In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long discusses smoothies and whether to pass or blender up...
Thank you for the nutrition information you are putting out, as I get a lot from it. I’ve made several changes. I’ve been reading for a while and maybe I missed it, but have you covered smoothies yet? Are they as healthy as the media would have us think? Because they are plant based and my kids love them. But the ones we make at home never taste quite like the ones at the juice store, so do you also have recipes? If you’ve covered this before, maybe just send me the article?
Thanks so much! Elizabeth from Barrie
Thank you for writing in! I think this question is one a lot of people are unclear on - especially as it pertains to the lower carb health movement. Let me see if I can shed some light on the issue.
First of all, smoothies is a very broad term. If we are talking about ‘Juicy Juicy Whatnot’ you get at the mall, most certainly the answer is no. Juice bar smoothies typically have as their base a sweetened frozen yogurt, sweetened sorbet, or dairy, to which they add concentrated extracts from fruit and often some fresh or frozen fruit and ice. Sometimes veggies or a protein or a superfood are included, but these are optional.
The problem is that, although they have nutrients, these shakes are very high in sugars - from the sweetener, the fruit, and the concentrates, which of course, is why they’re so tasty! But it doesn’t make them the healthiest choice. The current most pressing health condition in our communities is out of control blood sugar and all the downstream health problems that creates. As such, I can’t recommend these smoothies.
There are a few other reasons as well. Did you notice the number of real food ingredients versus very heavily processed or artificial ingredients in these smoothies? It’s best to make smoothies with real fruit, unsweetened liquid as a base, and the highest quality protein and nutrient sources. For these reasons, homemade smoothies are a better choice. They can be full of nutrients, lower in sugar, and much healthier, while being super easy to make on the run.
But do they taste good? The answer is yes, they can, but it takes time and a little skill to learn how to make combinations you love. My suggestion is to get a small, dollar store notepad to keep beside the blender so you can write down ingredients and portions as you go, so when you have that eureka moment and create that perfect mix, you don’t immediately lose it again!
There are some very simple hacks to make sure your smoothie is nutritious, has a nice consistency, and blends well. Here is what you need to add, in the order it should be added:
1. Add your liquid: The sure fire way to blow a blender is add the solids before the liquids - especially if the solids are frozen or dense! Let’s skip that part and go right to success! If you want an 8 oz container, I tend to use 4oz of liquid, as the solids and blending add to the volume. Then if it needs more liquid, you add it at the end and pulse. If you want a larger smoothie cup, like 16 oz, you can use about 8oz of liquid. Experiment with your ingredients to find what works, but I find this is my rule of thumb. The best low sugar liquids for a smoothie are:
Milk: dairy, goat, sheep, coconut, almond, or other
Coffee or tea: strong, cooled tea or coffee of any kind (with no sweetener)
Kefir: water or milk or coconut kefir
2. Add your protein: Protein is foundational to a healthy smoothie, not optional. Protein has a stabilizing effect on mood and helps us stay sharp and focused during the day. It’s necessary for so many things in the body, including neurotransmitters, enzymes, and all muscle tissue. It’s the perfect base for every smoothie. You want to add 1.5 scoops of protein for a large shake, and 1 scoop for a small one. Some protein options are:
Hemp protein powder (sugar free)
Cricket meal (you need a very small amount of this -maybe 1-2 tbsp)
Eggs - I can’t recommend raw eggs, but some people use them anyway. There are protein powders made with egg protein, and it’s a very good source. It’s preferable with yolk vs without for health purposes.
3. Add your fat if you want some: Healthy fats help make smoothies feel smooth and creamy and make the ingredients hold together better. Some healthy fats include:
Coconut oil (a super healthy MCT fat - boost metabolism - melt it first)
Hemp oil (high in omega’s - use sparingly because of taste)
Chia seeds (high in omega 3’s)
Avocado (monounsaturated fat - normalizes cholesterol)
4. Add your veggies or superfood powder if you want some:
Green leafy veggies can make your smoothie bitter unless you’re light with them, but you can also get veggie powders to add to smoothies to give them an antioxidant boost without the bitter flavour. This one has a pleasant flavour and adds 6-8 servings of veggies to your smoothie for every little scoop (Costco also has it). Other superfoods you can add include:
Collagen is technically a complex protein, so it’s listed as a protein source also, but it can be added to smoothies in addition to other proteins for added benefit. It comes as a whitish powder and doesn’t change the flavour of the shake much.
Maca root is a superfood that helps the body adapt to stressors. It’s a particular type of herb called an adaptogen. Medicinal mushrooms and herbs like schizandra and ashwagandha also fit in this category. You can get maca and medicinal mushrooms in powder form that make them easy to add to smoothies. You don’t need very much.
Triphala powder is a blend of herbs from Ayurvedic medicine that have particular esteem as balancing to the entire body. It can help with inflammation, immunity, and especially digestive problems. You only need a little!
5. Add your fruit or sweetener if you want some: The sweetener that I recommend the most is whole earth. If you’re searching for any of the natural sweeteners like xylitol and stevia and erythritol, try going to see Nancy at Nancy’s Nifty Nook in Bradford. Adding a bit of vanilla extract also makes a smoothie taste sweeter (Nancy will have the real stuff, too!) and you can also add ½ to ¾ cup of fresh, unsweetened fruit to the smoothie. If you’re on a low carb diet I would suggest limiting this to frozen, unsweetened berries.
When you make smoothies this way, placing the ingredients in the blender in this order, you will get great results. If your fruit is fresh, you may want to add some ice at the end to get that thick texture. For richness, remember your fat! You can experiment with extracts like almond and mint to come up with neat flavours, too. Some ideas are:
Chocolate mint raspberry with 4oz milk, chocolate protein powder, 2 tbsp cacao powder, 1 tsp mint extract, 2 packets sweetener, and ¾ cup frozen raspberries.
Coconut chai tea with 1 cup coconut milk chai tea, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tsp triphala powder, 1-2 packet sweetener, and 1 cup ice.
Green blueberry with 4 oz milk, 1 scoop collagen powder, 1 scoop greens powder, 1 tsp triphala powder, and a full cup of frozen blueberries.
Mocha almond latte with 4oz strong coffee, 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1 tbsp melted coconut oil, 1 tsp almond essence, 2 packets sweetener, and ¾ cup ice .
Watermelon, mango, strawberry with chia and collagen protein. 4 oz coconut milk, 1 cup watermelon, ½ cup fresh mango, ¼ cup frozen strawberries, 1 scoop collagen powder, and ½ cup ice. It’s very refreshing topped with a few mint leaves in summer. Summer! Can you imagine?
Thank you, Elizabeth, for writing in. As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them! Just send me an email. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website at nonienutritionista.com. I provide 1:1 health coaching and several group classes, including a weekend KETO workshop and a 6 week sugar detox. Next weekend is a small, hands-on fermenting class! Sign up for my newsletter to get event info and new recipes sent to your inbox.
Namaste! Nonie Nutritionista
Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative health care for physical and mental health issues. Check out her website here.
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