Healing Foods: Not Your Ordinary Smoothies

How familiar does this smoothie scenario sound: One overripe banana, a few frozen strawberries, a splash of apple juice, and ice cubes? Not a bad concoction–but you can do better. By adding more exotic fruits and vegetables as well as nut butters, different proteins, and even spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, you can tailor smoothies to fit your mood and health goal. Whether you want to lower cholesterol or boost bone health, strengthen immunity or build muscle, smoothies can meet your needs beautifully.

These versatile elixirs, however, can hide a surprising number of calories. “Too much fruit can translate to too many carbohydrates, which, in turn, translates to too many calories,” says Dave Grotto, RD, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association in Chicago. The excess sugar also spikes your blood glucose and insulin levels, which, over time, raises the risk for diabetes and weight gain. Large quantities of fat, protein, or other extra ingredients in the drink further inflate the calorie count.

To keep sugar and overall calories in check, limit snack-time or side-dish smoothies to about a cup of fresh or frozen fruit (roughly 120 calories). If the smoothie serves as an entree, balance calories by shooting for about 1 cup fruit (or 4 ounces of 100 percent natural juice), 2 tablespoons protein powder, 6 to 8 ounces yogurt or milk (soy, rice, and nut milks work, too), and 1 tablespoon nut butter (or 1 to 2 teaspoons of flax, hemp, or walnut oil). All told, this comes out to around 450 calories.

The combination of carbs, fat, protein, and fiber helps regulate blood sugar and satiate hunger for longer periods of time. If you’re watching your blood sugar, select fruits low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index ranks foods based on how quickly they raise blood glucose levels; pure glucose scores 100 and foods lacking carbohydrates score zero. Typically, fiber-rich, unprocessed foods fall lower on the chart than sugary or refined ones. (For the glycemic rating of common foods, go to Web Exclusives at www. alternativemedicine. com.)

While all fruits are healthy, “not all fruits are created equal when it comes to the glycemic index,” says Grotto. Bananas, for example, have a higher GI rating than berries and will spike glucose levels faster. That doesn’t mean bananas are off-limits, but people prone to insulin resistance or insulin deficiency may want to avoid going ape over them.
Keeping these caloric and glycemic guidelines in mind, you can then adjust the smoothie’s ingredients to match your health needs. “It all depends on your goals,” says Grotto. “You can design smoothies to be low-fat, heart-healthy, digestive-friendly, and so on. The possibilities are endless.”

Consider these suggestions for making your own functional smoothies:

For weight loss, experiment with veggie smoothies, using a carrot or butternut squash base and adding broccoli, spinach, kale, cucumber, or other greens. You can offset the slight bitterness of some vegetables with the sweetness of cooked beets, an apple, or extra carrots. Stay away from full-fat milk products, and go easy on nut butters and sugars. Fiber additives such as oat bran or psyllium husk (found in Metamucil) help satisfy hunger and also thicken the smoothie.

For lower cholesterol, steer clear of whole-milk products, egg yolks, and animal fat or meat. (But seriously, who adds bacon to a smoothie anyway?) Opt, instead, for oats and oat milk, which have been shown to reduce cholesterol and stimulate the immune system. Ground flaxseeds (or flaxseed oil with lignans), soy milk, and dark chocolate-all proven cholesterol cutters-also work well in smoothies. Phytosterols (plant compounds you can now find in many fortified foods such as yogurt, orange juice, and cheeses) dramatically lower cholesterol as well.

For an antioxidant boost to combat aging, as well as inflammation and diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, go for maximum color in your smoothies. In particular, blueberries, blackberries, tart cherries, pomegranates, acai, and mangosteen juice score off the charts for antioxidant richness. Buy them frozen or in season, and then freeze to use year-round.

For digestive balance, add yogurt containing live and active cultures. These friendly bacteria help you digest food and defend against harmful bacteria that can cause diarrhea, stomach upset, yeast infections, and low immunity. Liquid probiotic supplements also do the job and offer a good alternative for those intolerant to dairy. Prunes work well in smoothies, too, and add fiber and roughage important for digestive health.

For post-exercise recovery, ramp up the fruit and fruit juice content to replenish fluids and the glucose stores depleted by your exertions. Bananas in particular help restore electrolytes lost through sweating. Toss some protein in that smoothie as well, be it from dairy or a protein powder, like soy, whey, rice, or egg white powders. The extra protein helps repair and build muscles, especially if you consume it in the first hour after you exercise.
� For an immune system boost, make a veggie smoothie-the powerful carotenoids in carrots, butternut squash, and broccoli rally the immune defenses and protect against free-radical oxidation. Whey protein also strengthens the immune system, as do grapefruit, avocado, and Brazil nuts.


Agave nectar. Low-glycemic syrup that sweetens without spiking blood glucose levels as much as sugar Taste: A sweetness somewhere between sugar and honey

Hempseeds (or oil). Provide protein as well as the perfect 4-1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids-essential for quelling inflammation, boosting brain power, and warding off disease Taste: Nutty, oily taste, easily masked by other ingredients.

Cacao nibs. Chocolate at its purest, packing powerful flavonoids shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and boost heart health. Taste: Adds a bitter, cocoa flavor that complements sweet ingredients.

Acai. An Amazonian berry containing more antioxidants than almost any other fruit or vegetable and anthocyanins that help combat aging, cancer, and heart disease Taste: Has a tart, chocolate flavor.

Simply mix and blend to boost your health.

Bone Builder smoothie
1/2 cup low-fat, calcium-enriched vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup non-fat plain or vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup canned prunes (or dried prunes soaked for
20 minutes in warm water then drained)
1 large sliced frozen banana
1 scoop vanilla-flavored soy protein powder
1 tablespoon agave nectar (if desired)

Garnish: Several banana slices on the rim of each glass

Note: To freeze the banana, peel and slice, place in a plastic
bag, and freeze overnight.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories 310; Protein 12.2 g; Carbohydrates 67 g; Total Fat 0.8 g; Saturated Fat 0.1 g; Cholesterol 2.5 mg; Sodium 148 mg; Fiber 5.6 g

Post-Exercise Recovery/Anti-Aging smoothie
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup acai or mangosteen juice
1 cup frozen cherries
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup low-fat or fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1 scoop vanilla-flavored whey protein

Garnish: Whole blueberries and a sprig of fresh mint

Nutrition information per serving: Calories 319; Protein 16 g; Carbohydrates 61.5 g; Total Fat 2.1 g; Saturated Fat 1.1 g; Cholesterol 22.5 mg; Sodium 96 mg; Fiber 3.6 g

Cholesterol-Buster Shake
11/2 cups low-fat vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup omega-3 enriched orange juice
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 cup sliced frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen papaya
1 tablespoon honey

Garnish: Chopped almonds sprinkled on top and a whole, fresh strawberry on the side of each glass.

Nutrition information per serving: Calories 341; Protein 12 g; Carbohydrates 57 g; Total Fat 8.6 g; Saturated Fat 1.4 g; Cholesterol 11 mg; Sodium 155 mg; Fiber 4.9 g

Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living. Click here for a free sample issue.

By Jennifer Lang, Natural Solutions magazine


Jeanne R
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne R
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne R
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne R
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne R
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Vural K.
Past Member 9 years ago


Wini A.
Wini A10 years ago

thanks for all the smoothie recipes. believe it or not, i use smoothies for weight gain so the more calories the better but i do strive for a good balance of the cho-protein- fat. I add some ground flax seed to my smoothies and it blends in so well that the seeds are unnoticeable.

Shannon L.
Shannon L10 years ago

Thanks for the comments, Catherine, and Josh - I'm a new vegetarian and soy is a large part of my protein intake. The constant debate and information influx I've seen on soy has been helpful but also daunting in adjusting my diet.

Josh F.
Josh F10 years ago

I agree with Catherine. You can read about the dangers of unfermented soy at Dr. Mercola's website here: http://www.mercola.com/article/soy/index.htm

Catherine Clark
Catherine Clark10 years ago

Please reconsider unfermented soy products, such as soy milk. Unfermented soy products contain high amounts of phytic acid, which is an anti-nutrient and prevents any nutrients in the soy from being absorbed by the body. Most soy is also GM, so it is not a good idea anyway. Any nut milk or seed milk or even raw cow or goat milk would work. Raw milk has the enzymes needed for digestion, with none of the negative characteristics of commerical milk.