The 4 Essential Ingredients For Healthy Smoothies

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Whether you're looking for a healthy meal replacement or craving a thirst-quenching afternoon snack, smoothies are often the ideal beverage for summer sipping. And they're especially good for people who typically don't get their five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

"Smoothies are a great way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake," says Ashlee Carnahan, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health System. "You can sneak in vegetables like spinach and a fruit like bananas can mask the color and flavor."

The Makings of a Healthier Smoothie

Smoothies can certainly help you meet your nutrient needs. In addition to packing satisfying, tasty ingredients, they can amp up the fiber, vitamins and minerals in your diet. The key, of course, is making sure your smoothie packs plenty of nutrition without adding too many calories and too much sugar.

Here are a few critical ingredients to consider for your next smoothie.

1. Protein: Protein is essential for helping our bodies function and help keep us feeling full. It can come from several sources, including:

  • Nut butter
  • Flaxseeds or chia seeds
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Silken tofu
  • Legumes (like chickpeas)

Of course, you can also add protein powder, but Carnahan prefers more natural sources. "I always push food first," she says.

2. Antioxidant-rich produce: Fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients, including fiber and antioxidants. "Good smoothies include as many vegetables as possible, along with fruit," Carnahan says. When possible, opt for fruits and vegetables that are fresh and in season for the greatest nutritional punch. 

3. Healthy fat: Consider adding a source of healthy fats  to your smoothie. Nuts, seeds, avocado and low-fat dairy are all solid choices.

4. Ice: Tossing a handful of ice cubes into your blender adds volume to your drink. The end result: A larger smoothie, which means more sipping time and more hydration.

One ingredient to avoid: added sweetener. Honey, agave, maple syrup and coconut sugar, as well as sweetened plant-based milks  and yogurt, can add unnecessary sugar and calories. Just one or two servings of fruit like bananas, peaches or berries will make a tasty smoothie.

Getting Savvy With Smoothies

Homemade smoothies with seasonal produce and no added sweetener boast a significantly different nutrient profile from those you purchase at a store or smoothie shop, which tend to rely on juices, sorbets and sweeteners. "Some store-bought smoothies contain more calories and sugar than a bowl of ice cream," Carnahan says.

Whether store-bought or homemade, it's important to realize that smoothies can pack a ton of fruit, which can easily add up to four or five servings of carbohydrates. "If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, you have to be careful about the amount of sugar and carbs in your smoothie," Carnahan says.


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To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Ashlee Carnahan is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Henry Ford Health System who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital.

Categories: EatWell