Breakfast Smoothie | The Do’s and Don’ts – Recipes Included!

Breakfast Smoothie | The Do’s and Don’ts
(Smart Eating Smoothie Recipes included)

When a client tells me they are having a smoothie for breakfast, I become a nutritional detective.  Is it a nutritional boost or a sugary dessert?

Here are the do’s and don’ts of a morning smoothie:

DO:  Start with an unsweetened protein base.  Use Greek yogurt or kefir as the liquid component to blend ingredients. These provide a boost of protein and a probiotic and are optimal choices for creating healthy, creamy smoothies.  Add water or milk for a thinner consistency. 

For vegan or vegetarian, use silken tofu or soy milk.

Plant based milks like almond milk generally have no protein, so if you use them, make sure they are unsweetened and add another source of protein like nuts, seeds or a protein powder without sweetener.

Coconut milk is high in saturated fat with no protein, so if you use it, choose the light coconut milk but remember, it also contains an inconsequential amount of protein.

DON’T: Add fruit juice.  That will turn a nutritious smoothie into a high-calorie, sugary dessert. Also, juice has all the fiber removed.  We want the FIBER!

DO: Sweeten smoothies naturally. Fresh or frozen fruits should naturally sweeten your smoothie, but if you need an extra dose, try adding beets or dates.  Don’t immediately turn to sweeteners, artificial or otherwise.

DON’T: Add sugar. I often see people trying to get away with vanilla yogurt or canned fruit, but check the label, it’s probably full of sugar.  Allow your taste buds to re-calibrate and appreciate the flavor of natural sweetness of fruit or dates.  Sugar will do little to satiate hunger, and it tends to make you want to eat more than you intended or than is good for you.

If you must, or your children insist, add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup – not the pre-sweetened yogurt or plant based milk.  It’s not that sugar is so terrible, it’s that we eat way too much of it so best to save it for a real dessert rather than breakfast.  As much as I don’t like to placate children, parents must pick their battles and a smoothie with a teaspoon of honey is better than a sugary breakfast cereal or a plate of pancakes.

I’m always surprised when I try to order a smoothie at the gym or a juice place after my workout when I’m traveling – there is often no smoothie base that is not full of sugar – the yogurt, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk – they are all sweetened.  And since juice is full of sugar, it leaves you with milk as the best option.  You don’t get the probiotic, but you get some protein without sugar.

If you are dairy-intolerant, ask for water and add a protein powder, ideally without sugar.

DO:  Add whole fruit.  Berries have the least amount of sugar, but it’s great to mix it up with any fresh fruit in season, including bananas.

DO: Try nut butters and flax seeds. A small dose non-hydrogenated nut butter like almond, peanut or cashew butter is a healthy way of adding protein, fiber and flavor to a smoothie.

A teaspoon or two of flax, chia or hemp seeds provide a plant based source of essential fatty acids along with fiber.  Be sure to use ground flaxseeds, since the whole seeds aren’t absorbed by the body.  This healthy fat source will keep you satisfied for a longer period of time.

DO: GO GREEN – WHEN YOU’RE READY. Start with a handful of raw spinach. It’s easy to mask the flavor of spinach with almond butter and banana, making it the perfect choice for green-smoothie starters. Once you’ve acquired a taste for greens, begin branching out to kale or parsley.  The folic acid boost is worth it.

DON’T: Pour in protein powder unnecessarily. I’m not crazy about protein powders since they’re often filled with highly processed ingredients. But they can be helpful to boost protein levels, especially for athletes and older individuals, where muscle building is more reliant up on protein than hormones.  Whey protein is the highest quality protein  source, especially if you are an athlete.  If you’re vegetarian, use pea or soy protein.  Choose protein powder with the least amount of ingredients, stevia sweetened. (It’s hard to find one unsweetened.)  Best to use natural sources of protein instead to help sustain your energy throughout the day.

DON’T: Drink a second serving. If you’re using a smoothie as a meal replacement, it’s natural to think you’ll need a larger portion. Although we don’t need to count calories, it might be helpful to have a sense of whether you want a 300 calories smoothie or a 700 calorie smoothie.  It depends on your age, size, activity level and how long that smoothie needs to last you before the next meal comes along.

DO: Beware of overindulging.  Even if you’re only adding more fruit, the calories and sugar can creep up quickly.

Here are my favorite smoothie recipes:

Add whey protein for additional protein.  If vegetarian — pea protein.  Choose protein powder with the least amount of ingredients, stevia sweetened. (It’s hard to find one unsweetened.) 

Basic | Smoothie

1 cup low-fat or non-fat plain kefir or Greek yogurt

1-2 teaspoons ground flax seeds

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries or raspberries

300 Calories, 10-12 grams Protein


Long lasting |  Smoothie

1 cup lowfat or nonfat plain kefir or Greek yogurt

1-2 teaspoons ground flax seeds

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, strawberries or raspberries

1 tablespoon almond butter

½-1 frozen banana

600-700 Calories, 18 grams Protein


Green | Smoothie

1 cup lowfat or nonfat plain kefir or Greek yogurt

1 handful fresh spinach

1 tablespoon almond butter

1-2 teaspoons ground flax seeds

½ – 1 frozen banana (or not frozen)

300-400 Calories, -18-20 grams Protein

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend well till smooth.  For a more efficient smoothie, use a metal milk shake can and in immersion blender.   The various blender options are fine as well, like a Magic Bullet.

Make use of fruits in season beyond berries – peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots.  Tropical fruits add a wonderful flair- papaya, mango, guava.  Be creative and enjoy!

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