Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Smoothies 101

This post is lovingly dedicated to my dad, who hasn't stopped asking me smoothie-related questions for approximately 6 months. Dad, if the recipe isn't provided here/your query isn't answered in this post... well then, God love ya!
It's that time of year again: the sun is starting to shine and the heat is picking up a bit (every few days, anyway!), which means that cool, fruit- and veggie-filled smoothies are cropping up almost everywhere.

So, what's a thirsty guy/girl to do? Should you succumb to the temptation of Jamba Juice, or even Dunkin' Donuts? Should you give that old 7-11 gas station "smoothie" a try? Should you buy one of those instant-smoothie mixes from your local grocery store? Or, should you take a chance and try making a scrumptious, healthy drink all by yourself?

No surprise here - I prefer the latter option.

As such, I'd like to encourage you to make a smoothie (or two, or three) of your own. And, since I'm generally not one to suggest something without at least throwing my own two cents in, following are some tips that will help you (whether you're a smoothie novice or a bit of an expert) hone - or at least vary - your craft.

Now, here's to a Jamba-Dunkin'-gas station-instant mix-FREE summer!

Fruits/Fruit Juices:

Almost all types of fruit work well in smoothies. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are fairly common - but still delicious - ingredient choices, for example, while fruits like pineapple, cranberries, and kiwis are typically more unique additions to smoothies. Here, the good news is that both fresh and frozen fruit work equally well. (However, I tend to use frozen fruit almost exclusively because it keeps smoothies cold without requiring the addition of ice or the time-investment of freezing fresh fruit.)

The most important thing to remember (re: frozen fruit/juices) is that you should always use the kind with no sugar or syrup added. Incorporating fruit with added sugar into your smoothie will practically sabotage all of your healthy intentions. Plus, fruit that's saturated in something other than its own juices adds empty calories to your beverage and often includes high-fructose corn syrup (yuck!). So, please be aware of your ingredients.

In addition, it's best to use organic fruit/juices when possible, especially if your fruit of choice is on the EWG's "Dirty Dozen" list. However, don't skip smoothies all together if organics are too cost-prohibitive/you don't have access to them. Organic is ideal, but not strictly necessary!

Pictured: Red Pomegranate Smoothie; recipe follows


Just as when it comes to fruits, almost all vegetables taste great in smoothies. Spinach, lettuce, kale, and other leafy greens are popular veggie additions, not only due to their amazing health benefits, but also because they can easily be added to fruit-based smoothies. Of course, vegetables like carrots and celery can also be used, but they typically have to be put through a juicer (or Vita-Mix) first. Thus, since blenders are more commonly owned than juicers, the only veggies discussed for the remainder of this post will be easy-to-blend greens.

Two main points come to mind with regard to greens. First, while some people like the taste of veggies in their smoothies right away, for others, they can be a bit of an acquired taste. This is likely because we generally expect smoothies to be sweet (due to their typically fruity base), and because most people simply aren't used to drinking their greens - admittedly, it can be a bit daunting/scary at first.

As a result, it's best to add greens to your smoothies gradually, starting with just a small handful. After experimenting a few times, you'll find the right fruit-to-greens ratio, and may even decide to increase the amount of greens as you become more familiar with their taste.

Second, thoroughly cleaning your greens is essential. Kale and other leafy vegetables tend to harbor a lot of dirt and grit, so washing them with cold water several times is the best way to go. Simply fill a large bowl with water, float your greens at the top, and agitate them lightly with your hands so that the dirt will shake off and sink to the bottom. Allow the greens to settle before lifting them out; then pour out the water and go through the whole process again.

Repeat this until the water is clean (I like to save the water for my plants), and then remove the stems and blend the greens with liquid - water, non-dairy milk, etc. - before adding your fruit to the smoothie. Alternatively, it's fine to add the greens in with the rest of your ingredients and blend them all up at the same time. However, blending just the greens first helps prevent large, stray pieces of them from winding up in your otherwise smooth drink.

Pictured: Kale Mango Smoothie (L); Kale Mango-Pineapple Smoothie (R)

Non-Fruit/Veggie Ingredients:

Non-fruit/veggie ingredients are great for added flavor and for thickening/thinning purposes. They can also add complexity to an otherwise plain-tasting smoothie. Of course, protein, calcium, and other nutritional benefits are also increased when non-fruit ingredients are added to your recipe.

  • Non-dairy milks: soy; almond; rice; hemp; coconut (aka: "liquid base," use 1/2 to 1 c. per serving)
  • Nut-butters: peanut; almond; cashew; tahini (1 Tbsp. is a good place to start)
  • Other options: tofu; oats; soy yogurt (add as much/as little as you like)

Nutritional Add-Ons:

This category contains a few nutritional power-houses that I like to refer to as "nutritional add-ons" (for obvious reasons). Clearly, these ingredients are purely optional, but they do add even more health benefits to your already healthy smoothie! If you aren't familiar with the taste of these ingredients, begin by adding 1 tsp. per smoothie serving, working your way up from there.
  • Ground Flax Seeds/Flax Oil = great sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • Psyllium Husks/Wheat Germ = excellent sources of fiber
  • Soy Protein Powder = extra source of vegan protein
  • Lecithin Granules = great source of choline, for liver, heart, and brain health
Flavor Additions:

Sometimes your smoothie might need a little bit of extra oomph, which can be provided in either calorie-filled or calorie-free form. Extracts pack a lot of flavor in a small amount, while spices are full of beneficial antioxidant properties. Even sweeteners can be healthy in moderation - the closer to they are to their natural state, the better they are for you.
  • Extracts: vanilla; almond; mint (start with a "splash")
  • Spices: cinnamon; nutmeg; ginger (begin with a pinch or two)
  • Sweeteners: agave nectar; maple syrup; molasses (1 tsp. is usually enough)
  • Other options: cocoa powder; instant coffee; tea (varies, to taste)
Pictured: Peach Pie Smoothie; recipe follows

Hints for Making the Best Smoothies:

Although it's pretty tough to create a truly horrible smoothie, rumor has it that most people's blenders have seen at least one. Accordingly, it's helpful to have a go-to, basic guide to rely upon, especially when you're just getting started.

Thus, here's my simple (almost) fool-proof smoothie formula:

In a blender, combine 1/2 to 1 c. liquid base* + 1 c. frozen fruit + 1/2 to 1 whole banana + 1 tsp. nutritional add-ins (optional), and blend until smooth.

(*Liquid base refers to non-dairy milk, water, tea, or fruit/vegetable juices.)

So, for example, you might blend together: 1 c. chocolate soymilk; 1 c. frozen strawberries; 1 banana; and 1 tsp. of soy protein powder. Or: 1 c. vanilla almond milk; 1/2 c. frozen cherries; 1/2 c. frozen blueberries; 1/2 a banana; and 1 tsp. ground flax seeds.

Not interested in experimenting right now? No problem! Following are a few tried and true smoothie recipes. Enjoy, and remember that smoothies taste best when served immediately after they're made...

Recipe: Blueberry Almond Smoothie (pictured directly above, and at beginning of post)

3/4 c. vanilla or plain soymilk
1/2 c. frozen blueberries
1/3 c. frozen strawberries
1 ripe banana
2 Tbsp. raw almond butter
2 tsp. ground flax seeds

1.) In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

(Print, Email, or Text This Recipe)

Recipe: Red Pomegranate Smoothie (pictured above, within post)

1/2 c. pomegranate juice
1 c. frozen raspberries
1/2 c. frozen blueberries
1 ripe banana
1 Tbsp. molasses
1 Tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1.) In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

(Print, Email, or Text This Recipe)

Recipe: Peach Pie Smoothie (pictured above, within post)

1/2 c. vanilla soymilk
1/2 c. peach soy yogurt
1 c. frozen peaches
1-2 tsp. agave nectar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground ginger

1.) In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

(Print, Email, or Text This Recipe)
Just gotta have one more recipe?
Yea, I don't blame ya...


  1. What a great, informative post. Thanks for all of the creative ideas!

  2. my smoothies are so milk, protein powder, a frozen banana, or mango...thanks for all the tips!

  3. BEAUTIFUL pictures!!! And great info!! I am certainly going to "Delicious tag" this page for my next smoothie adventure!!

  4. great post on smoothies - you've covered everything. My blender lately has been making lumpies rather than smoothies, so even if I were inclined to drink green ones, now is probably not the time to start! Just can't get into the idea of fruits and veggies in the same glass.

  5. Those smoothies look great! I love all the pictures. Very comprehensive. Nice! I really enjoyed your blog.

  6. Thanks for the Fool Proof Smoothie Formula. I will concoct something wonderful with it in my kitchen. :)

  7. This is quite possibly the most thorough and inspiring post on smoothies I've ever seen! Definitely bookmarking this one, thanks for all of the guidance!

  8. what an awesome smoothie post. love the pics.

    my liquid base is almost always guava juice, pear juice and soy milk. for some reason, I really "need" the guava or passion fruit taste.

  9. What a great informative post on smoothies!

  10. Fantastic post with a ton of great info. I LOVE smoothies too and now have some great new ideas to try - Thanks for sharing!

  11. This is such a great post! Thanks for the awesome tips.

  12. These look and sound amazing!!

  13. Dear JD's man,

    JD DID come up with the braised mushroom recipe. Besides that, she is awesome and you are so lucky to have her.

    You should be singing this to her "Do you realize, that you have the most beautiful face."



Thanks for your comment - I love hearing from you!