The green smoothie: glowing with vibrant, verdant health and filled with more vegetables than most people eat in a day, it’s almost a noble breakfast. Unfortunately, it typically tastes chalky from protein powder or stringy from spinach. Can you tell I’m not a fan?
But a smoothie is also an easy and quick way to get a healthy breakfast or snack full of vitamins, fiber and protein. HuffPost spoke with a nutritionist and a recipe developer to explore how to create the best of both worlds — a smoothie that’s delicious and satiating to start your day off right.
It’s all about balance
Think of creating a balanced smoothie the same way you would a balanced meal — some carbs from fruits and vegetables, some protein from a protein powder or nut butter, and some healthy fat for satiety.
“An all-fruit smoothie is going to spike your blood sugar, leading to a hanger-filled crash shortly after,” explained Liz Moody, cookbook author and host of the Healthier Together podcast. “Every smoothie I make has several handfuls of leafy greens (for fiber), some healthy fat like avocado, nuts, seeds or yogurt, and a protein powder or protein-rich food. The fiber, fat and protein elongate your blood sugar curve, making sure that you stay full for hours.”
Hiding frozen veggies (cauliflower, zucchini and spinach work well) in a smoothie isn’t just a great trick for fussy eaters.
“My favorite rule of thumb for green smoothies is two parts greens (spinach, kale, celery, cucumber) to one part fruit (açai, apple, mango, pear or pineapple),” holistic nutritionist Teresa Piro told HuffPost. “For example, adding half of a frozen banana, half an avocado, one tablespoon of coconut oil or a scoop of nut butter will add a creaminess to help round out flavor and balance out chalky texture.”
As most Americans are not meeting their daily fiber recommendations, adding some blended veggies is a beneficial and easy addition to help reach that goal.
How to make it taste delicious
“I mimic dessert flavors like apple pie or chocolate-covered strawberry with ingredients like cacao and cinnamon to make a crave-worthy flavor,” Moody said.
Add spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, herbs like basil or mint, sweeteners like dates or maple syrup, and flavoring agents like cacao or coffee. Veer from the traditional to find a flavor combo that satisfies. One study found that we absorb more nutrients from the foods we enjoy than the foods we force ourselves to eat.
Choose smoothie flavors based on your favorite desserts — for example, chocolate cherry pie. By using flavors you already love, like chocolate and cherry, you already have a great smoothie combo.
“Focusing on flavor and creating smoothies that you love to drink instead of have to is the best way to turn green smoothies into a real and sustainable habit,” Moody said.
And if you’re looking for a simple way to hide all those frozen greens, Piro has a winning solution. “Berries and nut butter are your friends — açai, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries pair well with nut butter and together work well to mask green veggie flavors and color,” Piro said.
Add a source of protein
Protein is the best way to stay satiated (aka full), so ensuring you have a high-quality source in your smoothie is essential for preventing a mid-morning energy crash. Most use a protein powder, as it’s easy and accessible, though the jury is out on the texture and sometimes the taste.
Moody has a solution. “I tend to go for ones with minimal ingredients. Collagen is also a great option for a much gentler protein taste. And particularly if you hate the texture of protein powder, collagen is completely texture-free in smoothies.” Always read the label on your protein or collagen powder and verify that it’s third-party tested.
Whole food sources are also a great way to bump up the protein, including yogurt, tofu, cottage cheese and nut butter. “Hemp seeds, chia seeds, or flax seeds are an easy way to add extra nutrients and fiber to any smoothie,” Piro said.
Four keys to a successful smoothie
Hands up if you’ve accidentally broken your blender while trying to make a smoothie (oh, was that just me?). Our experts share their top five tips for preventing smoothie disasters and saving you some money along the way:
If your blender has a weak motor: “Blend your greens and water first until it’s super well-blended, and then add the rest of your ingredients and blend again,” Moody said.
Meal prep for smoothies: “If you want to save time in the mornings, wash and portion out your greens the night before. Store in a Ziploc bag or Pyrex storage container in your refrigerator. In the morning, grab your greens, frozen fruit, add a liquid, blend and go,” Piro said.
Save money, use water: “I recommend blending with water instead of nut milk — if you use my formula, you’ll get a creamy smoothie regardless, and you won’t have to waste a bunch of money on something that adds no real nutritional value and doesn’t really change the flavor,” Moody said.
Add a plant-based fat: “Avocado, nut butters or coconut oil will boost calories (good fats = good calories), keep you energized longer and also aid in the absorption process of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), so go for it!” Piro said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.