Behold, the smoothie: Done right, smoothies can be a great meal or a snack in a glass, since they're packed with fiber and vitamins. Done poorly, they can add to your waistline—fast. Some smoothies, especially those you purchase rather than make, contain 500 to 800 calories, making them a hefty meal. But when you control the ingredients, smoothies are a fantastic way to get a no-cook, nutritious meal or snack that you can take on the run.
Consider these five interesting ingredients to shake up the typical "fruit, yogurt, ice" smoothie recipe:
1. Cinnamon. One challenge of the perfect smoothie is achieving the right sweetness, without overloading on sugar. Enter cinnamon—it adds a layer of sweetness, with no calories at all. Plus, studies show that cinnamon may be helpful at managing your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Try it! Banana-Cinnamon-Oatmeal Smoothie: Blend one banana; ¼ cup regular uncooked oats; 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt; 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar; ½ cup skim milk; and 1 tsp. of cinnamon. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Calorie count: about 400, though you could also opt for two servings at 200 calories each.
2. Fresh herbs. For a taste of summer, toss in some fresh herbs from your garden—after all, what says "summertime" better than a strawberry-basil smoothie? Or, how about a mint-lime-raspberry concoction? Other herbs to consider: lemongrass, lavender, and cilantro. Fresh herbs contain antioxidants and are very low in calories, to boot.
Try it! Summer Strawberry-Basil Smoothie: Blend 1 cup fresh strawberries; ¾ cup vanilla flavored low-fat Greek yogurt; 5 to 6 basil leaves; 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice; and 1 tsp. agave syrup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil. It checks in around 175 calories.
3. Cottage cheese. Protein is important because it helps smoothies "stick with you" longer. Since protein takes longer to digest, it keeps you from getting hungry too soon. Sure, you can reach for the protein powder, but that's often expensive and can give your drink a gritty taste. Cottage cheese contains 15 grams of protein in half a cup, and it adds a creamy texture that you can't get from plain yogurt, milk, or soy milk.
Try it! Creamy Peach Smoothie: Blend ½ cup cottage cheese; 1 cup fresh or frozen peach slices; ½ cup ice; ½ cup apple or pear juice; and a drizzle of honey. Calorie count: around 240.
4. Avocado. It's hard to beat the creamy texture of an avocado. Plus, it adds a dose of healthy fats, fiber, and potassium. In Brazil, avocado is commonly added to ice cream; why not make your smoothie a Brazilian ice cream treat?
Try it! Velvety Melon Smoothie: Blend the pulp of 1 ripe avocado with 1 cup honeydew melon chunks; 1 cup soy milk; ½ cup apple juice; and 1 tsp. honey (more to taste). Split it into two servings; each is 240 calories.
5. White beans. An unusual smoothie ingredient, to be sure, but beans are arguably one of the most nutritious foods out there. Many Americans rarely eat them, which is a shame, since beans are the only food that count as both a vegetable and a meat substitute because of their diverse nutrients. They'll add fiber, protein, iron, and potassium to your smoothie. White beans are easiest to "hide" in a light-colored smoothie, while darker beans work best in dark drinks.
Try it! Ultra-Vanilla Bean Smoothie: Blend ¼ cup white beans with 1 cup vanilla low-fat Greek yogurt; 1 cup vanilla almond milk; ½ cup ice; 1 tsp. vanilla extract; and 2 tsp. maple syrup. Calorie count: 340.
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaRD.