Smoothies are one of the most simple ways to provide the body with an abundance of nutrients in a short amount of time. While the modern world currently favours being ‘busy’ over taking things slowly – especially in the UK or US, as opposed to more traditional slow-paced ways of life like those of native Mediterranean families – it’s useful to have a few recipes that can be made quickly or ahead of time. Smoothie bowls can work even better than smoothies if you have a couple more minutes to spare, as they’re often consumed a little slower, which allows them to feel more satisfying, and the body can absorb more of the nutrients.
One of the most important things about smoothies though, is knowing exactly what you’re consuming. A small bottle or flask may look ‘innocent’, but there are a whole lot of smoothie companies that inject a huge amount of sugar into their otherwise ‘healthy’ products. As always, making something yourself means you’re the boss; you decide what goes into the drink and into your body, which ultimately means the difference between a day feeling energised and strong, or lethargic and hangry. (You know, that horrible combination of hungry and subsequently angry….)
Confectionary Confusion: The ‘Sugars’ To Love & Leave
When fat became ‘evil’ and everyone switched to eating low fat, low cholesterol foods in the mid 1980s, companies had to add something else into those foods to make taste good and sell well. So, they added in sugar – and lots of it. In the UK, statistics show that children ages between 4 and 18 currently, get on average about 15% of their dietary intake from added sugars. Added sugars are found in so many processed and packaged foods, that it’s difficult to escape them – unless you’re eating whole, real foods! I completely understand that it’s difficult to eat whole foods all the time, especially if you lead a busy lifestyle, and much of a person’s poor diet is down to lack of education, not lack of wanting to be well – which is exactly why I wanted to share a little knowledge of how to create a smoothie that is balanced and tasty, with a few little tips you can keep with you forever to help yourself live and feel well.
As a stark contrast to the high-sugar diet many people in the West are consuming (although if you take a look at a few Asian dishes or Indian desserts, you’ll notice they’re notorious for adding in sugar too!), there are also diets that advocate low or no sugar. These diets are great for a lot of people, and certainly help with weightloss and reduction of many chronic and autoimmune diseases, however what each of us considers sugar might be a little different.
The ‘clean eating’ craze that has swept modern media over the past few years can fairly be held accountable for making normal, healthy young people (often females), fearful of food, especially anything that isn’t squeaky-clean healthy. This way of thinking doesn’t just put fizzy drinks, sweets, and microwave meals in the ‘high sugar’ and ‘unhealthy’ category; it adds fruits like bananas, dates, and even things like melon and pineapple to the ‘off limits’ list. Granted, these fruits are high in sugars, but they’re natural sugars, and they interact with the body in a totally different way to processed sugars. (FYI: Processed starches like white bread, white rice, white pasta, most cereals and flours also behave like sugar in the body). A smoothie would indeed benefit from being low in extremely high sugar fruits, but it doesn’t mean they should be cut out entirely, as they all have benefits and healing properties, and natural sugars provide energy for living a full life!
To ensure you’re picking the good sugars over the not-so-good, remember the following:
- Uncommon names for added ‘sugar’ to avoid:
Sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, caramel, dextrin, diatase, D-manose, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, and of course – ‘sugar’.
- Natural, healthy sugars (when eaten in moderation):
Fruits, raw honey. In moderation: black strap molasses (full of iron!), and a small amount of dried fruits
Often, smoothies bought from shops are sweet, and contain either an added sugar or a huge amount of fruit – so a home made smoothie may not be quite as sweet. Adding things like beetroot, carrots, apple, maca, lucuma, cocoa, and cinnamon can all add a sweeter taste without adding a huge amount of sugar
Micronutrients & Supplementation
Whizzing food up into one bowl of deliciousness allows plenty of room to play around with ingredients, and can allow you to add in some (good quality) supplements or vitamin poweders if you feel you need them. Here are a few of the additions I often add, and that I think are worth investing in:
Maca: Originating from high in the mountains of Peru, Maca is a root that has been used for centuries to boost energy levels and mood, and is also great for balancing hormone levels. Maca is an adaptogen, which essentially means it helps the body’s systems ‘adapt’ to stress. The modern world is full of things that cause stress, deplete energy levels, and create hormone imbalances, so this supplement can be especially useful for women who are susceptible to stress.
Spirulina: Especially if you’re vegan or vegetarian, this blue-green algae is a great way to obtain a wide spectrum of amino acids, and plenty of plant based protein. It’s high in B vitamins, iron and copper (three things notoriously low in a vegan diet), and has powerful antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties.
Moringa: Another ‘superfood’ actually worth investing, in – Moringa has come to be known as the ‘miracle tree’ due to its plethora of healing properties, and contains lots of essential minerals, vitamins and proteins. It’s incredibly beneficial for the immune system and energy levels, however, it’s important to only take Moringa every so often, as it also contains ‘antinutrients’ which can inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, since plenty of other foods containing phytates or ‘phytic acid’ from grains and legumes, gluten, tannins (found in tea and wine), oxalates (found in sesame seeds, brown millet and soy beans), lectins (found in beans and wheat), also contain antinutrients. Eating a varied diet full of lots of different types of foods then, is important to ensure proper absorption of the nutrients – as we can eat as much ‘healthy’ food as we like, but it won’t do anything if the nutrients aren’t being absorbed.
Raw Cacao: Essentially chocolate in its raw form, cacao is incredibly high in antioxidants, which can delay ageing and reduce inflammation. Raw cacao also had great mood-boosting properties, and can make a smoothie taste ‘chocolatey’ without compromising on its nutritional value.
Mushroom extracts: Having become more popular in the past couple of years thanks to companies like Four Sigmatic, mushroom extracts and elixirs’ amazing benefits can now be widely enjoyed and are much more easily available. Mushrooms are great adaptogens, and briefly, these are some of the best and currently most accessible: Chaga (an immune system booster), Reishi (calming and stess-relieving), Lion’s Mane (enhances brain power), and cordyceps (wonderful for raising energy levels and endurance – one to take before heading to the gym!)
Chia Seeds: Nature’s little wonder seed, chia has been gracing the shelves of health food stores and many supermarkets for a few years now. They contain plenty of healthy omega 3 fats, protein, and calcium. They’re best used mixed into a smoothie and left for a couple of hours to fully soak up the liquid and become more easily digestible. Their high fiber content makes them great for gut health and super satiating too!
Flax Seeds: I’d often use either chia seeds or flax seeds, since they both have similar and powerful benefits. Flax is great for balancing hormones, providing healthy fats, and is also great for digestion. Again, it works well mixed into liquid and allowed to absorb for an hour or so.
Grass-fed collagen: Granted, this wouldn’t be suitable for vegans, but as I no longer follow a strict vegan diet, I now use it often in smoothies, and have really noticed the benefits. Collagen is found in skin, nails, and connective tissue. After experiencing a lot of aches and pains, consuming collagen has really helped decrease them, and has also been very supportive in maintaining strong joints and ligaments.
Coconut oil: By now you’re probably well aware of the benefits of coconut oil, and if you haven’t already been mixing it into your morning coffee or spreading it on toast, then this could be a good opportunity to start using the medium chain healthy fat. The body’s cells require fat in order to help nutrients and information pass in and out of them effectively. Healthy fats also help lubricate joints, aid in cognitive function, and basically allow the body to work properly. Medium chain triglycerides in particular (which coconut oil is), can help improve digestion, boost metabolism, enhance brain power, and aid in endurance. If it isn’t coconut oil I’m using, then it’ll probably be MCT C8 oil from LoveLifeSupplements, which is even more powerful than coconut oil, and is useful for variation.
“Where Do You Get Your Protein?”
There’s a big conversation surrounding protein right now, and it goes something like this: Are you getting enough? Are you getting good quality protein? Are animal or plant based proteins more effective? Are you actually getting too much protein?
Indeed, protein is incredibly important for living well. It’s the ‘building block’ of the body’s tissues, and helps in the repair and remodelling process that is constantly happening. If we didn’t eat protein, it would be very difficult to be active and strong, and repair injuries.
BUT too much protein isn’t a good thing. It places stress on the kidneys, and takes more energy for the body to digest. A high protein diet (especially those high in animal protein) is also linked to a shorter lifespan and increased likelihood of the development of cardiovascular disease. Yet right now, everyone is going crazy over it.
One quick good search, and you’ll find an abundance of protein bars, shakes, meal plans and recipe books. Yes, a good amount of protein can help maintain and build muscle and aid in weightloss, but that doesn’t mean four scoops of protein powder need to be added to every meal and snack…. The equivalent of one chicken breast is enough protein for each meal – although of course needs vary depending upon your particular exercise and training regime, and goals. Personally, I think a good protein powder can be added to smoothies when there aren’t other suitable options available, if you need to build muscle, or are recovering from injury or surgery.
Great proteins to include in smoothies:
Hemp, chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, nut butters, pumpkin seeds, greek yoghurt, good quality whey, rice protein, pea protein, chickpeas (yep, they’re great in a smoothie!) and kefir, collagen, cottage cheese.
Spices are your secret to giving a smoothie bowl superpowers. There’s a reason spices have been used medicinally for thousands of years – because they work! Turmeric has incredibly potent anti-inflammatory and healthy cell regenerative abilities (always add black pepper to turmeric to activate it properly), cinnamon is great for balancing blood sugar and preventing an inuslin spike, ginger is great for digestion, cloves are natural painkillers, cardamom is high in antioxidants and great for skin health, cumin (although a little smelly) is a mighty metabolism booster, basil is wonderful for calming nerves, and cayenne is both a digestion and metabolism enhancer. SO, for example; if you’ve been consuming a little too much sugar recently, or have high sugars fruits in your smoothie, opt for cinnamon, if you’re feeling achy and run down, add turmeric and black pepper, if your skin is suffering, add cardamom, and if your digestion is sluggish include ginger.
Keep in mind the following rough measurements when preparing your smoothie bowl:
- 1 large handful leafy greens: lettuce, kale, spinach, chard. However, if you have hypothyroidism, avoid greens that contain goitrogens, and opt for non-starchy vegetables like romaine lettuce, cucumber or courgette. These greens can also be frozen.
- 1 small handful low-sugar fruits: Berries, papaya, apple, kiwi, guava. These fruits can also be frozen
- 1 small handful non-starchy vegetables: Brocolli, bell pepper,
- 1 serving of protein: a scoop of good quality protein powder, a couple of table spoons of greek yoghurt, or a couple of tablespoons of chia, flax or hemp seeds.
- 1 serving of healthy fats: a Thumb-sized amount of nut butter, coconut oil, another MCT oil, avocado, or even something like ghee or hemp oil
- Superfoods , elixirs, vitamin powders etc (optional)
- Spices (optional)
- Sweet or dried fruits (optional)
- Liquid: Cover all ingredients in the blender with filtered water, coconut water, non-dairy or organic milk, kefir, cold brew coffee or any other type of liquid you prefer – other than fruit juice!
Whizz all ingredients until you reach your perfect smoothie consistency, place I the fridge for a couple of minutes, then top with seeds, nuts, coconut or berries and eat! As a nutritionist friend of mine once advised; it’s important to CHEW your smoothie – as the act of chewing releases digestive juices, and allows the body to both properly absorb the nutrients, and digest them.
5 Smoothie Bowl Recipe Ideas
Hormone Helper & Mood Booster
- 1 handful frozen spinach
- A few sprigs frozen broccoli
- 1 handful frozen dark berries (blueberries, blackberries and currants)
- 1 tbsp collagen
- 1 tbsp hemp seeds
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 2 tsp spirulina
- 2 tsp maca
- Topped with pumpkin seeds & cacao nibs
Recovery Smoothie (full of protein and circulation-boosting ingredients)
- 1 handful kale
- 1 handful berries (blueberries, blackberries & strawberries)
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 tbsp cottage cheese
- ¼ beetroot
- 1 tbsp flax seeds
- A few slices of courgette
- 1 sachet of four sigmatic chaga elixir
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ginger
- Top with berries
Energy-Boosting Chai Smoothie Bowl
- 1 handful spinach
- 1 hanful frozen berries
- 1 bell pepper
- 2 tbsp greek yoghurt
- ½ tbsp. cacao
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- A couple of cardamom pods
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ginger
- 1 sachet four sigmatic cordyceps
- 1 tsp turmeric & black pepper
- Top with pumpkin seeds & bee pollen
Full of Healthy Fats
- 1 handful kale
- 1 apple
- ½ avocado
- 1 tbsp flax
- 2 tbsp hemp
- 1 tbsp collagen
- 1 tbsp moringa
- 1 slice fresh ginger
- Almond milk
Great For Gut Health
- 1 handful frozen spinach
- ½ papaya
- ½ cup kefir
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp. collagen
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp turmeric & black pepper
- Top with blueberries and seeds
Mix & match your own, experiment with flavours, and ENJOY creating healthy, wholesome bowls to start your day with!