I’ve always been a smoothie devotee, however I usually reserved my frozen-drink-blending for weekends after a run or yoga class. They were, I figured, labor-intensive and not something I could make on my way out of my apartment in the morning, weighed down by a gym bag, a work bag with my laptop, a purse, my Nalgene water bottle, and my coffee travel mug.
Plus, there’s plenty of controversy in the nutrition sphere about the health of smoothies—some researchers have said that crucial nutrients are lost in the blending of the drinks, or that too much fruit means too much sugar. These are valid points, but a smoothie can also be a healthy and appealing way of eating fruit and vegetables for people that otherwise won’t at all throughout the day (often, myself included). In a 2015 study, researchers found that only 4% of kids eating a school breakfast ate a serving of fruit. When the school offered morning smoothies, that number jumped to 45%. Additionally, Penn State University is currently pioneering The Green Smoothie Project, aiming to increase children’s and adult’s intake of fruits and vegetables through smoothies.
So, to settle the breakfast smoothie debate, I decided to actually drink one every single morning for a week to see just how it affected my energy levels, cravings, and daily fruit and veggie count. Oh, and to see if setting aside the time to make one was actually realistic. Here’s what I learned.
Using a single serve blender is key
Making my smoothie in the cup I was going to take with me (which has its own lid) made the process simple. I just needed to toss whatever I was going to eat into the cup, blend it up, unplug the blender, and walk out of the door. There’s no mess or cleaning up your big blender when you use a small to-go one, and it also makes it easy to portion properly.
The Farberware blender I used is easy to operate, comes with interchangeable lids, and is simple to make one serving. It also blends really nicely for one of the cheaper models. If budget isn’t an issue, it makes sense to spring for one of the nicer, and more expensive, Vitamix models, which will grind your food more finely.
Frozen fruit is a (nutrient-packed) lifesaver
At first I thought I would buy fresh, organic fruit from the grocery store and lovingly chop it into bits and flavor my daily smoothie with it. Fat chance: this worked for about two days. I quickly realized that if I was going to take the difficulty out of smoothie making, I needed to buy frozen fruit. And this works well, because as it turns out, a 2015 research study compared the vitamin content in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and found no consistent differences, except that sometimes the vitamin content was higher in frozen fruits and veggies.
I bought frozen blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. As for nutritional content: yes, there is sugar in the fruit, but fruits also contain naturally occuring vitamins and nutrients, and soluble fiber. You just can’t make your entire smoothie with fruit: so add veggies. I prefer spinach and kale, and add a hefty amount to each smoothie. The goal I have for myself, which I did not complete this go-around, is to pre-bag some options: i.e., put bananas, strawberries, kale, and blueberries in containers in the freezer, so then I can plop them all into the blender at once without opening and closing all the individual little bags and putting them back in the refrigerator. Yep, I’m that lazy.
Taking time in the morning to nourish yourself is rewarding
In the morning, I am usually running around like a maniac trying to remember everything I need, and pack my car for a hefty commute. If I miss the time when I’m supposed to leave for work (7:30 a.m.) I start to go into Def Con 5. But, with the smoothie mandate, I was able to stop my hectic head games.
Even if I didn’t step into my kitchen until 7:30, I still had to stop and make that smoothie, and my coffee. It made me realize that being a few minutes late into the office was not going to ruin my day, and it made me appreciate that perhaps I would be happier overall if I didn’t insist on tearing out of the house, and spent a few minutes mindfully on a task in the morning instead. There was time for everything—I just wasn’t using it because I was too concerned with getting out the door.
It’s easy (and necessary) to add veggies and protein
Smoothies are what you make them. To make my smoothies healthy, I always added frozen kale or spinach, which are both easy and inexpensive to buy fresh and in large quantities at the store and then stick in your freezer. If I used too much spinach or kale, I would add some honey to even it out. I also often add bananas and dates (they add a huge pow of sweetness). When the bananas started to get too ripe, I peeled them and put them in a baggie in the freezer to use for my smoothies at a later date.
Cinnamon also adds a nice flavor to something like a banana peanut butter smoothie. Some days I added half an avocado to up the creamy factor. I also experimented with proteins: a couple spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt, or a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a scoop of organic protein powder and this non-GMO collagen powder to add some power to my mix. Those were easy protein additions to fill me up. If you’re trying to do this without adding protein, you are fighting a losing battle, my friend. It just won’t keep you full.
Every smoothie I made generally had my own concocted mix of banana, greens, fruit, and protein, which would vary every day. For the liquid, I would vary between coconut water, water, or sometimes milk (you can use whatever kind you like: rice milk works well for me, and nut milks are popular).
Buying one isn’t the end of the world
One day I cheated and bought one, but forgave myself immediately. It was kale, ginger, coconut water, mango, and pineapple (all good stuff), and it was delicious. Plus, I ate it with a protein-packed hardboiled egg to keep my blood sugar balanced.
If you’re bored, you can morph your blend into a smoothie bowl
This goes out to all of you “it doesn’t fill me up” haters. Smoothies are only as good as what you put into them! (And on them). One day, to make my smoothie pack a punch, in addition to using lots of veggies, I made it a little thicker by adding less liquid, and then spooned it out into a makeshift acai bowl (you can also buy frozen acai berry mix to create your own acai smoothie bowl). I added chia seeds, coconut flakes, goji berries, and strawberries to mine. Then, I declared myself the queen of all smoothies.
And as for smoothies not making you full in their drink form? It’s true that you can miss a crunch or bite of solid food. I sometimes supplemented with a hard-boiled egg or yet another banana at around 10:30am or 11 a.m., but generally I made it to lunch on my smoothie and coffee, as long as I added a significant amount of protein in the form of a powder, peanut butter, or Greek yogurt.
Overall, my breakfast experiment showed me that eating healthily isn’t really a question of not having time—it’s a question of priorities. If I allowed myself to prioritize my health in the morning by making myself a thick smoothie packed with vitamins and veggies (even if it took me an extra 5 minutes) I generally worked more efficiently and had more focus throughout the day. It’s the same with making time for a walk, run, or exercise class during the day, or a 5-minute meditation. It turns out a little self-care, and a blender, can go a long way.