Smoothies are great way to ingest all the food groups that your diet is lacking in one big gulp. Dairy group, vegetable group, fruit group, protein group, fat group, even whole grains — any and all can be crammed into a smoothie to make your body (and your cardiologist) happier.
I must point out the distinction between making smoothies and juicing, though. It seems like people get these mixed up sometimes and that’s a damn shame because in my no-formal-training-nutritionist opinion, smoothies can be WAY healthier than juices. Of course smoothies can also be junk food (Go sit in the corner, Jamba Juice) but if you do it right, they are low in sugar and high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. By contrast, juices have no fiber and unless we’re talking straight spinach and celery juice, they are basically just a big ol’ glass of sugar water.
Smoothies are perfect for breakfast, but also snacks and even dessert when you’re craving something ice-cream-y but you’re supposed to not be eating so much ice cream because it’s making your pants not fit anymore. They are super fast and probably everyone in the world has time to throw a smoothie together in the morning, but if you really need those extra five minutes in the AM you can put all the ingredients in a blender jar before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge overnight, and then whiz it all up together while you’re waiting for the coffee to brew. Voila.
Here’s a basic primer on smoothie ingredients so you can start making up your own smoothie recipes. My volume suggestions will make smoothies of approximate 16 ounce size, good for one hearty serving or two kid-size smoothies. Below I’ve also linked several smoothie recipes from this site and others in case you’re not quite feeling up to the task yet of throwing a bunch of stuff in the blender to see what happens.
Healthy Smoothie Bases
These are the liquids on which you’ll build your smoothie. I offer starting points for measurements ranging from a half-cup to a whole cup, based on personal preference, but as you experiment you will discover your own preferred smoothie consistency.
Milk, Dairy or Non-Dairy: I’m lumping all these together since it doesn’t make a big difference flavor-wise which you use and there are too many opinions on which is healthiest so I’ll refrain from making any arguments on that point. Cow milk, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, flax milk, pretty sure there are others in existence, too. They all work the same in a smoothie. Be aware that unless labeled “unsweetened”, most non-dairy milks have some sugar added. Start with a cup per smoothie.
Coconut Milk: Coconut is one of the very few non-animal sources of saturated fat, and as such, doesn’t contain cholesterol like animal fats. Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which have been shown in some studies to aid weight loss (1). Coconut milk is pressed from the meat of coconuts and is available in cans or BPA-free paper cartons (affiliate link) in either full-fat or low-fat options. If you’re watching your saturated fat intake, go for low-fat coconut milk. Whichever variety you choose, make sure to shake well before opening the container and store leftover coconut milk in the fridge (transfer to a clean jar first so you can re-shake it next time). Because it’s a little sweet, I like coconut milk as a base for snacks or “dessert smoothies”. Start with a half-cup per smoothie plus an additional half-cup of milk or water.
Coconut Water: Coconut water is enjoying its time in the sun lately, touted as a hangover cure and natural sports drink. It’s the liquid found inside a coconut shell. It tastes slightly sour with heavy coconut aroma and is high in potassium, low in sugar, and free of fat. It’s a good option for a light smoothie, for dieters or those wanting to eat “clean” (whatever that means to you). I like it with some greens and a few frozen berries for a smoothie that’s thin enough to drink through a straw, almost a juice. I also just like to drink it very cold, on its own, for a pick-me-up on a hot-ass day in Texas. Start with 3/4 cup.
Yogurt or Kefir: Use about a cup of yogurt or kefir per smoothie. Personally, I love the tanginess of plain, unsweetened yogurt or kefir, but you can use any sweetened fruity variety, too. If you’re unfamiliar with it, kefir is a fermented dairy product similar to yogurt, but thinner (think Go-Gurt, without the weird colors and flavors) and sometimes slightly effervescent as a result of the fermentation. It’s so low in lactose that often people with lactose intolerance can still drink kefir. For my breakfast smoothies, I almost always use one of these as a base to get some calcium and protein (11-15 grams of protein per cup depending on the brand). If you can find it, try full-fat yogurt and kefir made from grass-fed dairy cows for a dose of healthy fats that will keep you full longer between breakfast and lunch. Start with a half-cup of either, plus a half-cup of water or milk.
Juices: You can use fruit juice as a base for a smoothie, but for me it’s too sweet. If you insist, however, make sure to get a juice marked 100% juice, no “cranberry juice cocktail” or “grape-flavored beverage”. Look at the ingredients to make sure it’s just juice. Even so, a cup of juice is gonna have around 25 grams of sugar per cup. That’s kind of a lot, so if you really want to use juice, just use a half-cup maybe? That’s my suggestion, but I’m not the boss of your smoothie operation.
Best Smoothie Additions
These are the yummies you can add to your smoothie base. Pick a fruit (or two) plus a green (if you like) plus any other nutritional boosters or flavorings you think sound good!
Tip: Fresh or frozen fruits both work in smoothies. I prefer frozen in most cases because it takes the place of ice cubes to chill and thicken the smoothie. If using all fresh fruit, you may want to add 3-4 ice cubes to the blender, too, for a colder, slushier smoothie.
Pick One to Three:
Bananas, fresh or frozen: About 15 years ago, I had a roommate who was faced with a bunch of overripe bananas. She asked me what to do with them. I told her to freeze them to make smoothies later. She froze them, alright. A few days later I came into the kitchen to see her standing over the sink, vegetable peeler in one hand, and whole, unpeeled, rock-solid frozen banana in the other. She had literally put the entire bunch of bananas in the freezer upon my command. Come on, Amelia Bedelia! So I’ll be more specific this time. Peel ripe bananas and break each one into 3 or 4 chunks; place in a freezer bag and press the air out. Freeze overnight. If chunks stick together just whack the (still-closed) bag on the counter to break them up. Use a whole banana or 3-4 frozen banana chunks per smoothie to add creamy texture, vitamins and minerals, and to chill the smoothie.
Berries: Frozen berries are choice for smoothies because they are typically cheaper than fresh berries, they last longer, and they take the place of ice to chill and thicken your smoothie. If you’re watching your sugar intake, blackberries, strawberries and blueberries are the lowest in fructose. If that’s not a concern, cherries and raspberries are also delicious and easy to find frozen. Use a half-cup of frozen berries and up to a whole cup of fresh berries. (Adding more than a half-cup of frozen berries will make your smoothie very thick and you’ll have to add more liquid.)
Greens (kale, spinach): If you have a hard time getting enough green leafy vegetables in your daily diet, add a handful of them to your smoothie. Kale and spinach are the best tasting. I suggest washing a bunch at the start of the week and keeping it in the fridge for easy access. If you have problems with kidney stones, you may want to limit your intake of spinach. Use a cup of packed leaves.
Oats: Oats are one of the best, most underutilized smoothie ingredients. For some complex carbs and soluble fiber, just add a half-cup or so of rolled oats (quick or old fashioned) to any smoothie along with an extra 1/4 cup of liquid. Blend until smooth. Now that’s a hearty smoothie that even a lumberjack could appreciate!
Peach: I love peaches in smoothies because I hate eating peaches. The fuzzy skin gives me the willies and makes me gag, but in a smoothie I love the flavor of peaches. Nectarines are great, too, and no fuzz to deal with. Frozen peaches are fine but if it’s peach season, nothing beats the luxury of a slightly overripe peach or nectarine blended up with yogurt and bananas. Use a whole fresh peach or half-cup frozen sliced peaches.
Pineapple: Another of my favorite smoothie fruits, pineapple goes great with banana, coconut, yogurt or kefir, and it disguises kale and spinach really well. I always use fresh pineapple, but frozen will do. Use a half-cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks. Check out this post for how to pick out a good pineapple and how to cut a pineapple.
Choose a couple of these “boosters” to add flavor and nutrition.
Pick One to Three:
Chia Seed: Yes, it’s the same chia seed you remember from your Chia Pet. Who knew all this time we were goofing off with a nutritional bombshell?! Chia seeds are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are the good ones thought to reduce risk of heart disease. Add a tablespoon or so to any smoothie.
Cocoa Powder: Combined with honey or maple syrup, cocoa powder is super delicious in a “dessert smoothie”. Cocoa goes especially well in berry smoothies and coconut smoothies, and with nuts. Add a tablespoon of it, along with one or two teaspoons of your sweetener of choice.
Coconut flakes, unsweetened: These can be used in place of coconut milk if you want a little coconuttiness in your smoothie. Sometimes labeled “coconut chips”, add a couple tablespoons or so to a smoothie for some healthy fats and flavor.
Flax Seed: Another, more well-known, source of omega-3 fatty acids, flax seeds are usually cheaper than chia seeds but they also have a slightly “fishy” flavor that you might find off-putting. I don’t mind it, but I’m not a super taster, either. Golden flax seed and regular brown flax seeds are available and they are the same as far as flavor and nutrition. One caveat: Don’t buy ground flax seed. Once the hard shell is broken and the fatty insides are exposed to oxygen, the oils in flax quickly go rancid and that’s bad for tastebuds and free radical formation. Whole flax seeds will grind up just fine in your blender on high speed. Add a tablespoon or so to each smoothie.
Honey: Use raw, local honey to help guard you from seasonal allergies. Depending on how sweet you like it, and what fruits you might be adding to your smoothie, use a teaspoon or more of honey per smoothie. I find that the honey flavor goes well in any smoothie. Don’t give honey to babies under one year old, though, because there’s a small risk of botulism. Honey is also not suitable for vegans, but maple syrup is!
Maple Syrup: Maple syrup goes really nicely with cocoa, bananas and coconut. It’s vegan and also has a smattering of minerals in it, though you’ll only be using a small amount. Start with a teaspoon and go from there.
Nutritional Yeast: Vegans are familiar with this vegetarian source of B-vitamins. It’s a deactivated yeast (so you can’t make bread with it and it’s not going to fizz up when you add warm water) that you should be able to find in any health food store, sold as flakes or powder. Either one works. It has a nutty/cheesy/umami flavor that I think complements tangy yogurt and floral honey absolutely wonderfully in a smoothie. If you’re new to this, buy a small bag from the bulk section and just add a teaspoon to your smoothies at first. Eventually you might graduate to a whole tablespoon like me!
Nuts and Seeds: It may seem weird, but a couple tablespoons of raw almonds, cashews, or sesame seeds in a smoothie is really quite lovely. They add body and richness, a good dose of minerals and healthy fats, and you can have a ton of fun trying different flavor combinations. Banana with almonds; cherries or strawberries with cashews; papaya and coconut with sesame seeds. Almond butter and peanut butter are also nice additions, 1-2 tablespoons per smoothie.
Protein Powder: So many varieties here, but the one we use is a grass-fed whey protein powder (affiliate link). In the past, we’ve also used this vegan protein powder (affiliate link) that tastes pretty good. There’s all kinds, derived from all things, in all flavors. If adding protein to your diet is important, I suggest trying a few different protein powders until you find one you like. Grocery stores will often sell small single-serve packs of some brands they carry which is a cheap way to try a few before you decide on one you like. Follow the package directions for one serving size.
Spices: Don’t be afraid to spice it up! Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger all make yummy additions to smoothies. Start with a shake or a dash to add a warming element to a cold yogurt or milk smoothie, or to add a tropical element to a coconut milk smoothie.
Vanilla Extract: Adding a teaspoon of vanilla to any recipe is an age-old dieter’s trick to make things taste sweeter than they really are. Adding a teaspoon to your banana/yogurt/honey smoothie practically makes the damn thing taste like banana cream pie in a glass.
15 Smoothie Recipes
Paradise Smoothie (MadBetty)
Green Smoothies (FullandContent)
Sweet Pecan Green Smoothie (JenniferPierceHealth)
Superfood Detox Smoothie (NeatandNutritious)
Green Smoothie with Avocado (ForksUpBlog)
Creamy Cranberry Orange Smoothie (TheFitFork)
Pumpkin Seed Strawberry Shake (Food-Mouth)
Orange Creamsicle Smoothie (LocalSavour)
Pumpkin Spice Smoothie (NatalieParamore)Print
Peach Banana Flax Smoothie
- Yield: 1
- 1/2 cup plain or peach-flavored kefir
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 3-4 frozen banana chunks
- 1 peach or nectarine, pitted and cubed
- 1 tablespoon flax seeds
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (less if you are new to this flavor)
- 1 teaspoon honey, optional
- Combine all in a blender and process until smooth and creamy.
- Calories: 292
- Sugar: 35
- Fat: 4.8
- Carbohydrates: 48
- Protein: 14
(1) Dietary Medium-Chain Triacylglycerols Suppress Accumulation of Body Fat in a Double-Blind, Controlled Trial in Healthy Men and Women http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/11/2853.long