Smoothies: Are you Friend or Foe?

smoothieI feel like I’ve been recommending smoothies a lot recently, and the interesting thing is that I tend to get one of two responses when the word “smoothie” is brought up in discussion. I either get enthusiastic approval or a general look of disgust. There is no in-between.

I must confess that I once poo-pooed smoothies. I mean, who wants to drink their calories, or should I more accurately say, slurp them down with a straw? Many of you are nodding in agreement right now. Honestly, I couldn’t put my hand on exactly why I was so negative towards these concoctions. Was it because many people use smoothies as an excuse to consume an excessive amount of sugar in the name of “health?” Or, because I never felt full or satisfied after having one? Or because they are generally messy, with a consistency that never turned out quite to my liking, and then created a fair bit of clean up? I’ll check all of the above.

The truth, as it turns out, is that the smoothies I’d had in the past were indeed high in sugar because I was getting them from places like Jamba Juice or Emerald City (gasp), which inevitably meant I did not feel full and in fact felt worse after consuming them. And when I made them at home with what I thought was my amazing KitchenAid blender, they turned out “chalky” (in the words of my son) or simply unpalatable. As you can see, I was a true smoothie hater.

But…I changed my tune. I started reading about these fancy-pants blenders that whizz up amazingly smooooooth beverages and I became intrigued. I also started seeing more Vegan protein powders that piqued my curiosity. I think I may have even had a sample or two and thought heck, I could make this. I needs me a fancy blender. I became convinced that I could make good smoothies if I had the right equipment, and with the right equipment I could make these fantastically healthy beverages for my sons. This is how I explained it to my husband anyways.

So with that I did my research, as I ALWAYS do, and I ended up with the Ninja. C’mon, the name alone says you are going to get one kick-ass smoothie. My well trained Ninja did not disappoint. I now make palatable…. no, delicious… smoothies that both me and my little men enjoy. I’m no longer a hater.

Now obviously this begs the question…. why smoothies? What intrinsic health benefits do they contain? My answer is always that there is no right or wrong answer to embracing or rejecting the smoothie. It is to each owns’ preference. You can get the nutrients you need from food, not a problem. But…. the brilliance of smoothies is getting a giant package of nutrients in one convenient beverage that is often packable and portable. Plus you might ingest things you might not otherwise eat in their lone state, such as chia seeds, kale, handfuls of spinach, wheatgrass, etc.

The reason I’ve been recommending smoothies so much is often I see a host of possible nutrient deficits in someone’s diet and a great way to bridge that gap is a refreshing breakfast smoothie or maybe an afternoon post-workout blended beverage. Alternatively I might hear the words “low on time” or “I hate to cook” (I hear this all the time folks) and the smoothie bell goes off in my head. This is a great way to pack in protein, leafy greens, and heart healthy Omega 3’s in one convenient “meal.”

Time crunch and cook-hating solved.

Like I said earlier, however, having the right equipment is key. My KitchenAid blender was not up to the task. Most blenders can handle some protein powder and milk, but once you start adding frozen fruit, greens and seeds, they just can’t pulverize that stuff to a nice, creamy consistency like some of the other more smoothie-targeted blenders.

If you are in the market for a blender, below is a link for a few to consider. Keep in mind that prices vary drastically! Yeah I’d love a Vitamix, but at $500+, I didn’t think the amount of smoothies I make justified the cost. My trusty little Ninja made the list, but I will admit that if you do a lot of smoothies and especially if you use a lot of greens, a Vitamix might be worth the cost. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sole utter a foul word against this supreme blender. I had a pulverized veggie mix from a Vitamix once and it was creamy bliss. You can’t go wrong, although your bank account might disagree.

Apart from that list, I’ve also heard good things about the Nutribullet. There really are a bazillion to choose from, so do your research if you are in the market for a blender and figure out which one would best suit the type of blending action you desire.

Have your blender now? Awesome. Let’s get blending. Oh right, what to blend? What to make?

If you need help getting started, I’ll provide a few tips and even my lazy-day smoothie recipe that I use frequently. Now, I like to remind people to focus on protein first, then your healthy fat source, and then the carb add-ins. It’s SO easy to go carb crazy with smoothies and that is NOT what we want. That is diabetes waiting to happen. You have to focus on BALANCE to make this work. Always have protein and fat. Supplement with carb. Make sense? I work with meal balancing every day with clients, especially diabetics, so if you have trouble with this concept, please let me know so we can talk. Otherwise smoothies can turn into a bad thing very fast.

Here is my super easy, lazy mama smoothie recipe that both me and my little boys enjoy. So far they really don’t know that any other smoothie exist, so I haven’t been challenged to up my game yet.

Ingredients (put into the single serve blender cup of my Ninja):
About 1 cup of coconut milk
1 level scoop of Vega Protein Powder, Berry Blend
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1 banana
½ cup frozen blueberries
Add coconut water or plain water if cup not quite full or if the consistency is too thick


I could probably list a million more recipes here, but isn’t that what the internet is for? Feel free to search to your hearts content and find something fun you want to try. If you are feeling adventurous and want to make up your own, here are some key components to consider including.

Don’t forget, protein is paramount! Always, always think about your protein source. Never drink carbs alone. They must always be with their buddy protein or bad things happen.

Whey Protein
There are various brands out there. I’m not an expert on whey protein powders so do your research. I just know that whey protein is known to help build muscle and is particularly effective for those who weight lift or simply want a protein powder that is easily assimilated by the body. Not for us dairy-sensitive folks, however.

Vega Protein (
Available at Super Supplements, PCC, Whole Foods, online
This is my powder of choice given I can’t do any of the dairy options. Many of them are sweetened with Stevia so if this doesn’t work for you, consider another option.

Hemp Protein
Great vegan option as well. There are a few brands to pick from, but most provide a good amount of protein and some have a good portion of fiber as well. The taste can be a bit off-putting for some but I don’t mind it. Sometimes I mix it with the Vega Protein.

There are others that are combos of chia, pea, hemp, rice, etc …. All good depending on what you are looking for, but the taste just hasn’t been to my liking. I’m all ears if you have found one you love.

Greek Yogurt
Yep, don’t forget yogurt can be the protein source for your smoothie. Dollop it in! I think Fage and Siggi are great brands.

Milk or Soy milk
Both of these contain about the same amount of protein per cup (8g). You should certainly add a bit more protein to your smoothie, but don’t forget that these milks count too. If you use soy, always go for organic.

Nut butters
While they are also considered fats, they also add a little protein punch as well. While peanut butter is the most common, don’t forget about almond butter, cashew butter, and sunflower seed butter.

I know I focus on protein a lot, but fat is important too. We need fats to function and they also help offset that pesky rise in blood glucose when paired with carbs. I always include some healthy fats to balance out my smoothie.

Options include…..
Coconut milk
Nut butters
Whole milk
Fish oil
Flax Seed Oil
Coconut Oil

Don’t forget our friend, fiber! Fiber also helps, just like protein and fat, to slow down the whole digestion of carbs so that blood glucose is not spiked by a rush of easily digestible carbs. Easy fiber to add in smoothies? Here you go…

Chia Seeds
Flax Seed
Wheat Germ
Leafy Greens
Fruits and Veggies

Lastly we have sweeteners. I always add a bit of something sweet, whether it’s a sweet fruit like a banana or a touch of honey. Remember to use sparingly. A little goes a long way and can make the difference between a smoothing being something nutritious or something harmful to your health and waistline.

Fruit (bananas, mangoes, etc)
Fruit Yogurt
Sweetened Kefir
Maple Syrup

I hope you have enough ideas to get you going. If you have fantastic smoothie recipes that you’d love to share, please do! Email them to and I’ll be sure to post them.

Image courtesy of tiverylucky /

Danielle VenHuizen, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist