Build a Better Smoothie

After teaching her early morning class, yoga teacher Kathryn Budig comes home and heads for the blender to make her morning smoothie—a frothy green concoction that includes ingredients such as banana, avocado, parsley, lime, ginger and spinach, plus a spoonful of flax seed oil and protein powder. “Avocado adds an amazing creaminess, and lime and ginger give it a refreshing kick. It’s my favourite start to the day,” she says.

Ideally suited to fuel health-conscious eaters with fast-paced lives, a morning smoothie is a fast, portable, vitamin-packed breakfast. And if you choose the right ingredients, your morning smoothie is a great opportunity to get a jumpstart on the nutrients your body needs for the day.

Varying your ingredients and making sure to include fat and protein as well as fresh fruits and vegetables will keep you from falling into a smoothie rut and ensure that you’re getting a balanced breakfast that will keep you steady throughout the morning. “The beauty of smoothies is they can always change,” says Budig. “I have a green staple and then I play from there with tropical fruits, grapefruit and even cacao nibs!”In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with a smoothie, as long as you keep a few key rules in mind. Here’s how to build a sensational smoothie from the blade up.

Start with a Splash

No matter what else you’re putting in your smoothie, start with a liquid as your base. For a single-serving smoothie, use about ₃⁄₄ cup of liquid, says Pat Crocker, author of The Smoothies Bible (Hardie Grant Publishing, 2004), which offers creative smoothie blends using everything from chia seeds to radishes. Protein-rich organic cow’s milk; unsweetened almond, oat, coconut or hemp milk; vegetable juices; and water are all great choices for a liquid base. A little fruit juice can be a flavourful addition, but since fruit juice is high in concentrated sugars, use it sparingly or in combination with another liquid such as coconut water, which contains potassium and other electrolytes.

The Main Event

Fruit is often the backbone of smoothies, adding antioxidants, fibre and sweetness. Frozen fruit makes a thick, frosty smoothie, so keep your freezer stocked with berries, particularly blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and cranberries, which have the highest levels of antioxidants. Bananas add body and sweetness to your smoothie, while fruits like kiwi and pineapple add a pleasing acidity.

But don’t limit yourself to simply berries and other fruit. Stemmed leafy greens such as spinach, chard, cavalo nero (kale), rocket and romaine lettuce; parsley, coriander and other herbs; and fresh sprouts all purée nicely in a blender and can either serve as the main ingredient or work in combination with fruit. Crocker suggests aiming for  to  ¹⁄₂ cups chopped fruits and vegies, depending on how thick you want your smoothie.

Added Enrichment

Fruits and vegetables should make up the bulk of your smoothie, but if you stop there, you’re missing out. Add ingredients with additional protein and fat to make your smoothie more filling and reduce spikes in blood sugar for balanced energy throughout the morning. Protein also rebuilds muscle tissue post-practice. Try adding Greek-style yoghurt; it contains twice the protein of traditional types. Cottage cheese and silken soft tofu are other protein-rich options. Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados and nut butters, boost the absorption of many of the vitamins in fruits and vegetables. As an added bonus, all of these ingredients give your smoothie a rich, creamy texture.

Power Boost

Before you hit “blend”, look to the pantry to give your smoothie an extra boost. A scoop of whey, hemp or other protein powder will give your smoothie more substance; a spoonful of freeze-dried superfruit powder, cocoa powder or matcha green tea will up the antioxidant content; chia seeds or a few tablespoons of ground flax seed or flaxseed oil will give you more healthy fats. Good old-fashioned wheat germ has vital vitamins and minerals, including folate, magnesium and immune-boosting zinc. And don’t overlook whole foods such as sunflower seeds, sliced nuts and unsweetened flaked coconut, which can add flavour and character to your smoothie, in addition to making it a healthier morning meal.

Tips and Tricks

After you pour your smoothie, run a little warm water in your blender to make cleanup easier.

Let one or two flavours dominate your smoothie, and keep the number of ingredients at five to eight. Slicing fruit or vegies into small, uniform pieces makes them easier to purée and puts less strain on the blender’s motor.

Blackberry cashew butter smoothie

•  cup dairy milk or non-dairy milk • 1 small banana • 1 cup fresh or frozen blackberries or blueberries • 2 tablespoons cashew butter or macadamia butter • 1 scoop freeze-dried green supplement powder

Chocolate raspberry smoothie

•  cup almond milk • 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries •  cup sprouts such as alfafa •  cup plain yoghurt • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder • 1 scoop protein powder

Green smoothie

•  cup almond milk • 1 handful cavalo nero (kale) leaves, ribs and stems removed • 1 handful fresh baby spinach leaves •  pear or banana • 2 tablespoons almond butter • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed • cup sprouts such as alfalfa

Creamy tropical smoothie

• 1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple or mango chunks • cup coconut milk or plain yoghurt •  cup orange juice •  ripe, pitted avocado • 3cm piece of ginger, grated • 1 scoop protein powder

Matt Kadey is a dietitian and nutrition writer, and the author of Muffin Tin Chef (Ulysses Press, 2012).

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