Smoothies are often treated as health food, but they can easily turn into sugar bombs. While pureeing ingredients helps to break cell walls and free up more nutrients, their liquid form makes it very easy to consume a lot of sugar and calories in one sitting. If you’re a devoted smoothie-drinker, there are five simple ingredients that can help make your favorite breakfast a bit healthier:
Oats are a great source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, especially a soluble fiber called beta glucan. Beta glucan can help keep blood sugar levels stable, blunting some of the impact of high-glycemic fruits. It also helps provide a sense of satiety, maintains a healthy gut biome, and lowers cholesterol. Research into beta glucan shows that consuming oat fiber with a statin was as effective as doubling the dose of the statin.
Chia seeds are high in calories, but they have a big nutritional payoff. Like oats, they’re a great source of fiber — as much as 83% of their carbohydrate content is fiber alone. They are also the best plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which many people don’t get enough of in their regular diets. Chia is about 19% protein, making them a good source of amino acids. As far as vitamins and minerals go, they contain manganese, copper, selenium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Since they absorb water and develop a thick, gel-like consistency, they are great at providing a sense of fullness. They can also be used to make smoothies thicker.
3. Natural nut and seed butters
Nuts are a great source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, but they don’t blend very well in a smoothie. That’s what makes natural nut butters so great — they provide all of the same health benefits as nuts, but in a vehicle that blends easily. The trick here is to choose a type without added sugar, salt, or hydrogenated fats, and not add too much. While nut butters are good for you, their fat content makes them very calorie dense.
Those with nut allergies should go for sunflower, soy, or sesame-based butters instead. Like nut butters, they’re great sources of protein, fiber, and fats, but without the allergens.
Avocados are rich in healthy fats and fiber, and provide potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Best of all, the type of fats found in avocados do help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. They’re great for blending with other healthy, flavorful ingredients — since they’re flavor-neutral, they take on the taste of whatever they’re mixed with, and their fat content makes it easier for the body to absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A and D.
Like nut butters, the fat content of avocados makes them pretty calorie dense. Nutritionists recommend only adding 1/4-1/2 of an avocado to a meal, and not eating more than one whole avocado per day.
It might sound a bit unusual, but cauliflower florets make a great addition to smoothies. Pureed cauliflower can make smoothies creamy without adding extra fat, provides fiber, and adds lots of vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium. Since it’s a cruciferous vegetable, it contains phytochemicals associated with a decreased risk of cancer. It has a very mild flavor, so it takes on the taste of whatever it’s blended with. This makes it a great addition to smoothies for kids or picky eaters.
One easy way to add this vegetable to smoothies is to keep a bag of riced cauliflower in the freezer. It’ll be easy to measure out and will make smoothies cold without watering them down the way ice would.
Smoothies are a quick, tasty breakfast that are great for busy people, but many of them aren’t as nutritious as they might seem. Adding a few of these ingredients can help improve the texture and nutrition profile of a smoothie, without contributing a lot of unnecessary extra sugar.