From Sugar Bomb to Balanced Meal: Smart Smoothies

 Smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, bee pollen, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and quinoa puffs 

Smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, bee pollen, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and quinoa puffs 

First, a story: 

Several years ago, I worked as a Vitamix demonstrator.

If you don’t already know, a Vitamix is a brand of high powered blenders. Vitamix machines have the same horsepower as a lawn mower, and sell anywhere between $400-$700+.

At the time I had this job, I was eating a high raw/vegan diet, and green smoothies were part of my daily regimen. Because of this, I was a great salesperson and could talk to people for DAYS about different ideas for smoothies.

But as  I shared my ideas, something interesting happened: I realized my idea of a healthy smoothie was completely different than that of the general public.

 Chocolate smoothie bowl with raw cacao nibs, coconut flakes, and gluten-free coconut granola 

Chocolate smoothie bowl with raw cacao nibs, coconut flakes, and gluten-free coconut granola 

People would show me what they had in their carts, or tell me what smoothie they had that morning. Their creations were often concoctions full of fruit and juice, PLUS MORE SUGAR, often in the form of agave nectar.

While many people have the best motives for making a smoothie, their well-intentioned morning shake often ends up with more sugar than a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal (~15 grams/cup).

Problems & Solutions 

Here are some of the problems I’ve noticed with most smoothies, as well as solutions for how to ensure your smoothie is as nourishing as you intend it to be:

Problem: They’re Sugar Bombs. Typically, smoothies blend together multiple fruits, and some even use juices, sweetened yogurt, or sorbet. While fruits can be a healthy part of one’s diet, too many together can be too high in sugar for a single meal. What intends to be a health-promoting meal, quickly turns into the worst nightmare for your blood sugar, leaving you hungry just two hours later and wanting more sweet foods.

Solution: Stick to just one fruit. I love any berry, especially blueberries ( 1 full cup). And if you normally put a piece of fruit + a banana, try replacing the banana with a peeled zucchini or ¼ avocado. Both will add the creaminess you’re looking for. Additionally, if you want creamy goodness without the sugar, try some full fat plain yogurt/greek yogurt. Or try mango, as it also mimics the texture of banana and adds plenty of sweet flavor.

Problem: They’re imbalanced. Since smoothies are based on fruits and other sweet bases like orange juice or apple juice, they’re super high in carbohydrates and sugar, with almost no whole food protein or fat. This means they spike blood sugar and leave you hungry (which often means eating a lot more at your next meal, craving foods that will fill you up like pizza or burritos, or wanting sweet treats).

Solution: Incorporate healthy fats. Healthy fats help to trigger satiation. That’s why some people who eat a non-fat smoothie (or who follow a non-fat diet) can be hungry only 1-2 hours after eating. The fat is what keeps us full, signaling to your brain via the hormone leptin that you’re satisfied and don’t need to eat anymore.

Additionally, the valuable nutrients found in fruits/vegetables are fat soluble, meaning they need to be coupled with a fat source in order for our bodies to actually absorb them. So, if you’re loading your smoothie with kale and spinach, but there’s no fat to help absorb their nutrients, you’re not actually getting the vitamins and minerals you want. Fat can also regulate blood sugar balance, so that the naturally occurring sugars in fruits are released slowly into the bloodstream for more even energy.

 Super green no-fruit smoothie with MCT oil for optimal nutrient absorption 

Super green no-fruit smoothie with MCT oil for optimal nutrient absorption 

My favorite whole food fats to add are avocado, hemp seeds, almond butter, coconut oil, coconut butter, or MCT oil.

Problem: Digestion & Absorption. Since smoothies are liquid and eaten on-the-go, they’re often slurped down too quickly.

Solution: CHEW! All foods, (whether juice, smoothie, solid foods) need to be chewed well in order to be digested and absorbed by the body. Digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing promotes the release of salivary amylase (which breaks down carbohydrates) and lingual lipase (which breaks down fats).

Chewing also sends signals to your body that it’s time to rest, relax, and take in some nutrients. The body should be in parasympathetic mode, i.e. “rest and digest” mode (so drinking your breakfast while on-the-go while driving in traffic isn’t ideal for a meal).

To encourage chewing, try eating your smoothie out of a bowl, like a soup. Adorn your smoothie with some crunchy toppings like cacao nibs, toasted coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, bee pollen, or some whole pieces of whatever fruit you were using. Enjoy the texture, and slow down. You may have to wake up ½ an hour earlier to eat breakfast in this way, but your body will thank you with better nutrient absorption and more satiation.

 Smoothie bowl with white chia seeds, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, and bee pollen 

Smoothie bowl with white chia seeds, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, and bee pollen