Demystifying smoothie ingredients!
One of the questions we’re asked most (after ‘should I buy a blender or juicer’) is what to put in a smoothie. It seems to be a real stumbling block, and results in too many blenders sitting forlornly unused on the worktop, or even worse, hidden in a kitchen cupboard.
As you might expect, I have quite a few smoothie recipe books, many containing beautiful, inspiring photos. But I never seem to have the right combination of ingredients to hand. In addition, many recipes have an extensive, and expensive ingredient list, with large-portion fruit based smoothies resulting in a sugar hit that I don’t really want.
My way around this is to ditch the recipe books, and to experiment with whatever’s in my fruit bowl, fridge, cupboard or freezer. I keep ingredients down to a maximum of five or six, and keep the portion sizes of fruit smoothies small, often using them as a weekend family breakfast accompaniment.
We gave a basic green smoothie recipe last week, but thought it would be useful to take a look at some other nutritious ingredients you can add.
My most-used ingredients include:
Fruits: let’s face it; a smoothie sweetened with fruit is more appealing to kids (and many adults)
- Small bananas are always in the fruit bowl: they make smoothies creamy and add fibre and potassium.
- Avocado is my banana alternative. Equally creamy and packed with healthy monounsaturated fat, fibre and Vitamin E. They make smoothies more filling and slow down the impact of fruit on blood sugar levels.
- Berries (e.g. raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries) with their high antioxidant capacity go in many of my smoothies. Frozen berries are far cheaper.
- Lemons, limes and kiwi add fresh flavour, vitamin C, are detoxifying and slow oxidation (oxidation turns lovely coloured smoothies into muddy brown ones).
- Pears are cheap, seasonal and like apples, are a good source of the soluble fibre pectin that helps keep our gut healthy. They blend easily; apples need juicing or a high-speed blender.
- Pineapple is relatively cheap, adds a lot of sweetness but is a bit of a faff to prepare (so I don’t use it every day). I like to use pineapple for it’s anti-inflammatory bromelain content.
- Watermelon is hydrating – perfect for summer. It’s rich in beta-carotene (like carrots, mango and papaya) giving a little ‘natural’ sun protection if eaten regularly; beta-carotene converts to vitamin A – important for our immune system and skin health.
Vegetables: once you’ve mastered fruit, try adding a few vegetables into the mix. Soft green leaves are the easiest, changing the colour but not really the taste – so if you only add one vegetable initially, start with leaves.
- Green Leaves*: spinach, cos (romaine) lettuce, chard or beetroot
leaves (even garden nettle leaves in spring). The leaves add more antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium. Green leaves are easy for me as I simply grab a handful from one of the mixed bagged salads that are always in the fridge.
- Brassicas*: you’ll need a high speed blender (and a sense of adventure) for small portions of broccoli, cabbage and horseradish but using brassica leaves such as kale, rocket and watercress is an easier alternative. Brassicas are great detoxifiers and contain the potent anti-cancer compound sulforaphane. Mix with a sweeter fruit (such as mango or pineapple) and you won’t know they’re in there!
- Other veggies: I personally love liver-supportive, blood pressure lowering and exercise enhancing beetroot but it is a love it or hate it smoothie ingredient. I find that milder-tasting but potassium-rich celery and cucumber, as well as phytonutrient-rich fennel taste good with many fruits. Without a super-high-speed blender, stick to juicing carrots – they’re hard to blend properly into a smoothie.
Liquid: once you’ve got your fruit and veg combination sorted, you’ll need to add some liquid:
- Coconut water (a good source of potassium, and tastes sweet)
- Coconut or almond milk (tastes great and helps to slow down the release of sugars into the blood)
Fat: a tsp. of anti-microbial coconut oil or Omega 3-rich flaxseed oil should help absorb fat soluble nutrients such as beta-carotene, as well as slow the impact on blood sugar. Avocado or a tablespoon of yogurt, nut butter or seeds (e.g. chia) also serve the same purpose. An added advantage is that they all help to make your smoothie creamy; Greek yogurt, nut butter and seeds also add protein.
- Soft herbs such as mint, parsley and coriander leaves add gentle flavour to smoothies. Mint is great for digestion, parsley for it’s chlorophyll and vitamin C content, and coriander for detoxification.
- Spices can be added in small amounts – try anti-inflammatory ginger and turmeric, vanilla or fiery cayenne. Ground cinnamon sweetens and supports blood sugar levels.
- Cacao (or cocoa) turns smoothies chocolaty, so I use it lots – for taste, for its appeal to kids, but also for its massively high antioxidant content.
It’s good to vary your smoothies each day to diversify nutrient intake. Smoothies we like include:
Seasonal green: pear, lime, watercress, avocado, coconut water
Anti-inflammatory: pineapple, turmeric, ginger, coconut milk
High antioxidant, child-friendly: frozen berries or mango, cacao/cocoa, banana, almond milk
Our hangover busting smoothies also feature regularly on our morning menu (even without a hangover!)
- Note – it’s important to vary your raw leaves each day; spinach is high in oxalates and in some people uncooked brassicas may supress thyroid function.
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