One of my favorite morning rituals is making a nutrient-packed, healthful smoothie.
A properly made breakfast smoothie can be an exceptionally healthy meal – one that keeps you satiated for hours until lunchtime and provides a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Unfortunately though, if you’re not careful it is far too easy for your smoothie to become a sugar bomb that sends your blood sugar into the stratosphere, only to come crashing down to Earth a couple hours later. Ouch.
Here are three simple tips to constructing the perfect smoothie:
1) Start with an unsweetened base.
The fastest way to a sugar-bomb smoothie is using a sweetened base such as fruit juice or a sweetened alternative milk.
For instance, Jamba Juice’s Amazing Greens smoothie – which the company boasts as “a tasty blend of super greens, pumpkin seeds, peaches, lemon and bananas” – has a whopping 54 grams of sugar in the small (16 ounce). Think that’s bad? The large (28 ounce) has 92 grams of sugar. That amounts to 13.5 and 23 teaspoons of sugar, respectively, or about one-half cup of sugar in the 28 ounce drink.
One-half cup of sugar. In a drink.
What derailed this otherwise decent smoothie is that Jamba Juice does not really use lemons, as they boast. This smoothie is actually made with lemonade. And the peaches mentioned include a combination of both real peaches and peach juice. With water as a base instead of these two forms of liquid sugar, this smoothie wouldn’t be half-bad.
Another popular base for smoothies are alternative milks like soy or almond milk. In smoothie shops, these milks are almost always sweetened and can contain about 10 grams of sugar (2.5 teaspoons) per serving. And it’s not just the sugar in alternative milks that’s a problem. Even unsweetened versions contain additives and emulsifiers like the potentially carcinogenic carrageenan.
What don’t they contain? Too often, it’s the plant they are supposed to be made from. For example, according to an article on the Organic Authority website, a half-gallon of store bought almond milk contains less than a handful of actual almonds. A study of one brand in particular shows the milk contains only 2% almonds.
Save your money (and possibly your health) and make your own nut milk as you make your smoothie. Simply use one cup filtered water with ¼ cup raw almonds or raw cashews as your base. Blend these two ingredients first or just toss everything in at once – it all ends up the same.
2) Swap high-sugar fruits with low-sugar veggies.
Frozen banana gives smoothies a nice thick and creamy texture. Yum!
The downside is, one cup of sliced bananas contains 133 calories and 18 grams of sugar. While the sugar is the naturally occurring kind in fruit, it still adds the equivalent of 4.5 teaspoons of sugar to your smoothie. Add some berries to that smoothie and you may end up with more sugar than you bargained for.
What can you do?
Zucchini works wonderfully as a replacement for banana in a smoothie. It has a nice mild flavor and gives berry smoothies volume and a thick, creamy texture. Best of all, zucchini only has 19 calories and less than 3 grams of sugar per one-cup serving.
Not only does zucchini drastically reduce the calories and sugar in your smoothie, it’s loaded with nutrients. While it has less potassium than a banana, zucchini still packs a wallop! In addition to potassium, zucchini also contains minerals such as copper, manganese, magnesium and iron, as well as vitamins B and C and folate. It’s also anti-inflammatory and can help prevent cancer, heart attack and stroke.
Buy organic zucchini in bulk. Organic is crucial because zucchini (along with its relative yellow squash) is one of the most commonly genetically modified foods. Wash, peel, and chop into approximately one-inch pieces, then store in the freezer in a freezer-safe zipper bag.
Unpeeled zucchini will make your smoothie somewhat green. If that bothers you, peel before freezing. However, that’s not recommended because as with most fruits or veggies, many of the nutrients are contained in the peel. Besides, this is your breakfast – not a beauty contest – green is good!
Speaking of greens, toss in a handful of baby spinach or baby kale to up the nutrient content of your smoothie even more.
3) Include protein, fat and fiber.
I don’t just love to eat; I need to eat. Frequently. People who “forget to eat” boggle my mind. Even throughout eight rounds of chemotherapy I never skipped a meal. When I don’t eat, I get groggy, light-headed, and hangry.
Because of this, for years I avoided breakfast smoothies before finally deciding to give them a try. The thought of going 4-5 hours until lunch with only a smoothie to sustain me was something I could not fathom. Nowadays, smoothies are my go-to breakfast. Made correctly, my morning smoothie has been known to sustain me until one, even two o’clock in the afternoon.
The key to a smoothie that stays with you is to include protein, fat and fiber. These three nutrients – known as macronutrients – are what slow down your blood sugar reaction to the food you eat. Skip these and your smoothie may leave you with a mid-morning sugar crash that sends you careening to the nearest coffee shop for a caffeine and sugar hit to sustain you until lunch.
Here are a several ways to incorporate these valuable nutrients into a smoothie that keeps you happy and full for hours:
There is a lot of debate about whether blending fiber-rich foods breaks down the insoluble fiber – the type your body cannot digest. This type of fiber passes through you intact and increases the bulk of your stool, which helps keep you regular.
However, according to this article by Dr. Ed Blonz, who holds a Ph.D. in nutrition, there is no basis to this fear. Dr. Blonz claims the blending process does not break down the molecular bonds that form the essence of the fiber.
Follow these three tips for a smoothie that will put a smile on your face and keep you satisfied until lunch. Happy blending!
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