Making a Smoothie a Balanced Meal
Smoothies have become a quick and easy meal that many people enjoy as an easy way to get more fruits and vegetables in. However, is your smoothie actually a balanced meal? Looking at the USDA MyPlate guide on how to build a meal, smoothies often can fall into the trap of having lots of fruit, sometimes protein, but not much else. A balanced meal should have fruits, vegetables, protein and some fat to give your body the fuel and nutrition it needs. Let’s talk about what you can put into your smoothie to make it a more filling, satisfying, and complete meal.
For most smoothies the carbs are going to be coming from the fruit- and so is a lot of the flavor! Fruit gives such a wide variety of options and flavors, and if frozen chopped fruit is available to you the options are even more varied. Go to fruit choices for many people include bananas, frozen berries like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. Other great choices are mango, peach, or cherries! Frozen bagged fruit can be available in blends like triple berry (usually blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries), tropical (usually has mango and pineapple), and others. There is no wrong answer when it comes to your fruit choices so choose what sounds good to you! Fruit, in addition to carbs, is going to add fiber and vitamins to your smoothie.
Protein is another nutrient that can be lacking on smoothies depending on what people use as their liquid in the blender. If you are using water is it good for hydration, but doesn’t offer any calories or protein. Using a cup of cow’s milk is an easy way to add protein to your smoothie! If you do not use cow’s milk using soymilk is a high protein option, but many other dairy alternatives do not have as much protein to offer. You can find blends such as cashew milk that have pea protein added to them that would be a good protein source, so check the nutrition label on your non-dairy milks and see what you find! For comparison a glass of 2% milk will add around 8 grams of protein to your smoothie, but a glass of almond milk will add about 1 gram. A cup of soy milk will also add about 8 grams of protein, and so will some of the nut milk blends that have pea protein added to them.
Another option for adding protein is a protein powder, and protein powders can come from whey, soy, pea, brown rice, and many other sources. This may be a good option if you have allergies to dairy and soy but still want to add protein to your smoothie, there will likely be a protein powder out there that will suit your needs. Protein powders range anywhere from 20-50 grams of protein in a scoop so you can really customize how much protein you want to add when you choose a protein powder.
Lastly, another great option for protein is Greek yogurt. Half a cup of Greek yogurt will add about 12 grams of protein. You can also use regular yogurt, but it will only add about 5 grams of protein in half a cup so if you want more protein use Greek yogurt.
Vegetables in your smoothie will take the nutritional value to the next level by adding more minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Vegetables can often be a struggle to get in every day, but adding them to a smoothie can be a convenient way to add them. Often times you will not even be able to taste the vegetables so if you struggle with getting vegetables in your diet due to taste preferences this may be a good option for you! Adding dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, or mixed spring greens is a fantastic option. Adding a large handful, or as much as you can fit will benefit you. Just like fruit, vegetables can also be bought frozen and chopped already and can be a convenient option if that is available to you.
Other vegetable options include zucchini- which can lend a creamy texture to a smoothie similar to the texture a banana gives- carrots, cucumber, and canned pumpkin. Depending on the power and size of your blender some vegetable options may be more difficult to add. Raw carrots can be quite tough, and may be too much for some smaller blenders to handle. Cutting up your vegetables beforehand will also help your blender out- just a rough cube cut will blend much easier than a whole carrot or whole zucchini.
Fat is needed to keep our bodies healthy, and having fat in a meal makes fat soluble vitamins easier for your body to absorb. The fat soluble vitamins are A, E, D, and K and those vitamins are found in the fruits and vegetables that will also be going in your smoothie! About 10 grams of fat in a meal will make those vitamins more available to your body so you can get the most out of your smoothie.
A delicious option for adding fat is peanut butter, or other nut butters like almond or cashew. 1 Tbsp of a nut butter will add about 8 grams of fat.
Avocado is also a good option that gives heart healthy fats, and a rich creamy texture to your smoothie, and half an avocado has 10 grams of fat.
Another option is canned, full fat coconut milk which will add a coconut flavor, a thicker texture, and a quarter of a cup will add 8 grams of fat.
Lastly an option that may seem odd is 1 Tbsp of olive oil. It sound odd to add oil into a smoothie but with all the fruit in the smoothie often the taste is undetectable and olive oil is a heart healthy fat. 1 Tbsp will add 13 grams of fat to your smoothie.