Fiber ends up the butt (ahem) of a lot of jokes, but the reality is a little worrying: Only about 7% of Americans get the recommended daily allowance of fiber, and most get less than half that amount. So what, you say? So a host of undesirable results, unfortunately. Research shows that getting a lot of fiber from beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and colon cancer.
And that’s only one great reason to work smoothies into your daily routine. Pack ’em with leafy greens, a little nut butter, and as many other herbs and veggies appeal, and you’ve got a heck of a start on hitting that recommended 25-30 grams of fiber each day. You also have a nutrient-dense, mineral-packed, tasty meal.
Satisfy Your Hunger, and Your Sweet Tooth
Sugar, and especially refined sugar, comes with a lot of downsides—weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and inflammation among them—but it also lights up a lot of “good-feelie” regions of your brain. Eating sugar is rewarding, and for a lot of us it’s also wrapped up in emotions, whether consoling tough feelings or celebrating good times. Which means that knowing it can harm you and being able to avoid it are two very different things.
Getting fruit sugar alongside a healthy dose of fiber provides a way to get that sweetness so many of us crave without going overboard or taking in the empty calories of, say, a handful of jelly beans or a chocolate bar. There’s a danger of going too far and giving your smoothie the nutritional profile of a milkshake (more on that later), but half a banana and some berries go a long way toward satisfying a sweet tooth.
Meanwhile, your smoothie has the power to keep you feeling without making you uncomfortable. A lot of fiber, a bit of protein, and as many fiber-tastic leafy greens as you can cram into the blender will hold you for quite a while.
Blend a Truly Healthy Smoothie
“Smoothie” has achieved a halo of health that it doesn’t always deserve. Sure, getting more fruits and vegetables into your body is a plus. It’s just that commercially available smoothies are designed to keep you coming back, so they target your brain’s pleasure centers with, yes, a whole lotta sugar. Making smoothies at home involves some chopping and cleanup but gives you the opportunity to really get what you need out of your smoothie without a lot of stuff you don’t.
Here are some dos and don’ts for building good-for-you smoothies that taste super, too.
- Do include a lot of greens. Spinach, celery, cucumber, kale—anything you’d put into a salad is fair game and neutral tasting in a smoothie. You can pack in the green veg and let strong flavors do the talking.
- Don’t lean on bottled fruit juices to provide sweetness and flavor. Commercially available fruit juices are loaded with sugar but offer little or no fiber. Squeezing a lime or lemon into your smoothie brings zesty flavor without the extra sugar.
- Do throw some protein into your mix. Unsweetened yogurt, kefir, tofu, even lentils punch up the protein content, which helps keep you feeling full, and add body to your smoothie. Nut butters and milks do the same—just be careful about avoiding those that contain added sugar.
- Don’t go overboard on fruit. Throwing in a banana, a handful of strawberries, a kiwi, and some frozen mango chunks is overkill. Fruit sugar is better for you than refined sugar, but it’s still sugar. You’ll be surprised by how far a quarter cup of frozen berries will go to bring flavor to your drink.
- Do throw in healthy fats, like avocado, nut butters, coconut or olive oil, or full-fat plain yogurt. These ingredients give your smoothie richness and help it keep you fuller longer.
- Don’t shy away from nutritional boosters. You can find endless ways to get even more from your smoothies. Flaxseed and chia seeds add omega-3, fiber, and protein, for example, and green tea powder adds a host of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids that are thought to help burn fat and prevent cancer.
Do experiment. As the seasons change, so does the availability of fresh ingredients that’ll amp up your smoothies. Keep an eye on what’s available and be open to drinking cauliflower, for instance. Throw in some herbs. Use up that half jalapeno sitting in the fridge. Sprinkle in a dash of cayenne. If it’s tasty and good for you, it’s probably good in a smoothie, too.