Smoothies can be glorified milkshakes, no doubt. Or they can be a source of easy-to-digest fuel for your muscles. With these ingredients, in the right combination, you can ensure your smoothies are the latter.
Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D, and Jim White, R.D., highlight the best natural ingredients you can pick.
A smoothie sans banana is hardly a smoothie at all. Frozen or soft, bananas deliver a touch of sweetness and a creamy, dessert-like texture.
They'll also boost your health: “Bananas are full of potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6," says Zuckerbrot. Vitamin B6 is important for healthy brain function and keeping your immune system strong.
Raspberries are a great addition. These little berries are low in sugar—about 5g per cup—and are full of fiber—about 8g per cup.
“They are loaded with potassium, vitamin C, and antioxidants,” says Zuckerbrot. Pair this fruit with your choice of protein, and you’ve got yourself an anti-aging, cancer-fighting, and muscle-building snack (or meal) on the go.
This superfood may be a little foreign, but it’s worth getting familiar with. Spirulina is a type of green-blue algae that’s rich in, well, almost everything: protein, omega-3s, B vitamins, zinc, iron, beta carotene—the list goes on.
“It remains a controversial green because of its toxin-containing microcystins, which can absorb heavy metals from the water it is grown in," Zuckerbrot cautions. "However, not to worry so long as you buy your spirulina from a trusted brand.”
Follow Popeye's lead and look to spinach—green smoothies are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They’re one of the best ways to fast-track tons of nutrients into your system. Spinach is a standout pick when it comes to blending up the perfect green drink.
It’s full of a compound called lutein, which promotes healthy eyesight. “It also provides almost 200% of the daily recommended value of vitamin K, which is essential for bone health,” says Zuckerbrot. This leafy green also contains more iron than most of its similarly hued competitors. If you’re cutting back on meat, spinach is a great alternative when it comes to getting more iron into your diet.
Beets in a smoothie? You bet. Beetroots boast anti-inflammatory properties and are high in iron, folate, and B vitamins. What's more, you get 442mg of potassium and nearly 4g of fiber in a single cup.
“Iron is better absorbed when consumed with citrus, so I suggest pairing beets with fruits like oranges or a squeeze of lemon to increase the absorption of nutrients,” says Zuckerbrot.
Though peanut butter is definitely a diet-friendly choice, almond butter has got it beat this time around.
“Almond butter has more iron, vitamin E, and calcium than peanut butter," says Jim White, R.D. "It’s also rich in monounsaturated fat and has less saturated fat than peanut butter, which is important for people with high cholesterol.” Almond butter also helps keep your hunger pangs at bay due to its high protein and fiber content.
No shake is complete without a hefty dose of protein, and you’ve got quite a few options here.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with whey. It’s high in protein, low in carbs, and contains essential amino acids that facilitate muscle growth. However, pea protein is making its way onto the scene as a worthy non-dairy alternative. “It contains the same benefits as whey protein—high protein, low carb, contains essential amino acids—and is a good alternative for vegetarians and vegans,” says Zuckerbrot.
Another protein champion: Greek yogurt. It has twice the protein of regular yogurt, and packs 187mg of calcium in each serving. Bonus: Greek yogurt delivers a nice creamy texture that will make your power shake feel like a treat.
Vegetables, fruit, and supplements usually steal the spotlight when it comes to creating a dynamite shake, but don’t forget about potent spices like cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a sweet, versatile spice that goes great in any smoothie. “Studies have shown that cinnamon regulates blood sugar, which makes it a great choice for diabetics or anyone suffering with hypoglycemia. It also reduces LDL cholesterol," says Zuckerbrot. “If you’re looking for sweetness, add 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon to get a warm, sweet flavor in your smoothie without adding sugar.”
Sprinkle a small spoonful of chia seeds onto your smoothie and voila: You’ve got a superfood smoothie.
These tiny seeds pack a major punch when it comes to their nutritional stats. They’re a great source of heart-healthy omega-3s and also pack 10g of fiber per 2 tablespoon serving. Research suggests that consuming chia seeds may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
When crafting the perfect smoothie, milks like almond, soy, and coconut are great substitutes for dairy.
They tend to be a little creamier than regular milk and come with their own list of health benefits, including increased calcium absorption. Of the three, soymilk packs the most protein. “Always opt for the unsweetened variety to save on calories and carbohydrates," says Zuckerbrot.