“Smoothies are healthy, right?” They most often contain whole foods (like fruit), which leads many to believe that they’re a healthful meal or snack. This may be true; however, it’s not always this simple. It comes down to the type and portion of ingredients that you choose.
Smoothies aren’t a new revelation, but smoothie bowls are a newer trend that have been booming on social media. Delicious and beautifully colored smoothies are poured into a bowl and topped with an array of lovely toppings. These elegant bowls are photographed and displayed on apps like Instagram and Pinterest. They’re beautiful, vibrant, and look very tasty to eat. The real question is, how healthy IS your smoothie bowl and is there anything you can do to improve the nutrition profile?
Before jumping right into the tips for making a nutrition packed smoothie bowl; I’d like to first highlight the common slip-ups where a smoothie bowl can deter you from reaching your fitness and/or health goals.
1. “Eye-balling” or Estimating the Portion Size
When ingredients aren’t measured, it’s very easy to add too much fruit, nut butters, seeds, avocado and sweetener. You’re morning well-balanced smoothie could end up containing over half a days’ worth of calories, fat and sugar. Seriously, it’s easy to do. That damn juice, chia seeds and nut butter can add up fast!
2. Getting Fruit and Juice Happy
Sometimes too much of a good thing, is just plain too much. Adding a lot of juice (apple, juice cocktail, orange, etc.) along with an unmeasured amount of frozen fruit and/or sorbet can take your smoothie from healthy to unhealthy. Fruit cocktails or frozen fruit blends may contain a lot of added sugar; so, check out the nutrition labels. The American Heart Association’s recommendation for added sugar is limited to 25 g/day for women and 36 g/day for men.
3. Vessel for Too Many Toppings
Have you seen the variety of smoothie bowls on the internet? They are decorated with the most beautiful toppings. Although many bowls have healthy toppings; nuts, seeds, fresh fruit…sometimes the additional decorations can add more calories and/or fat than the smoothie itself (like sweetened granola, dried fruit, shredded coconut, a dollop of nut butter, and a pretty drizzle of honey), which may add an additional 500 calories, 45 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of fat! It’s great to add more nutrition to your smoothie, but be mindful of how many different toppings you’re adding, the portion, and if they’re improving the nutrition profile or just making it pretty. I know skittles are pretty….but, they may need to take a backseat.
4. Drinking your Calories Along with a Meal.
When a smoothie bowl is the main meal, many people can guzzle (or spoon) it down in five minutes flat (hello brain freeze, lol). Many people will overlook that the smoothie is a meal in itself, so they’ll add more oomph with some solid food to chew down. Not only will this likely double your meal size, but you won’t be satisfied as quickly. If you’d like to chew and drink/spoon part of your meal; try making half the portion of your smoothie bowl and add a small snack (that you can chew). Spend at least 15-20 minutes to allow your brain to sense hunger. Smoothie bowl toppings that are crunchy may also help to slow eating down.
Now that we’ve addressed a number of the common overlooked slip-ups when making your smoothie bowl, let’s review some tips to kick up the nutrition.
1. Include a variety of high fiber fruit and veggies
When deciding on ingredients to add to your smoothie, pick out some fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables combinations that add a good amount of fiber and are low in sugar. This will help balance your blood sugar, increase satiety, and add many other nutritious vitamins and minerals. A cup of each veggies and fruit are a good place to start.
- Strawberries, Raspberries, Pear, Cherries, Apple (the whole fruit), Lemon/Lime, Blackberries, Blueberries, Avocado, Banana, Cranberries, and Grapefruit
- Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Chard, Romaine, etc), Cooked Veggies (Sweet Potato, Cauliflower, Parsnips). These cooked veggies will also help to thicken the smoothie.
2. Add Healthy Fats
Healthy fats not only help to aid in satiety, but can be nutritious as well; helping to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K), may help improve heart health and skin. Fats like Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation, help lower cholesterol and may support heart health.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
- Plant based- Walnuts, Flax Seeds, Canola or Soybean Oil
- Animal based- Fatty Fish (salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, mackerel) …I wouldn’t recommend adding whole fish to a smoothie, but I guess you can’t knock it till you try it 😉. However, adding fish oil to you smoothie would be a good option.
- Monounsaturated Fats:
- Avocado, Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans), Peanut butter (it’s a legume/bean), Olives
- Other Fats:
- Cold pressed coconut oil, Grass fed ghee
3. Use Herbs & Spices
Hello added flavor! Why not add some additional essence with fresh herbs (maybe from your garden) and spices? They’ll add a kick of flavor, increase the nutrition profile and take things up a notch. Some of my favorites:
- Ginger: Good for the tummy (nausea) and anti-inflammatory
- Mint: Adds a refreshing element and is helpful for digestion
- Turmeric: It’s all the rage (for a reason), with its anti-inflammatory properties
- Cacao Powder: High in antioxidants
- Basil: Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
- Maca Powder: High in amino acids, fatty acids and is considered an “adaptogen.” It may help improve energy, libido and reduce stress
4. Limit Added Sugar
This goes for smoothie ingredients and toppings. Try swapping out fruit juices for unsweetened nut milks, milk or even just water. Acai berries are high in healthful antioxidants, but try using an unsweetened blend or the berries frozen solo versus a sorbet-like base. As regards the toppings, look for granola that is only lightly sweetened, unsweetened dried fruit, avoid drizzles of honey or sweet syrups.
5. Add a Good Source of Protein.
Protein is a must in a smoothie! It’s satiating, helpful in balancing blood sugar, and also crucial for healing and growth. Bring on that muscle development! Remember, you need to feed your body protein (amino acids) to help grow and repair muscle tissue. A smoothie may be a good recovery meal after a challenging workout (carbohydrates, protein and fat). Some options include:
- Grass fed or wild caught collagen peptides
- Protein powder
- Nut or seed butters
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Greek yogurt
Hopefully this gives you some insight on how to improve or start making some beautiful, tasty and nutritious smoothie bowls. Enjoy them within reason and beautify them with healthful ingredients. Pour your smoothie into a chilled bowl and add some pizazz on top, like fresh fruit, nuts, shredded coconut, chia seeds, cocoa nibs or edible flowers! Be creative. We eat with our eyes, so bring on some colors. If you’d like some smoothie recipe suggestions or ideas, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my Instagram a @leah.goldenRD