How to build your own smoothie, plus a recipe for my Sweet Potato Power Smothie!

There’s something about smoothies that draws our minds immediately to the word “healthy.” Maybe it’s the fact that they often boast ingredients like “real fruit,” “yogurt,” and even more obscurely alluring ones like “wheat grass” and “flax.” How can stuff like that be bad? The problem is, most of the commercial smoothies you get can be real calorie bombs, and a serious problem for your poor blood sugar levels. The portion sizes tend to be too big and the simple sugars – even if they’re coming from real fruit – too high. Plus, I’ve learned that “yogurt” can really just mean “frozen yogurt” which is often no better than ice cream and “real fruit” can mean “real fruit juice with a banana thrown in for good measure.”

Needless to say, you have to be careful if you’re looking for a health drink; or, you just have to make your smoothies yourself! The best part about this second option is that it’s actually a lot easier than you think. Once you have the ingredients in stock, it’s really just a matter of throwing a handful of things into a blender and mixing them up for 30-60 seconds. You can make your mornings flow even better by assembling the ingredients in the blender the night before and storing in the fridge, or even making a whole bunch of smoothies in advance, freezing them, and pulling one out into the fridge to thaw overnight. At that point, it becomes even faster than stopping at your local Jamba Juice or (I shudder to think) McDonald’s.

If you’re interested in getting started but don’t really know what to buy, here’s a breakdown of what I normally put into my smoothie:

-A protein base: Because of how concentrated the sugars in a smoothie can get, I like to match them with a touch of protein to help slow the absorption of the simple sugars and stabilize my own blood sugar in the process. I usually use around 6 ounces of greek yogurt for this, but I’ve also seen recipes that call for silken tofu. Just the other day I added in a cooled scrambled egg, even, though unless you have a really high power blender, you might be left with some egg “debris” particles that some may dislike texturally. Of course, you can also use milk/milk alternatives, regular yogurt, or fruit juice as the base for your smoothie, but like I said, I like choosing something that’s relatively low in sugar and higher in protein most of the time.

-Fruit Add-Ins: Most smoothies are going to include some kind of fruit. Bananas are great additions because they have a mild flavor (so they pair well with just about any other add in you choose) and they help to thicken up the smoothie a little. Don’t feel boxed in by the rest of the fruits out there, though – there are so many possibilities! I think it’s easy to stick to things like berries or peaches, but I’ve heard of people using apples, pineapple, kiwi – you name it! Just know how strong your mixer is before you start throwing in really hardy fruits. It’s also always nice to keep some frozen fruit around, either bought that way from the store (this is a nice option because they’re often already in good bite-sized chunks and require no prep time on your part – just make sure they’re not packed in any kind of syrup) or frozen yourself. If you use a combination of fresh and frozen fruit, you’ll get a nice, cold, thick smoothie without adding any ice cubes which can, over time, make the smoothie watery.

-Vegetable Add-Ins: Yes, I put vegetables into my smoothies, too! This is actually an excellent way to pack in a few of those recommended daily servings, because most of the time you can add them without altering the taste at all. If I have it in the fridge, spinach goes into all of my smoothies; it turns the drink green, but you won’t taste it, I promise. Any type of puree works, too, though this is more likely to alter the flavors, so either add these in lesser amounts or make a smoothie focused on those flavors (think pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, for example). In fact, the smoothie I’m going to share with you today is a Sweet Potato Power Smoothie!

-Some sort of fat: Just like protein, fat can help slow down your digestion of simple sugars, so it lessens the load that all of that fruit and yogurt is putting on your body. Plus, there are a lot of vitamins and nutrients that require or are enhanced by the presence of fats to even be absorbed, so you’re doing yourself a disservice if you go totally fat free. 1-2 teaspoons of nut butter, flax, actual nuts, even some avocado – these are all excellent additions to a smoothie because they deliver a modest dose of healthy fats.

-Extras: Now it’s time to jazz it up! Once you have all of your other ingredients in there, consider what other flavors you might like. For something with pumpkin puree, add some cinnamon, nutmeg, and freshly grated ginger; with apples, considering a small drizzle of honey or maple syrup; for berries, think about lemon zest. These are the ingredients that don’t really add nutrients or large amounts of calories (just watch with the honey and maple syrup – 1 teaspoon is often plenty!), but they can really make the other flavors in the smoothie pop.

Now that you know the basic steps I use for building a better smoothie, here’s a recipe that I created for a Sweet Potato Power Smoothie. I made it for the first time earlier this year, and it really didn’t turn out well. The ginger drowned out all of the other flavors, for one thing. For another, it was excessively thick and I wound up eating it with a spoon. And then there was my brilliant idea to throw in some black beans at the tail end, except this idea came to me after I had poured it into my glass. So, instead of putting it back in the blender and mixing it all up, I just tried to mash the beans myself and mix them in by hand. I know, I know, your stomachs are turning at the thought of it. It was really, really not good at all, but I had a feeling I could get the hang of it yet, so I made one more attempt, and it was wonderful! I mean, really fantastic – it was sweet, full of cinnamon and ginger, with a slight hint of sweet potato in a way that doesn’t detract from the texture one bit. I used vanilla yogurt to sweeten it up, and ice cubes because it didn’t really require any other ingredient that I could’ve had frozen.

Smoothies in the Past: Strawberry Mango Power Smoothie

Sweet Potato Power Smoothie
Yield: 1 serving

The Ingredients
½ sweet potato
1 container (6 ounces) vanilla yogurt
½ - 1 cup loosely packed spinach
1-2 teaspoons almond butter
¼ inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
nutmeg and cinnamon, to taste
3 ice cubes

The Method
Microwave the sweet potato to soften it, then remove the skin and mash the flesh (I snacked on the peel while making the smoothie – I can’t help it, I love potato skins!). Allow it to cool before placing it in the blender with all of the ingredients up to the ice cubes. Blend well, agitating with a spoon or spatula now and then if necessary. Blend in the ice cubes in the end, taking care to crush them so that they’re fully incorporated.


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