I was at one of my favorite vegan restaurants the other day and noticed that none of their smoothies included vegetables. None!
This struck me as a huge missed opportunity — their “green” smoothie, instead, included a super green powder instead of the real deal. Granted, their smoothies included a lot of other cool and healthy things such as hemp protein, coconut milk and spirulina. But, still. How does a restaurant that offers some serious green juices and nutrient-dense salads fail to offer smoothies that incorporate some of those same ingredients?
At first, I assumed the restaurant was adhering to some hardcore food-combining principles that prohibit fruit-vegetables pairings. This could be the case, but maybe it’s more of a customer demand thing — how many people, after all, are out there demanding a kale smoothie? Not many, perhaps — but they should be! After all, this is Portlandia we’re talking about!
Smoothies are an important part of my diet because they’re an easy, low-maintenance and delicious way to boost my fruit and veggie consumption and, ultimately, live a healthier life. But this whole green smoothie thing (or lack thereof) got me thinking about the mainstream definition of a smoothie — and how mainstream smoothies could benefit from a little makeover. Most of the smoothies out there — whether ordered at a snack bar or made at home — are full of ingredients that are minimally healthy or even downright unhealthy, which can contribute to weight gain and other issues.
So how do we make a healthier smoothie? Here are three easy tips to keep in mind next time you fire up your blender:
- Ditch the sugar: One of the biggest problems with the mainstream smoothies found at chain coffee shops and snack bars is the fact that they contain sugar. And often, a lot of it. Hello — that’s why they taste like candy! Snack bar smoothies often use pre-sweetened fruit juices or purees, so be sure to ask about the ingredients before you order. If making a smoothie at home, rely on whole fruit instead of juices to provide sweetness. The extra fiber will help your body assimilate the natural sugars more slowly, and you won’t be risking a big sugar crash later.
- Go green: Adding veggies to your smoothie is an easy way to incorporate additional nutrients and fiber, without compromising on taste. Think about your fruit-to-vegetable ratio — a smoothie that’s almost entirely fruit-based means you’ll be consuming a lot of sugar all at once. And even though these are “natural” sugars, you’d still be better off reducing the sugar and increasing your fiber. That’s where the veggies come into play. Aim for a 3-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio of veggies to fruit. If you’re worried about an unsavory “green” taste, try mild-tasting vegetables such as cucumber, zucchini or spinach. These blend easily into a smoothie, adding creamy fullness and important nutrients.
- Simplify: A healthy, tasty smoothie doesn’t need a million ingredients; in fact, that’s where most people go wrong. Don’t junk up your smoothie with peanut butter AND yogurt AND green powder AND protein powder AND frozen berries AND nut milk AND chia seeds AND cacao nibs AND bee pollen AND maca powder and anything else that’s sitting around in your cupboard collecting dust. Give your crazy smoothie a make-under. Keeping your ingredients simple will make the smoothie easier to shop for and make, and it will likely be easier for your body to digest. When it comes to supplements and smoothies, less is more — stick to one or two — or none at all.
My morning, getting-ready-for-school-and-work routine is hectic enough, so keeping my smoothie simple makes prep a snap. I just blend it all up, pour it into a mason jar, and head out the door. Keeping a smoothie simple also ensures that it will keep in the fridge for awhile — and not turn into some disgusting, gloppy mess — until I’m ready to enjoy it.
Here’s an easy “master” recipe you can use to put the healthy back into your smoothies. And if you’re already nailing the healthy smoothie, share your favorite ingredients by posting a comment below!
Healthy Smoothie “Master” Recipe: Makes 2 snack-sized servings or 1 meal-sized serving (raw, vegan)
16 ounces of liquid (filtered water or coconut water)*
1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit (my favorites include organic peaches, mango, blueberries or strawberries); add a cup of ice to the blender if using fresh fruit
3 large handfuls of fresh, washed spinach
1/2 english cucumber or zucchini, peeled
2 tablespoons hemp seed
dash of vanilla extract
1 pitted medjool date (optional, depending on the sweetness of the fruit) — or use stevia if you prefer
* For a more filling smoothie, use 8 ounces of nut milk and 8 ounces of water OR add 1 tablespoon of nut butter OR 1/2 avocado
Add all ingredients to blender and process until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator to enjoy later in the day. Salud!