There are so many reasons to start drinking smoothies, especially for breakfast, lunch, or a snack. Here are five of them:
• We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and get more antioxidants, vitamins, and healthy fats into our diet. A good smoothie has all of that.
• Smoothies are great for busy people—especially people who don’t like to cook— because they’re fast!
• At the same time, making smoothies can help you connect with your kitchen.
• Smoothies introduce you to the grocery store’s produce aisle, and all its possibilities.
• You know every single ingredient that’s in a smoothie you make yourself (unlike prepared or processed foods), so it can help with your overall wellness and even weight loss.
Making a smoothie is empowering! It lets you take control of your health, your nutrition, and your kitchen all at once. My clients tell me all the time how much they enjoy shopping for, preparing, and drinking smoothies. Smoothies are definitely a place to be creative, but I do see people making mistakes with them. They often put in too much of one kind of ingredient, or they don’t mix the colors (more on that in a minute), or they add empty calories.
There’s no scientifically defined perfect smoothie, but I have some recommendations I give clients who want to get the most out of their drinkable meal. Here are five of them:
1. Make it balanced: To help you get through the day, a smoothie needs to prevent blood sugar spikes rather than cause them. That means it can’t be all fruit. As a rule of thumb, I recommend my clients include one cup of fruit for every two cups of veggies. Of course, those veggies can be greens like spinach or kale—but you want to make it a goal to mix up the colors. The colors in plants derive from phytochemicals, many of which have been demonstrated to have protective health properties, including reducing risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some of these chemicals are damaged by cooking, so a raw smoothie is the perfect way to get the most out of them. Mix together green, purple, and white vegetables and use the full spectrum of fruit colors.
2. Build it up: A smoothie should be filling and sustaining, so I recommend adding protein powder to turn it into a complete meal. Especially if you’re trying to lose weight, protein can help to control your hunger and prevent muscle loss. A recent study suggested that muscle development is best supported by eating 30 grams at each meal, which provides a rule of thumb for how much protein powder to put in your smoothie. I generally recommend trying to make sure there are 25 to 30 grams of protein in every smoothie.
Protein powder is an easy way to get there. It comes in many varieties – whey, soy, pea, rice, egg white – and it’s really up to you which you use. They all taste different, and on top of that there are different flavored versions you can try (though I recommend always starting with the plain kind). Your 25-30 grams of protein will be a different volume depending on the source the powder comes from. As always, reading the label is the key.
3. Bring on the fat: So many people are afraid to eat fat, but it’s important to understand that many vitamins can only be absorbed in the presence of fat. Leaving fat out of your smoothie cuts into its benefits. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble, meaning that unless you add fat to your smoothie, you’re not absorbing any of them. The solution is easy, though, and delicious. Nuts and many seeds have fat—like walnuts and almonds, or chia and flax seeds. You can also add avocados, which are rich in monounsaturated fats.
4. Spice it up: This is supposed to be fun and tasty! So experiment with some spices and herbs in your smoothie. Cinnamon is a great option, especially for a breakfast smoothie. Mint is as well. For a lunch smoothie or in the afternoon try turmeric or ginger. Many spices and herbs also have health benefits. For instance, peppermint oil has helpful properties for people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, and perhaps for digestive upset in general. Turmeric has antimicrobial properties. By adding flavor you’re also adding nutrients.
5. Power it up: In my book Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet I describe the amazing Peruvian health foods that are now available in the US. These are foods rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins, beyond many of the healthy foods you’re already familiar with. There are a few of these superfoods in powder form, perfect for punching up the health impact of your smoothie. Here are four of them:
• Maca is a native Peruvian plant that grows in the Andes and resembles a small rough stone the size of a walnut. Maca functions as an adaptogen, thus aiding in adrenal function to increase energy and reduce stress, creating an overall revitalizing effect. In addition to its ability to boost energy, it has been used to increase libido, treat erectile dysfunction, increase semen volume and sperm count, enhance workout performance and improve concentration. It has been regarded as a potent sexual stimulant for centuries, so it's no surprise that today it's known as nature's Viagra.
• Cacao is rich in B vitamins as well as vitamins A, C and E. It's also a dense source of micronutrients, including iron and zinc. The antioxidants and polyphenols in cacao have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and have the potential to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease.
• Lucuma is a tropical fruit with tasting of caramel, pumpkin and maple. No wonder it’s the most popular ice cream flavor in Peru. Despite its natural sweetness, lucuma has a low glycemic index . Besides being a great source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals, Lucuma also helps lower blood pressure  and offers an abundance of Beta-carotene, which has strong anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties and can help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Camu-camu is a tropical fruit that is one of the world's most potent sources of vitamin C—more than 60 times the vitamin C per serving of the almighty orange. The vitamin C in camu is more easily absorbed than from supplements, too. In addition to high contents of vitamin C, Camu-camu contains carotenoids and anthocyanines. Some studies suggest the Camu-camu may have some anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.
There are so many possibilities for a great smoothie – but I want you to be excited about exploring them, not overwhelmed. To get you started on the path to a healthy summer season, here’s one of my very favorite smoothie recipe:
Ruby Red Power Smoothie
1 cup fresh strawberries
½ cup pineapple, cut into chunks
1/3 cup raw beets, chopped
¼ cup carrots, sliced
1 cup cucumbers, peeled and sliced
Juice from ½ lemon
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon lucuma powder
1 ½ cups coconut water
Gather all ingredients and place in a blender. Blend until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add more water if needed for desired consistency.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.