Smoothies are one of those two-minute meals that can be healthy, fast, and delicious all at the same time. If your morning routine gives you just 10 minutes to get ready before you have to stumble out the door, a smoothie is a great grab-and-go brekkie to fuel the day.
But if you’re just throwing random combinations of fruit in the blender, your smoothie might not be as healthy as you hope. Keep in mind your body isn’t really designed to slurp a whole banana, boatloads of berries, and piles of pineapple in one sitting. Even though the sugar in fruit is “natural” and comes packaged with fiber, it can still make for a carb overload, especially when the portion is huge.
Using the right mix of ingredients can make your smoothie less of a sugar bomb without sacrificing the taste or texture you love. Here’s how to concoct low-sugar smoothies.
Embrace the seed. Chia, hemp, and flax seeds come with many health benefits, like protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Thanks to the 10 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein in each serving (seriously!), you might be able to scale back the serving size of your smoothie and still stay full until lunch. Learn more about the health benefits of chia seeds here.
Use silken tofu. Tofu is a master of disguise and can blend in with your fruits (literally) for a hidden protein boost. A 2015 study found that high-protein breakfasts were better for weight management in overweight young adults because it reduced their appetite for the rest of the day. Learn more ways to sneak in protein to breakfast here.
Add veggies. Vegetable smoothies are definitely a thing, but even if you adamantly prefer fruity blends, you can sneak in a low-carb, high-fiber veg or two without a dramatic change in the taste Think of smooth, neutral-flavored veggies like cucumber and cauliflower. Just like cauliflower can make a silky, convincing swap for mashed potatoes, it can also be pureed into a smoothie.
Go nuts. Whether you prefer peanut butter, almond butter, or some fancy $15 jar of walnut butter, nutty spreads add healthy fats and protein to your A.M. beverage. They also add a warm, nutty flavor that complements fruit well so you won’t need to add extra sweetener. Pro tip: A splash of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon helps bring out the nuttiness.
Add gut-friendly cultures. Yogurt adds a nice tang to smoothies so you’ll get flavor with less fruit. It also adds probiotics, which aid digestion, as well as good-for-you nutrients like protein and calcium. For the best benefits, choose plain, unsweetened, low-fat yogurt. (To Greek or not to Greek? Regular and Greek-style yogurt are both great, but Greek-style yogurt has double the protein.)
Go green. There’s basically no reason not to include some leafy greens in your smoothie. Spinach and kale are the two most common choices here, but you can also make smoothies with romaine lettuce, arugula, or swiss chard. If you’re a green smoothie newbie, start with spinach, which adds beautiful green color but won’t change the flavor of your drink. Start small and work your way up to adding a cup or two of greens into each smoothie—it’s basically drinkable salad.
Skip the juice. Liquefy your smoothie with water, low-fat dairy milk, or unsweetened soy milk. Even if your juice says it’s “100% juice from fruit,” it’s still sugar with the fiber removed. Plus, adding milk or soy milk gives your smoothie more calcium, protein, and vitamin D. (Here are more sources of vitamin D to add to your diet.)
Add grains. Perk up the fiber content of your smoothie with hearty grains like rolled oats, cooked quinoa, or wheat germ. These complex carbs may make your smoothie more filling and less sweet.
Find flavor in fresh herbs. If cutting back on fruit and added sugar is a tough adjustment for your taste buds, experiment with new flavors from herbs like mint or basil. Um, strawberry basil smoothie, anyone?
Need more ideas? Try this berry-chia smoothie bowl that’s low in sugar but high in fiber.