Making Smoothies that are Flavorful AND Nutritious | Carson Tahoe Health

Making Smoothies that are Flavorful AND Nutritious

Nancy Horn, owner of Dish Cafe and Catering and writer for the RGJ’s “Dish it Up” series, asked Carson Tahoe Health’s Registered Dietician, Kim Mason, for a nutritional analysis of one of her favorite smoothie recipes. Some of Nancy’s favorite smoothie ingredients include a bit of milk (especially almond milk), summer berries and fresh mint. Protein powder also is essential.

These days, many folks are taking some of their meals in liquid form and in a rainbow of colors. These drinks are everywhere, displayed across the glossy pages of magazines, discussed in health food forums online, riding shotgun in cup holders, seen in the hurried hands of people scurrying to work, or pulled out at lunchtime to be sipped while scanning social media and catching up on emails. Friends, let’s have a chat about the smoothie.

While it might seem as if this blended drink is newish, the smoothie actually is an invention that coincided with the debut of automated freezing and refrigeration in the early 1900s, followed in 1922 by the invention of the first blender, something created for milkshake making. With these innovations, fruit could be harvested in season, then frozen for later use, and folks could use a bladed machine to whir up a chilly delight at home.

Thus, the smoothie. If you look at the history of fruit drinks, you’ll find that many cultures had smooth fruit purées hundreds of years before these inventions were introduced, but it took chilly fruit plus the blender plus the health food and gym craze for the smoothie to catch on and become the phenomenon it is today. There are even businesses solely devoted to this concoction, as you know. Fun facts, right?

But here’s a word of caution: Be careful with your ingredients. Yes, smoothies can be easy and refreshing, but not all these blended drinks are healthful. It’s seems so simple to throw a few ingredients in a blender and let ’er rip, but let’s take stock first. I’m going to share with you a formula for a great tasting smoothie, a list of my favorite mix-and-match ingredients and a few helpful tips to make your liquid energy fast and stress-free.

The right ingredients

I love to use tasty and nourishing building blocks so that I’m not tempted to pop into a store when I’m craving a cup of chilly goodness and receive, instead, an expensive bellyful of sugar, calories, inferior ingredients and chemicals. Stick with me, kids, and you’ll stay on the right path.

First, you need a good protein powder. To me, a smoothie must be as nourishing as most meals I eat (I absolutely indulge at times, but I’m committed to quality most of the time).

That means seeking out a powder with a short list of ingredients and nothing your body doesn’t need. Look for low sugar content (less than 8 grams per serving), protein (at least 20 grams per serving), low carbohydrate content, a good amount of fiber and no preservatives or chemicals. An organic brand should meet most, if not all, of these criteria. If you have any ingredient sensitivities, check the label and research.

Second, you need some kind of fruit or mild tasting vegetable for nutrition and flavor. I love freezing summer berries, bananas, pineapple, avocado, sliced ginger and other fruit so I can enjoy their flavor while also using them as my “ice” instead of ice cubes that can make your drink watery. Spinach, kale, chard, lettuces and herbs (like basil and mint) make great drinks and add vitamins and nutrients, so keep those on hand in abundance.

A good friend of mine pre-blends her greens, then blends them into her smoothies at the end. This way, the greens get double blended and have a less bitter taste in the final drink. She blends up big batches of greens, portions them into small resealable bags and freezes them. She thaws the portions on the counter a little before making her smoothies for the day.

Third, you need to decide on a liquid. You’ll need a small amount to bring everything together and make a drink rather than a frozen blob of fruity slush. I like all sorts of milks, especially almond and coconut. Juices with no sugar added like apple juice or orange make good drinks and help the flavor profile if you’re using lots of potentially bitter greens.

Layer in blender

Add-ins like plain Greek yogurt, nut butters and dried fruit boost the nutrition by adding protein and help with the texture by adding smoothness and thickness to your drink. Again, look for low or no sugar on the label. You’d be surprised how many calories and sugar are in these foods.

Lastly, sprinkle in ground spices or extracts to make your tastebuds happy. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves or a few drops of almond, coconut or vanilla extract add specialness and flavor without sugar and calories.

Of course, now that I’ve given you a huge idea list, I’ll also say that a smoothie can be as simple as frozen strawberries, vanilla protein powder and water.

Once you’ve got your ingredients figured out, start layering them into your blender. Begin with your liquid so your machine can use that to get blending. If you have a large quantity to make, blend in batches and mix everything together at the end. Add more liquid if you need to.

Drink your smoothie immediately or freeze for the week. You can use plastic cups, ice cube trays or even resealable bags. Just defrost on the counter as you get ready in the morning or in the fridge overnight. Have fun with the process and get the kids on this job. Happy blending.

Smoothie Recipe

1 cup liquid (such as almond milk)

1/2 cup frozen fruit

1/2 cup loose greens

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1 serving protein powder (check the label for the measurement)

Place ingredients in order into blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy right away or freeze up to a week. Makes 1 serving, about 16 ounces.

Nutrition information per serving: 310 calories (17 percent from fat, 26 percent from protein, 57 percent from carbohydrates); 33 g protein; 6.5 g total fat; 2 g saturated fat; 1.5 g monounsaturated fat; 29 g carbohydrates; 3 g fiber; 413 mg calcium; 1 mg iron; 505 mg sodium; 7 mg cholesterol.

Nutrition analysis provided by Kim Mason, R.D., L.D., M.S., nutrition care manager, Carson Tahoe Health, Carson City



Photo: Joe Horn/Special to the RGJ, Joe Horn/Special to the RGJ