Build a Better Smoothie

Look beyond fruit to greens and other nutrients for a tasty, healthy smoothie meal on the go.

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After teaching her early morning class, yoga teacher Kathryn Budig comes home and heads for the blender to make her morning smoothie—a frothy green concoction that includes ingredients such as banana, avocado, parsley, lime, ginger, and spinach, plus a spoonful of flax seed oil and protein powder. “Avocado adds an amazing creaminess, and lime and ginger give it a refreshing kick. It’s my favorite start to the day,” she says.

Ideally suited to fuel health-conscious eaters with fast-paced lives, a morning smoothie is a fast, portable, vitamin-packed breakfast. And if you choose the right ingredients, your morning smoothie is a great opportunity to get a jumpstart on the nutrients your body needs for the day.

Varying your ingredients and making sure to include fat and protein as well as fresh fruits and vegetables will keep you from falling into a smoothie rut and ensure that you’re getting a balanced breakfast that will keep you steady throughout the morning. “The beauty of smoothies is they can always change,” says Budig. “I have a green staple, and then I play from there with tropical fruits, grapefruit, and even cacao nibs!”

In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a smoothie, as long as you keep a few key rules in mind. Here’s how to build a sensational smoothie from the blade up.

Start With a Splash

No matter what else you’re putting in your smoothie, start with a liquid as your base. For a single-serving smoothie, use about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid, says Pat Crocker, author of The Smoothies Bible, which offers creative smoothie blends using everything from chia seeds to radishes. Protein-rich organic cow’s milk; unsweetened almond, oat, coconut, or hemp milk; vegetable juices; and water are all great choices for a liquid base. A little fruit juice can be a flavorful addition, but since fruit juice is high in concentrated sugars, use it sparingly or in combination with another liquid such as coconut water, which contains potassium and other electrolytes.

Choose Main Ingredients

Fruit is often the backbone of smoothies, adding antioxidants, fiber, and sweetness. Frozen fruit makes a thick, frosty smoothie, so keep your freezer stocked with berries, particularly blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries, which have the highest levels of antioxidants. Bananas add body and sweetness to your smoothie, while fruits like kiwi and pineapple add a pleasing acidity.

But don’t limit yourself to simply berries and other fruit. Stemmed leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, arugula, and romaine lettuce; parsley, cilantro, and other herbs; and fresh sprouts all purée nicely in a blender and can either serve as the main ingredient or work in combination with fruit. Crocker suggests aiming for 1 to 1/2 cups chopped fruits and veggies, depending on how thick you want your smoothie.

Add Enrichment

Fruits and vegetables should make up the bulk of your smoothie, but if you stop there, you’re missing out. Add ingredients with additional protein and fat to make your smoothie more filling and reduce spikes in blood sugar for balanced energy throughout the morning. Protein also rebuilds muscle tissue post-practice. Try adding Greek-style yogurt; it contains twice the protein of traditional types. Cottage cheese and silken soft tofu are other protein-rich options. Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados and nut butters, boost the absorption of many of the vitamins in fruits and vegetables. As an added bonus, all of these ingredients give your smoothie a rich, creamy texture.

Boost Power

Before you hit “blend,” look to the pantry to give your smoothie an extra boost. A scoop of whey, hemp, or other protein powder will give your smoothie more substance; a spoonful of freeze-dried superfruit powder, cocoa powder, or matcha green tea will up the antioxidant content; chia seeds or a few tablespoons of ground flax seed or flaxseed oil will give you more healthy fats. Good old-fashioned wheat germ has vital vitamins and minerals, including folate, magnesium, and immune-boosting zinc. And don’t overlook whole foods such as sunflower seeds, sliced nuts, and unsweetened flaked coconut, which can add flavor and character to your smoothie, in addition to making it a healthier morning meal.

Tips and Tricks

  • Pat Crocker, author of The Smoothies Bible, advises adding your liquid to the blender first, followed by soft produce such as bananas or spinach, and then gradually harder items such as frozen fruits. Powdery items should be added directly to the liquid so they can start dissolving. To keep ingredients like nut butters from sticking to the sides of the container, add them after you blend the other ingredients.
  • When blending sturdier ingredients such as nuts or kale, let your blender run for up to three minutes for a smoother smoothie. If things get stuck, add a little more liquid.
  • After you pour your smoothie, run a little warm water in your blender to make cleanup easier.
  • Let one or two flavors dominate your smoothie, and keep the number of ingredients at five to eight.
  • Slicing fruits or vegetables into small, uniform pieces makes them easier to purée and puts less strain on your blender’s motor.

Matt Kadey is a Canadian-based registered dietitian and nutrition writer. His cookbook, Muffin Tin Chef, was released in April 2012.

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