How to Make a Smoothie

Smoothie with beries

It’s hard to think of a downside to smoothies. These blended beverages are not only quick and easy to prepare, but they’re also portable for convenient, on-the-go meals and snacks. Plus, they make a tasty way to reach your daily target of fruits and vegetables (sometimes camouflaging the veggies alongside sweeter fruit flavors). On the whole, they’re an excellent all-purpose blended meal.

Though you might think making a smoothie is as simple as hitting a button on your Nutribullet or Vitamix—and, often, it is—haphazardly tossing ingredients into the blender isn’t a guarantee of an appealing finished product. Believe it or not, there’s a bit of an art and science to making a great smoothie.

Smoothie Basics

Smoothies really are a catch-all for a wide variety of ingredients and flavors. But anyone who’s ended up with a fruit and spinach smoothie that turned an unappetizing shade of brown can attest that some combinations just don’t work.

To ensure you make a smoothie that’s delicious, healthy, and pretty to look at, you’ll want to start with a few basic components: a liquid, a source of protein, fruits and/or veggies, healthy fats, and optional flavor enhancers. Layer these ingredients in the blender pitcher, cover tightly, and blend at medium-to-high speed. Depending on your blender and the consistency of your ingredients, the mixture may take several minutes to get truly smooth.

As you craft your perfect smoothie, keep your personal health goals in mind, too. If you’re watching the amount of sugar in your smoothie, try to balance fruits and vegetables appropriately. If weight management is of concern, be mindful of portions of high-calorie ingredients like nut butter and full-fat dairy. And for general health, it’s best to keep added-sugar items to a minimum—so save choices like chocolate chips or caramel sauce for an occasional, not regular, addition.

Then there’s the question of to ice or not to ice. The general rule of thumb for a pleasantly chilly smoothie is a ratio of about half cold or frozen ingredients to half non-frozen. When you don’t have frozen fruit on hand, go ahead and supplement with some ice cubes. (With frozen fruit, ice won’t be necessary unless you want a more slushie-like drink). Just remember that you’ll want to drink a smoothie with ice right away to prevent it becoming too watery.

Liquid

The liquid is the key building block of an ideal smoothie consistency. Too much, and you’ll get a runny mess; too little, and you won’t be able to sip it through a straw. For a single-serving smoothie, you probably won’t want to exceed 1 cup of liquid. If you’re unsure how a liquid will thin out your particular mix of ingredients, pour it in the blender incrementally, remembering you can always add more.

Another factor in the right liquid balance is the water content of the fruits and vegetables. For smoothies with high-water fruits like watermelon, strawberries, or pineapple, or veggies like cucumber, you may need only a small amount of liquid—or none at all.  

Consider the following options for your liquid base:

 

  • Nut milk like almond, cashew, or macadamia
  • Soy milk
  • Oat milk
  • Dairy milk
  • Banana milk
  • Coconut water
  • Low-sugar fruit juice

Protein Source

Any smoothie can easily get packed with protein. (So, is it a smoothie or a protein shake? You decide.) While some proteins obviously don’t make great smoothie fodder—we’re looking at you, chicken—plenty of options have the right consistency for blending.

Whether you’re looking to refuel after a workout or just want to boost your daily protein intake, try these blend-able choices in your smoothies:

  • Tofu (silken works especially well)
  • Softer nuts like slivered or water-soaked almonds, pistachios, or macadamia nuts
  • Yogurt: Greek, full-fat, or low-fat
  • Protein powder 
  • Nut butter

The amount of protein to pop in your smoothie is, of course, up to you, but consider serving sizes as you add. A serving of yogurt may be up to 1 cup, but a serving of protein powder is generally just one tablespoon-sized scoop. Check food labels to determine appropriate servings, and consider how your protein will interact with liquid in your smoothie. (Nuts, for example, may soak up liquid, while yogurt may make your smoothie thinner.)  

Fruits and Veggies

From apples to zucchini, fruits and veggies add vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your blended treat. For pro-smoothie-making, it’s best to include frozen fruit whenever possible. Frozen fruits will thicken and chill your mixture for that refreshing ahh you know and love. Meanwhile, their sweetness can hide other, more bitter flavors from veggies. Frozen fruit is also usually more affordable than fresh fruit and can keep for longer periods of time.

Any frozen fruit is fair game, but, again, don’t forget to take water content into account. When using high-water fruits like berries or melons, start with lower amounts of liquid.

Fruits to try in smoothies include:

  • Bananas
  • Peaches
  • Melons like watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew
  • Berries, such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or cherries
  • Tropical fruits like pineapple, mangoes, papaya, or kiwi
  • Shredded coconut for added flavor and texture

Slipping veggies into smoothies takes a bit more strategizing since they can influence color and texture. If you don’t mind a smoothie with a bit of pulp, you can toss even crispy veggies like bell peppers or celery into a high-power blender with your protein, fat, and liquid. Otherwise, stick to more tender choices like spinach or peeled cucumber.

Getting an attractive color using veggies may also take some experimentation. Blended beets, for example, create a gorgeous pink, but greens like spinach and kale can clash with berries for an unsightly mud color. Test and tweak to get a look that appeals to you. Remember, even though a smoothie may look unappealing, it can taste great and have tons of health benefits.

The following veggies are prime smoothie ingredients:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard
  • Zucchini 
  • Cucumbers
  • Butternut squash 
  • Beets
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots

Healthy Fats 

To amplify creaminess and balance the macronutrients in your smoothie, it’s A-OK to add a bit of healthy fat. Healthy fat also satiating, so you won't be reaching for a snack only minutes after finishing your smoothie. Ingredients that contain poly- or monounsaturated fats are especially good choices. The following fats (in portion-controlled amounts) are outstanding smoothie additions:

  • Nut butter like peanut, cashew, or almond
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil

Flavor Boosts

Last but not least, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can always jazz up your smoothie with delicious extras. For more flavor and texture, sprinkle in a dash of any of the following: 

  • Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or turmeric 
  • Wheatgrass
  • Lemongrass 
  • Sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar
  • Flavor extracts like vanilla, almond, lemon, or coconut extract
  • Cocoa powder
  • Matcha powder

Make Your Own Smoothie Packs

Smoothies are convenient to begin with, but pre-made smoothie packs can streamline busy mornings or afternoons even further. Why not assemble your own? In zip-top plastic or silicone bags, place your desired amount of frozen fruits, protein source, and healthy fat. Stash the bags flat in the freezer for easy storage. Don't forget to label them with a date!

When you’re ready to blend, empty your smoothie pack into the blender, add a liquid base, then blend. Consider:

  • Berry Banana: Freeze ½ banana (peeled and sliced), 1 tablespoon flax seed, ½ cup blueberries, and 1 tablespoon peanut butter. To prepare, blend with ½ cup almond milk.
  • Strawberry Almond: Freeze ½ cup strawberries, 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1/2 cup cubed silken tofu, and ½ banana (peeled and sliced). To prepare, add a handful of fresh spinach and ½ cup milk and blend.
  • Tropical: Freeze ½ cup mixed tropical fruit, ½ banana (peeled and sliced), and 1 tablespoon shredded coconut. To prepare, add ½ cup coconut water and ½ cup Greek yogurt and blend.

Smoothies to Try

Need more inspiration for healthy sipping? Check out these smoothie recipes:

·     Dairy-Free Strawberry Banana Smoothie

·     Banana Chai Oatmeal Smoothie

·     Wild Blueberry Cheesecake Smoothie

·     Matcha Mango Green Smoothie

·     Anti-Inflammatory Tart Cherry Smoothie

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