Healthy smoothies aren’t necessarily hard to make. You just throw some stuff into a blender, pulse it for a completely arbitrary amount of time, and then pour out a semi-liquid slurry of nutrients that you can slam down in half the time it would take to actually chew and swallow solid food. Right?
But our relationship with smoothies is complicated. Especially when it comes to figuring out how to make a healthy smoothie. We tend to overestimate how healthy smoothies are because, hey, there’s fruit in there! And maybe even…vegetables!
In reality, smoothies can go very wrong in a variety of ways, from tasting like a bag of grass clippings to bombing your system with more sugar and calories than a full-blown hot fudge sundae. (A medium hot fudge sundae at Dairy Queen is 430 calories and 52 grams of sugar. A medium Aloha Pineapple Smoothie at Jamba Juice is 410 calories and 90 grams of sugar… some of which is fruit and dairy sugar, and some of which is sherbet.)
Luckily, I’m here to help. Here’s a list of some of the best and worst things you can put in that blender you made your partner buy you last holiday season and haven’t used since.
The Best Healthy Smoothie Ingredients
These are the all-stars. Not only are they healthy, but they’ll trick your brain into thinking that you’re drinking something that should be off-limits. These are the smoothie heroes.
If a smoothie is a salad, then peanut butter would be the croutons. Peanut butter smoothies are not only delicious, peanut butter is the MVP of a smoothie because it has the ability to mask the taste of just about any healthy ingredient you stuff into your blender. Hate the taste of kale? Cover it right up with some pb! Add crunchy peanut butter to give your healthy smoothie some texture, or use powdered peanut butter to save yourself roughly 143 calories and 14.5 grams of fat per two tablespoon serving.
If you’re making a healthy smoothie, you’re better off opting for natural peanut butter, the kind you have to stir and make a mess all over your counter. You can use sunflower butter if you want a similar taste without the peanuts, or you could use cashew butter if you want something that tastes incredible, but costs as much per jar as your peanut butter budget for the year.
Starting with mixed berries is a typical smoothie rookie mistake. After all, those strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff. They’re also filled with seeds, which can make drinking your smoothie about as pleasant as downing a tumbler full of really cold gravel. Blueberries, on the other hand, give you lots of berry benefits, like carotenoids, flavonoids, and 36% DV of vitamins K without jamming seeds so far into your gums that you get a tongue cramp trying to pry them out during your morning meeting.
Look, at some point, you’re going to have to put some other healthy stuff in your smoothie and kale is a great option. It adds a slight bitter taste, which I think actually like with the salty peanut butter and the sweet berries. Plus, it gives you fiber, 684% DV of vitamin K, and loads of vitamins A and C.
But, most importantly, you get to post on Instagram about the fact that you’re eating kale. In fact, it’s literally against the law in some states to eat kale without alerting your Instagram followers so be sure to check your local legislation before having it.
Sure, it’s double the calories of nonfat milk, but in terms of satiation and mouthfeel (which is the most pretentious way we could think of to describe what it tastes like to drink), whole milk makes a huge difference. Trying to drink a skim milk smoothie after you’re used to whole milk shakes is like transitioning from driving a Ferrari to riding a public bus teeming with weasels.
Almond Milk or Oat Milk
If you’re not doing dairy, you can substitute with almond milk or oat milk, but opt for the un-sweetened stuff to save yourself added sugar and extra calories. If it’s going to taste like a watered-down smoothie that’s gone through the dishwasher, it might as well actually be healthy for you.
For years, I subscribed to the “hold your nose and pound the entire shaker cup” method of getting protein powder into my body. But, like with kale, you can mask the disturbingly scientific taste of most protein powders by cramming them into a smoothie. Just be careful with your flavor choice and the amount. Sure, that banana cream protein powder may have been on clearance, but is it worth it if you have to drink it while pinching your nose and fantasizing hard about an ice cream sundae just to make it palatable? Yes? K.
I typically limit myself to one green thing per smoothie, but this blue-green algae is worth the shock of the green poop that comes later. Check out some of spirulina’s benefits, which include loads of vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, zinc, copper as well as an impressive 4g of protein per 20 calorie tablespoon. It tastes about what you’d expect actual algae to taste like, but it’s really good for you. And your poop will literally be green. That part isn’t a joke, even if it is hilarious.
Smoothie Ingredients You Can Probably Leave Out
Most smoothie recipes are handed down from person to person and Pinterest page to Pinterest page. But when creativity takes over, it’s easy to lose sight of smoothie ingredients should pass muster when making a healthy smoothie. These choices take up space in your delicious cup of goo without offering enough deliciousness or health benefits to earn their keep.
Do you want your entire smoothie to taste exclusively like bananas? It doesn’t matter how small the piece of banana you put in, it will single-handedly overpower every other ingredient you threw in there. Oh, you only put in a tablespoon of banana? Well guess what, pal, it’s now a banana smoothie. Unless you really need the carbs or the potassium, they’re not worth the hostile takeover.
Keep your fruit frozen instead of using plain ice cubes, which just turn into little, flavorless shards that ruin your drink. Seriously, don’t come over here crashing our smoothie party with your flavorless frozen water nonsense.
They’re small, they’re good for you, and they’ll turn your smoothie into a weird gel that’s like drinking the inside of an ice pack. I personally prefer them in overnight oats, but some people like them in smoothies. Coincidentally, these are the same people who used to drink Orbitz.
More Healthy Smoothie Ingredients
When you’re making a healthy smoothie, you’re probably looking to make a smoothie that has a balance of carbs, fats, and protein. The right combination of those will help keep you satiated longer. Like a cheeseburger. Anyone got a blender?
High-Protein Smoothie Ingredients
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Whole milk
- Soy milk
- Whey protein
- Pea protein
Fruits and Vegetables for Smoothies (i.e. carbs)
- Bananas (mmhmm.)
- Peaches, Nectarines, or Apricots
Healthy Fats for Smoothies
- Natural Peanut Butter
- Cashew Butter
- Almond Butter (you get where we’re going.)
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
What are your favorite smoothie ingredients?