Healthy Beginnings

Create perfect plant-based smoothies with this simple formula

Follow this simple formula to create a sensational (and healthy) morning smoothie.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article first appeared on Sept. 7, 2017, in the healthy-eating blog Green Press, and is republished with permission. Click here to read the original version, which includes helpful infographics.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, “Outliers,” he populated the notion that you need to perform 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any field.

After three years of running my own smoothie bar and 10 years of drinking them at home, I’ve done my 10,000. Humbly, I say — I’m an expert.

After firing up the blender all these years, I noticed a consistency that runs through a perfect smoothie. A formula. The healthiest and best tasting combos look like this:

  • 2 cups of vegetables
  • 1 cup of frozen fruit
  • 1 spoon of protein
  • 1 and ½ cups of a plant-based liquid
  • 1 serving of a natural sweetener (optional)
  • 1 serving of super foods or flavor pops (optional)

 

2 cups of vegetables 

A good smoothie always starts with veggies. There’s no easier way to get serious size servings of age-preserving multivitamins into your body.

Spinach is my all time go-to. It’s the beginner and expert green because it’s low on bitterness and high on nutrients. Use two cups if you measure it, or just one big handful.

 

1 cup of frozen fruit

Next up is frozen fruit. It provides creamy texture, fiber and slow-releasing energy. Never think of fruit as fructose. Fruit doesn’t spike your blood sugar or make you fat — you need to eat more fruit, not less. So do I.

For smoothies, bananas are my go-to. As well as softening your stool (unnecessary alliteration!) and giving you energy, they contain hydrating potassium and Vitamin C. Other options include:

  • Berries: doesn’t matter if they’re blue, black, raspberry, etc., they’re all rich in antioxidants.
  • Pineapple: a unique anti-inflammatory, plus it’s delicious.
  • Mango: seasonal, sweet and Vitamin C rich.
  • Avocado: I prefer to plop them on salads, but if you’re loaded for cash and want some creamy good fats, then blend those suckas.
  • Papaya: great for skin.
  • Pear: full of essential minerals.
  • Watermelon: helps with bloating.
  • Apple: doesn’t need to be frozen, works well with cinnamon.
  • Cucumber: another salad staple, but the water content is great for your skin.
  • Pitted cherries: mix with raw chocolate.
  • Figs: massive fiber source.
  • Kiwifruit: fiber dense multivitamin.
  • Passion fruit: Instagram garnish.

If you’re not organized enough to freeze your fruit (which is me most days), use fresh fruit with 1/2 a cup of ice. It thickens and chills. No one wants a watery, room temperature smoothie.

 

1 serving of plant-based protein

Protein, as well as narcissistically toning you up, helps keep you full. That means less grazing immediately afterward, and there’s evidence that a protein-dense breakfast leads to healthier choices throughout the day.

Our favorite proteins are plant based. They simply have more vitamins and minerals that make you younger. Nuts and seeds have up to 20g of protein and they’re full of essential fats. The Vitamin E content, among other nutrients, makes your skin healthy.

I scoop a generous tablespoon of nut butter, or a handful of nuts and seeds, in my smoothies. It makes breakfast a serious meal. My favorites are:

  • Peanut or almond butter: no comment needed.
  • Rolled or steel cut oats: fiber rich and cheap on the pocket.
  • Pumpkin seeds: one of the best sources of magnesium.
  • Flaxseeds: one of the best sources of omega-3, 6 and fiber.
  • Walnuts: brilliant brain food that helps prevent neurological aging.
  • Greek yogurt: the fermentation stabilizes the acidity of animal protein, and it creates gut healthy probiotics.
  • Hemp seeds: the most complete plant protein on the planet.
  • Chia seeds: excellent source of fiber.
  • Tahini: sesame seeds are high in minerals, especially calcium.
  • Cashews: creamy texture that substitutes any dairy.
  • Almonds: seriously dense in all of your essential minerals plus Vitamin E.
  • Plant-based powder: find a hemp protein with little additives.

You might ask, what about whey (and casein) for protein? Dairy isn’t essential to good health. In fact, it’s the opposite; 60 percent of humans don’t even have the digestive enzyme to process milk after infancy. And there are plenty of other studies that show it’s not a healthy source of protein or calcium (the inflammation is actually bad for your bones).

Whey used to be thrown in the trash. It’s a bi-product of making cheese. Then someone realized it’s protein-dense, and after a bunch of commercial manufacturing steps, you can sell it to people wanting to look better. Suddenly, a billion-dollar empire was born out of garbage.

Plus, have you read the ingredient label of whey/casein protein? Tell me which of these foods you make at home or order at a restaurant: milk solids, dextrin, arabinogalactan?

Despite the dairy rant, I’m not a huge advocate for plant-based powders either. Again, read the label. They have the same sweeteners, synthetic ingredients and stabilizers as whey and casein. I look for a hemp protein with as few ingredients as possible. Or I make my own protein powder.

 

1 and ½ cups of plant-based liquid

You’ll see a lot of coconut water and almond milk recommendations on our website. They’re our go-tos. I particularly love 100 percent coconut water. It’s naturally sweet and full of hydrating electrolytes.

Almond milk is a little creamier and cheaper to buy, but unlike coconut water, not every almond milk product is the same.

In a perfect world, you’ll make your own. But if you’re time poor (#lazy) like me, then you’ll buy it. Try finding one with a 1-6 week expiration date, sold in a fridge.

These ones cost more and are more perishable. They should have over 10 percent almonds and not many more other ingredients than water. Other liquids we love:

  • rice milk
  • oat milk
  • cold coffee
  • cashew milk
  • filtered water
  • green tea
  • coconut milk — if it’s in a can, add water to thin it out

 

1 serving of a natural sweetener

Natural sweeteners are optional for the super-conscious crowd, but I’m a sweet tooth. In moderation, they bring their own nutritional properties. My favorites are:

  • Maple syrup: contains antioxidants and minerals.
  • Dates: great source of fiber.
  • Raw honey: anti-bacterial, anti-viral and immune boosting.
  • Blackstrap molasses: brilliant for pregnancy, as it’s a huge source of iron.

Some plant protein powders are OK and work as a sweet flavoring agent as well as a protein. But forget using rice malt syrup as your sweetener for anything.

 

Super foods and flavor pops

You can make make thousands of combinations with the formula as it is, but we’ve got a few super foods to add to the mix. They’ll give unique properties and/or flavor enhancements:

  • Cocoa: surprisingly huge source of iron, magnesium and zinc.
  • Cinnamon: one of the world’s best antioxidants.
  • Beets: great for circulation, energy and folate.
  • Vanilla bean: we use the 100 percent powder, but it’s expensive so vanilla paste or vanilla essence is OK.
  • Medicinal mushrooms: reishi and maitake are our favs (we don’t recommend magic ;).
  • Collagen: scientifically helps skin.
  • Lemon: detoxifier and alkalizer that prevents and heals disease.
  • Blue green algae: spirulina, chlorella and e3 are legit super foods with multiple functions.
  • Mint: helps calm digestion.
  • Cacao: just like cocoa, only better.
  • Camu Camu: 12x your daily Vitamin C needs in one serve.
  • Coconut oil: fuel for the brain.
  • Turmeric: ancient anti-inflammatory.
  • Ginger: soothes stomach pain and supports your immune system.
  • Maca: powerful hormone balancer

 

Conclusion

We can’t get more comprehensive than that people. It’s probably a little overwhelming. My daily go-to is baby spinach, frozen banana, oats, dates, rice milk, ice and cinnamon. It ticks every nutritional box I want and it’s a serious meal.

James McLoughlin co-founded Green Press, a healthy eating blog, in 2013. He grew up in Alice Springs, in the Australian outback. Visit www.greenpress.co or www.facebook.com/greenpress.co to learn more.