Is Your 'Stay At Home' Smoothie Recipe Actually Healthy?

by Ani Manukian, RDN, LD

Last Updated: June 8, 2020

Whether you’re still sheltering in place or you’ve begun to resume your normal schedule, smoothies are on the menu. Sip them on a video chat, grab one as you’re heading out the door, or swap one in for dinner when you just can’t bring yourself to cook again. Smoothies are generally seen as a “healthy” option, but their nutritional value can vary greatly depending on the recipe and relative amounts of ingredients. So - how do you know if your smoothie is actually healthy?

First, it may be helpful to touch on what to look for in a nutritious, balanced meal. A balanced meal is one that includes at least three of the five food groups (protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables, grains), includes color and fiber from plants, supports healthy blood sugar response by including the right amount of carbohydrates, and keeps us satisfied with protein and fat, so we’re not swinging by the vending machine or a fast-food joint just a few hours later.

Luckily, building a balanced smoothie follows these same principles and doesn’t have to be difficult. Make sure to include these essential ingredients in your next smoothie, whether homemade or when you’re ordering from your favorite smoothie establishment.
  1. Protein
    Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and plays a key role in helping us feel full and energized for longer. Because it takes longer to digest, it creates a “slow release” effect on carbohydrates, preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes that are typical after a poorly balanced meal.

    Low-fat dairy (Greek yogurt, kefir, milk), whey protein powder, pea protein, and collagen powder are nutritious sources of protein.
  2. Fat
    Like protein, fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and contributes to the “slow release” effect. Protein and fat together, along with appropriate carbohydrate intake, contribute to the ideal gentle rise and fall in blood sugar and energy. Fat also adds creaminess, making your smoothie all the more delicious.

    1/3 of a medium avocado (fresh or frozen), a handful of nuts, a spoonful of nut butter, or 1/4 cup of full-fat coconut milk provide the right amount of fat.
  3. Fiber
    You can probably guess where we’re going with this. Fiber, like protein and fat, slows down digestion and creates an ideal energy response. Getting enough fiber (25-30g per day) is important for weight maintenance and gut health and can even improve heart health.

    In addition to fruits and vegetables, (yes, vegetables), bump up the fiber with 1/4 cup raw oats, a spoonful of ground flax meal or chia seeds, or even 1/3 cup white beans.
  4. Carbohydrates
    By now you know that protein, fat, and fiber slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, resulting in healthy energy levels. The most common downfall of smoothies is too much fruit in relation to the other ingredients, creating a blood sugar and energy response more similar to eating a high-sugar dessert than a balanced meal.

    Aim to include about 1 to 1.5 servings of fruit (one medium piece or about 3/4-1 cup) or two servings if you have high energy needs. Frozen fruit is a great option as it has a longer shelf life than fresh fruit, with no decreases in nutritional value. You can even include steamed and frozen vegetables for an extra nutrient and fiber boost (mild-tasting vegetables like cauliflower, yellow squash or zucchini or canned pumpkin work well).

Winning combinations
For all smoothies, start with the milk/protein base (1 cup milk of choice and 1 protein source of choice) and then vary the fat, fruits, and fiber for endless combinations. Here are a few ideas to add to your regular smoothie rotation.
  1. Pumpkin Pie - we’re far from fall, but this combo hits the spot any time of year.
    • Milk + protein base
    • 1 spoonful cashew butter or 1 handful of cashews
    • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
    • 1/2 frozen banana
    • 1/4 cup frozen cauliflower, yellow squash/zucchini or butternut squash
    • Pumpkin pie spice
  2. Tropical Coconut - perfect for the sunny days ahead.
    • Milk + protein base (low fat coconut milk gives the most tropical flavor!)
    • 1/4 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
    • 1/2 frozen banana
    • 1/2 cup frozen tropical fruit mix
    • 1/4 cup frozen cauliflower, yellow squash/zucchini
  3. Chocolate Berry - yes, it’s good enough to be dessert.
    • Milk + protein base
    • 1 spoonful chocolate almond butter (add cocoa powder for more flavor)
    • 3/4 cup frozen mixed berries
    • 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower, yellow squash/zucchini
  4. Peanut Butter Banana - the classic combination
    • Milk + protein base
    • 1 spoonful peanut butter (add peanut powder for more flavor)
    • 1 frozen banana
    • 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower, yellow squash/zucchini

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Ani Manukian RDN, LD

Ani Manukian RDN, LD

Ani is living her dream as a real food dietitian, helping her patients merge the science of nutrition with the art of creating tasty, balanced meals. She competes in the sport of weightlifting and has personal and professional experience in sports nutrition, flexible dieting, and weight loss.