Do you have trouble fitting enough fruits and veggies into your diet? You’re not alone: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 33 percent of adults meet the national recommendation for fruit consumption and only 27 percent get the recommended servings of vegetables.
While you certainly could steam up some broccoli and slice up an apple to boost your daily intake, another option is to try blending your fruits and veggies into a smoothie and drinking them up! Smoothies can be a quick, healthy option for breakfast or a snack, and while you may think of smoothies as a warm-weather treat, they can actually be an excellent choice year-round.
Before you run off to your local smoothie shop and order a jumbo-sized smoothie, you should know that all smoothies are not created equal. According to Parul Kharod, clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital, the vast majority of restaurant smoothies are more of a “sometime treat” rather than a daily indulgence.
“I checked out nutrition information from Planet Smoothie, Jamba Juice and Dairy Queen,” she said. “Most of the smoothies range from 250 to 500 calories with the average sugar amount of 40-70 grams in a small serving.” Even veggie-based drinks like the “Apples & Greens” smoothie from Jamba Juice, which claims to include a day’s worth of green veggies, contains 40 grams of sugar in the small 16-oz. size.
If you have to choose a smoothie from a restaurant, be picky — find one with fewer than 20 grams of sugar and at least some protein in it, although Kharod admits that finding a smoothie to fit those requirements can be tough. Swapping out the small for a kid-size cup or splitting it with a friend can make for a more reasonable indulgence.
Your best bet, however, is to make your own smoothies at home. Making your own smoothies also means the sky’s the limit when it comes to flavor and ingredient combinations. And with a few simple tips, you can get a smoothie that’s as smooth and delicious as one bought at a restaurant.
“For people who do not enjoy vegetables, mixing them into the smoothie may be a great way to add them to your daily diet,” said Kharod. If you want to use greens in your smoothie (you should, since they pack a great nutritional punch that can be hidden in the sweetness of the fruit), you don’t have to have a fancy high-powered blender to get the smoothness you seek.
Anna Maria Stimpson, with Whole Foods, recommends starting your smoothie by choosing your greens — she prefers organic baby greens like spinach or kale for their less-bitter flavor profile — and loosely packing them into the blender. Once the blender is full of greens, toss in about a cup of liquid. Stimpson notes that water can be a great liquid in a smoothie since it contains no calories or fat, but her favorite is about ½ cup of unsweetened coconut milk and ½ cup chocolate almond milk for some added sweetness. Once you’ve added your liquid of choice, blend away.
“This is how to blend greens smooth,” said Stimpson. “If they are added later or combined with anything, they tend to be in little bits instead of a smooth liquid.”
Once your greens are thoroughly blended, it’s time to add fruit. Stimpson recommends adding half fresh fruit and half frozen, but the choices are your own. Kharod adds that even dried fruits like dates and figs can be used for added sweetness, but just keep your total fruit amount to about 1 cup.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to flavor combinations for smoothies. Stimpson uses smoothies as a way to use up any too-ripe fruit or veggies nearing the end of their usability. One combo she often uses is fresh banana, frozen organic blueberries, frozen organic strawberries and a few fresh or frozen organic cherries. She said that most times, she doesn’t use an exact recipe, just follows the technique of first blending the greens and then adding fruit, using whatever produce she has on hand.
Consider adding low-fat plain or vanilla yogurt, 1% milk, nuts, natural nut butters or even protein powder to boost your smoothie’s protein power. If you prefer to add a powdered protein, Kharod recommends choosing a simple one and avoiding those labeled as “shake mixes,” as they generally contain added ingredients. Keep in mind that almond milk, rice milk and coconut milk generally contain very little protein, so while they can be used as a liquid in your smoothie, you should not consider them a source of protein, said Kharod.
Power Up Your Smoothie
Kharod suggests experimenting with smoothie add-ins like avocado, ground flax seeds or chia seeds, which can add healthy fats, protein and fiber. And Stimpson adds that even leftover brown rice or oatmeal can make great nutrient-dense additions to a smoothie.
In the end, the important thing to remember is that smoothies don’t require a complex recipe or an expensive blender. “Smoothies don’t have to be complicated with a ton of ingredients,” said Kharod. Just balance your carbs and protein and you have the makings of a quick and easy balanced meal and an easy way to get in those fruits and veggies you’ve been neglecting.