Until recently, if you wanted to have a really truly good-for-you smoothie, your best bet was to blend one at home.
Juice bar concoctions often are loaded with sugar, like the “Protein Punch” blend at a local spot, for example, that has only 9 grams of protein and 112 sugary carbs – hardly a punch of protein.
Fortunately, smoothie shops and juice bars are making it easier than ever to pick up a legitimately nutritious smoothie.
Still, even natural, organic and plant-centric shops offer smoothies that are brimming with sugar. When I ask these shops why, I get the same responses: “It makes them taste good.” “That’s what people want.” And my favorite: “It’s organic sugar.”
Sugar can help a smoothie taste better, but even if the sugar is naturally occurring and/or organic, it adds calories.
So the key is to customize your blend. Nearly every smoothie shop not only allows but encourages it.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Select your base. Low- or no-sugar liquids such as unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk, fresh-pressed vegetable juice (spinach, kale and/or cucumber juice), coconut water, and even coffee or tea. Tip: Don’t assume that these are unsweetened – if you’re not sure, ask. Even house-made organic nut “mylk” often is made with added sugar.
Step 2: Pick your protein. Protein keeps us feeling fuller longer, curbs cravings, supports lean muscle mass and enhances post-workout recovery. Smoothie shop sources of protein often include protein powder (usually with options of whey or plant-based), collagen powder and Greek yogurt.
Step 3: Add veggies and fruits. Add as many veggies as possible, but if you’re watching sugary carbs, limit fruits to one or none. Many smoothie shops now offer spinach, kale and carrots, along with a variety of fruits. Ask whether fruits are fresh or frozen and are prepared with no sugar added. If the answer is yes, you’re good to go. But steer clear of concentrates and juices, since these can add as many sugary calories as a soft drink.
Step 4: Plant-based fats. If your smoothie is to serve as a meal, add a source of fat, preferably plant-based fat. It also will improve the texture and creaminess of your smoothie. Some of my top picks include nut butter, such as almond butter, cashew butter or peanut butter, avocado or coconut oil, and nuts and seeds.
Step 5: Nutrient-rich add-ins. This is where you can get creative with powdered greens, matcha green tea powder, ginger, turmeric or chipotle. Spices, herbs and powdered superfoods are easy ways to add a punch of nutrition.
If you live in New Orleans, I shared my 5 favorite on-the-go options with NOLA.com.