craft your own delicious nutritional powerhouse.

01. Portion, portion, portion.

If you’re new to the smoothie game, measure out the ingredients, and pay attention to the size of your glass so that you get enough to sate your hunger without overdoing it. I rounded up recipes to help you create a 150- to 200-calorie snack-size smoothie that will fit into an eight-ounce glass. Or you can try a 400-calorie meal replacement smoothie in a larger glass.

02. Boost protein naturally.

Adding protein to your smoothie gives it staying power, meaning that you’re satisfied long after you’re done drinking. Get extra nutrients with a protein source such as Greek yogurt, which adds calcium. Natural peanut or almond butter adds vitamins and fiber. Unsweetened soy milk, which can function as your smoothie’s liquid, gives you vitamin D and magnesium—both are important nutrients for bone health. Protein powders will also add protein, but they lack the other nutritional benefits that these natural protein boosters offer. They are also often pricier (and not as tasty, in my opinion).

03. Add healthy fats.

Avocado, flaxseed, and chia . . . oh, my! These are just a few of the trendiest healthy fats—and for good reason. Using half an avocado, adding a couple tablespoons of ground flax or chia seeds, or substituting coconut milk for half of your smoothie’s liquid will give you enough healthy fat to feel full. Fancy some nuts? One tablespoon of just about any nut (I like almonds and cashews) is equivalent to about fifty healthy fat calories. Fats also help your body absorb the critical nutrients that you’re packing into your beverage, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

04. Choose the right liquid.

PUT DOWN THE JUICE JUG! Instead of pouring in all that sugar, sub a fluid that offers more. As I mentioned above, unsweetened soy milk will add protein. Coconut milk will add healthy fat. Both protein and healthy fat will make your smoothie more satisfying and balanced nutrition-wise. Coconut water is another liquid option with less sugar than juice. And it contains helpful post-exercise recovery nutrients such as potassium for muscles on the mend. Sometimes all your blender needs is a touch of simple clean H2O to get whirling.

05. Be mindful of which produce you pick.

Use fruits and vegetables to pack in nutrients and flavor and to help alter the consistency to suit your tastes. For more liquid, try watermelon, cucumber, or oranges. For a creamier consistency, try banana, coconut, or frozen mango. Avoid the need for added sweetener by using fruit with enough natural sweetness. Sample what’s in season (such as fresh peaches or berries in the summer). Or go with dried or frozen varieties, such as dried pitted dates or frozen pineapple, mango, or cherries. Vegetables help add fiber and vital nutrients. If you’re not accustomed to adding them, start slow with a smaller portion, and work your way up. A handful of greens, such as baby spinach, tends to be a crowd favorite. But you can try experimenting with what you’ve got. Sweet peppers, beets, carrots, or cucumbers pack a nutritious and flavorful punch. Chop them into smaller pieces before throwing them into your blender if you don’t have a high-powered variety, such as Vitamix.

06. Infuse them with flavor!

Herbs, spices, citrus, and flavor extracts lend an interesting taste and help you avoid adding extra sugar. Try mint or basil to make it cool and refreshing or cayenne and chili pepper for added heat. A squeeze of lemon or lime helps enhance other flavors in the smoothie. A few drops of almond or vanilla extract, cacao powder, or cinnamon and nutmeg make a smoothie more dessertlike.

Stop paying hefty prices and waiting in line for a smoothie. By following these simple guidelines, you’ll be able to control your own ingredients to make a flavorful—and healthy—smoothie in your own kitchen.