So you’ve warmed up to the idea of adding greens into your smoothies, but then you think, ‘what’s next?’ Enter superfoods and other nutrition boosters! It can be overwhelming perusing the aisles of the health food store and not knowing what’s what with all those potions and powders, some of which you may have heard of but know neither their health benefits nor their taste! Let’s break it down.
When I’m making a smoothie, I usually think of nailing four main components: solid base, enough bulk, fruity goodness and awesome extras. You can build your own using one or several ingredients from each category.
Coconut water is a great hydrator as it is loaded with potassium and electrolytes. It has a subtly sweet taste but will not spike your blood sugar.
White or camomile tea, chilled
Nut milk, such as almond or Brazil nut
To make your own, use a 1:3 ratio of nuts to water. Soak 1 cup of raw nuts in water and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for at least three hours and up to 12 hours. This makes them easier to blend, but also increases their digestive qualities and nutrient profile. Discard soaking water and rinse well. Blend with 3 cups of water. To sweeten, you can add a little honey or a medjool date. You can also flavour with vanilla powder and/or cinnamon. After blending well, strain using a cheese cloth or more sophisticated ‘nut milk bag.’ You can use the left over almond meal in bliss balls, cookies, etc. If I am just making a one serving smoothie, I will use 1/3 cup nuts and 1 cup of water and won’t worry about straining the milk. The extra bulk makes the smoothie more filling. Bonus.
It is best to make your own as the canned or carton-ed varieties often contain additives and preservatives such as sunflower oil and guar gum. Guar gum can cause digestive distress (gas and bloating) for some people. Yours truly figured that out the hard way! Similarly to nut milks, I use (roughly) a 1:3 ratio, sometimes a bit more coconut as I like it thicker! Use warm water to blend with the desiccated coconut. Again, strain through cheesecloth and save the remains for baking, or just leave in the blender to make the rest of your smoothie.
I like to make my smoothies into a meal. I usually have one for breakfast and the goal for it to last me until lunch. Proteins and good fats are the keys to preventing you from rifling around for a snack circa 11am.
Often referred to as the world’s most perfect food, the avocado does wonders for a smoothie’s texture. Makes it thick and creamy without contributing an overpowering taste.
This would be my “what would you bring to a desert island” food of choice. I could bang on for ages about how much I love coconut oil. Not only does coconut oil have about a million health benefits, but also has a delicious taste! I have at least 1 tablespoon every morning for lasting energy, satiety, and regularity. Be sure to get raw and extra virgin.
Gelatin is derived from the collagen that is found in animal’s bones and tissues. I use this brand, which is pure bovine (beef) gelatin. Humans have consumed gelatin for years by way of nourishing bone broths. You can read more about the benefits of bone broth here. Gelatin has many health benefits: it is a pure protein, great for bone/joint health, promotes skin, hair and nail growth, heals the gut, reduces inflammation, supports the liver in detoxification, and boosts metabolism. It has no flavor so it’s a perfect protein-packed addition to smoothies.
Full of protein, oats bulk up a smoothie enough to be a real meal in a cup! Rolled oats should be soaked overnight to increase their digestibility.
Dark Leafy Greens
While they can sometimes throw off the color of the finished product (if you’re worried about aesthetics!), leafy greens are a prized ingredient in smoothies for many reasons: a.) they are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, b.) they cleanse and alkalize the body, c.) they are full of fiber and d.) their taste is basically undetectable when masked by fruit and other delicious ingredients! Some green smoothie superstars are kale, spinach, Swiss chard, cos lettuce, watercress, and dandelion.
Nuts and Nut Butter
Nuts are a delicious way to add more protein and good fat to your smoothie to keep you firing on all cylinders until lunchtime. Different nuts contain different nutrients, but generally they are high in phytochemicals, fiber, Vitamin E, B vitamins, and many different minerals. You can blend nut butter with water to make a “cheater’s nut milk” before adding the other ingredients. Smoothie-friendly nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and cashews.
Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are great additions to smoothies, and jars of tahini (unhulled ground sesame seeds) are demolished almost weekly in my house! Additionally, there are three stand-out seeds that get their own honorary mentions in the Smoothie Hall of Fame. Those are hemp, flax, and chia seeds.
Hemp seeds are my all-time favorite for smoothies. I have written about them here before. They provide a complete protein which is highly digestible and easily absorbed by the body, and they add a divine creaminess to smoothies without a distinctive taste. Keep these babies in the fridge! They can go rancid easily if exposed to light, heat, or air.
Flaxseeds, aka Linseeds
Another smoothie legend, flaxseeds are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (particularly ALA) and high in mucilaginous fiber which improves absorption of nutrients in the small intestine and keeps you regular. Flaxseeds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as being a unique source of lignans which function as moderate estrogens when consumed by humans. For this reason, they have been shown to assist with hormonal imbalances and mitigating menopausal symptoms. You can buy them whole or already ground. Grinding them, which can be done in a coffee grinder, enhances their digestibility and therefore their nutritional value. If you are buying them pre-ground, they are more prone to oxidation and spoilage and have a much shorter shelf life (6-16 weeks) than the whole seeds. Buy them from the refrigerated section in a gas-flushed and vacuum sealed bag and store in the fridge or freezer.
I plow through chia seeds like there is no tomorrow. You can add them to just about anything, particularly smoothies! They are chock full of antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fats, vitamins and minerals, as well as being a complete source of protein. Chia seeds expand up to 3 times their original size when wet. This gel-like substance sweeps through your digestive tract moping up toxins and eliminating them. You might like to add a little more liquid to your smoothies when using chia seeds, otherwise you might end up with a smoothie pudding. (Not necessarily a bad thing!) They can be heated (used in baking, etc) and have a much longer shelf life than flaxseeds.
Adding a small bit of fruit to your smoothie contributes that little bit of sweetness that we all love. The great thing about making smoothies with fruit (v.s. juices with fruit) is that smoothies still contain all the fruit fiber which provides volume and keeps you full. The blending process breaks the fiber apart, making the fruit easier to digest, but also helps create a slow, even release of nutrients into the bloodstream to avoid blood sugar spikes. My favorite fruit to include in smoothies is banana. Fresh or frozen, both are delicious! Frozen contributes a particularly creamy texture. Other great fruits are berries, mango, papaya, pineapple, peach, or anything else that is in season!
This is where you take your smoothie from ‘healthy’ to ‘nutritional powerhouse.’ I will highlight a few of my favorite superfoods here. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the superfoods on the market; it’s more like my own pantry / refrigerator inventory.
Aloe Vera contains over 200 active components including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, polysaccharides, and fatty acids so it’s no wonder it has been used therapeutically for over 5,000 years. When taken internally, aloe serves as an adaptogen which is something that increases the body's ability to adapt to stress and changing situations. Aloe improves digestion due to it’s gelatinous nature and helps with either constipation or diarrhea by regulating your elimination cycles in whatever way you need. It enhances your immune system, regulates blood sugar and alkalizes the body. Aloe is also the King of the Anti’s – anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal, and anti-viral! Whew! Before you start guzzling the stuff, please keep in mind that this is a potent plant medicine and usually less is best. As with all superfoods, start slowly and notice your body’s reactions. It has a strong pungent taste so a tablespoon or two is quite enough.
Bee pollen is 40% protein and contains free amino acids that are easily digested and absorbed by the body. In addition, bee pollen contains enzymes to aid digestion, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and phytonutrtients. It is an anti-inflammatory and energy enhancer, and also helps to inhibit cravings. It has a lovely floral flavor and can be added into, or sprinkled on top of, smoothies. It’s a powerful food so, again, best to start small.
A stand-out in the world of green powders, spirulina is the highest, most digestible source of complete plant protein. A stable food for the Aztecs, spirulina contains over 100 nutrients! It is a plant-based source of omega fatty acids, contains B12 for healthy metabolism, and aids digestion by increasing beneficial bacteria in the intestines. Spirulina has also been shown to help control blood sugar levels and cravings which makes it useful for those trying to get off the sugar bandwagon. It’s best to start small, perhaps just a half teaspoon, as it has quite a full-on ‘green’ taste!
Grasses are highly alkalizing, detoxifying, and very high in chlorophyll which oxygenates and rebuilds the blood. Each have its own claim to fame, but they are all incredibly nutrient dense. The catch is that they aren't particularly yummy! I have a Superfood Greens powder that combines wheat grass, alfalfa grass, and barley grass. A large smoothie can usually handle about a tsp without throwing off the taste.
These berries have been used for centuries in Asian cultures to increase strength and longevity. Goji Berries are filled with powerful antioxidants to boost the immune system and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. These little magic bullets also help to balance hormones.
Cacao powder is unroasted so it contains up to twice the amount of antioxidants of traditional cocoa powder which is made from roasted beans. The antioxidants found in cacao are highly stable and easily available to human metabolism. Cacao is also a great dietary source of the mineral magnesium which is crucial for a healthy functioning heart and brain, as well as energy production. Cacao is a wonderful mood elevator as it is high in several neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, etc) which are our “feel good” chemicals. In its pure form (meaning, without the added sugar or dairy blocking its effects), cacao is a delicious and nutritious way to experience that blissful sense of well being that we associate with eating chocolate.
Maca is the energizing and revitalizing superfood of the Incas and a well-known adaptogen. It contains high amounts of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, all the essential amino acids and nearly 60 phytochemicals. Maca is revered for its overall effect on the endocrine system as it serves to regulate hormones, normalize menstrual cycles, stimulate fertility and treat menopausal symptoms. It can be used for enhancing libido, increasing energy, stamina and endurance and supporting the immune system. Maca is non-toxic, has no dangerous side effects and no withdrawl symptoms so you can eat as much as you like. Careful, though, as it has quite an earthy taste that can overpower if used with a heavy hand.
No, not the steak sauce! Superfood mesquite powder comes from a South American leguminous plant and has a sweet, rich, caramel-like flavor. It is naturally low GI and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. A rich source of vitamins and minerals, this delicious superfood increases energy, improves mood, keeps hormones balanced, and (my favorite!) keeps bowels regular.
This exotic Peruvian fruit is known as the “Gold of the Incas” and has a divine creamy caramel flavor. Lucuma is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in addition to being a great source of fiber, beta-carotene, niacin (B3) and iron. You can use it in your smoothies as a natural sweetener.
Camu Camu Powder
Camu Camu powder comes from a berry grown in Peru (the Peruvians get all the good stuff ey?!). Rich in Vitamin C, camu camu was traditionally made into juice by people in the rainforest to support the immune system, ward off viral infection, and help maintain optimal health. Native medicine practitioners recommend it for promoting healthy gums, eyes, and skin as well as helping support the functions of the brain and heart. Because of its food form, with bioflavanoids and other phytochemicals, the body can absorb the nutrients contained within much more effectively than it can absorb any synthetic Vitamin C supplement.
Incorporating herbs into smoothies is a great way to boost the nutrition and enhance the flavor. Herbs have been used therapeutically for centuries to cure ailments and prevent illness. My favorite herbs for smoothies are mint, lavender, basil, rosemary, cilantro (coriander) and parsley. Experiment! A little goes a long way.
Spices have been used medicinally for thousands of years and are great aromatic and flavor-enhancing nutrition boosters for smoothies.
Vanilla powder is a beautiful spice that benefits the nervous system by soothing anxiety and calming mood. It is rich in anti-oxidants and has anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.
A wonderful aromatic and sweet-tasting flavor-enhancer, cinnamon has numerous medicinal and health properties. It boosts immunity, oxygenates the blood, cleanses and detoxifies the body and helps regulate blood sugar levels. This is another great one if you are trying to quit sugar! I find that a dash of cinnamon in just about every smoothie is a win.
Ginger naturally detoxes the body by increasing circulation and detoxifying the liver. It is rich in inflammation-fighting compounds and has been shown to help with pain relief. Ginger is also a great stomach soother for nausea, morning sickness, and motion sickness.
Turmeric is certainly a “super spice” and has been used in Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine for centuries for its healing powers. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which help with everything from pain relief to managing chronic disease. There are multiple studies showing curcumin’s effectiveness in inhibiting tumor cell growth and suppressing enzymes that activate carcinogens. I prefer to use fresh turmeric in my smoothies (about half an inch) because the raw root tastes less peppery. Mango + turmeric are a match made in heaven. If using the powdered form, half a teaspoon would probably be more than enough.
Whew! I think that covers it! Are you overwhelmed after all that info or ready to skip on in to the kitchen and get your blend on? I hope it’s the latter!
One last thing….
Try to drink your smoothie straight away after you've made it. After 15 minutes, light and air destroy some of the nutrients. If you can't consume immediately, it is best to store it in a dark airtight container. I must admit – this is a struggle for me as I often make smoothies in the evenings to take to work with me in the morning. Can’t win ‘em all, right? Don’t get discouraged! Having a nutrient-packed smoothie that has been in the fridge overnight is WAY better than not having one at all!
If you need some recipe ideas, check out my five favorites and my Instagram -@sattvaspace. Happy blending!