This post was originally published in May 2011, and has been updated.
A smoothie can be a great way to start the day if you do it right — stick to whole fruits and vegetables and healthy supplements and ditch anything with added sugar such as fro-yo. If you’re looking to mix up your morning blend, here are some suggestions on superfoods to toss in the blender that will amp up the nutritional value and flavour of your smoothies.
Greens: We could all stand to get more green vegetables in our diets, and throwing something leafy into your morning smoothie is a good start. Try adding a handful of kale or spinach to the blender for some extra vitamins and minerals, including healthy polyphenols. You can also use a green-vegetable powder like Greens+ or some liquid greens like Vital Greens.
Tea: Try replacing the water you’d usually include in your smoothie with some cooled tea. Nourishtea makes a great matcha powder — it’s made from ground whole green tea plants, and is full of antioxidants. Just add the powder to your smoothie mix. And Tealish offers a variety of wellness teas that contain herbs to help with energy, sleep and digestion.
Kefir: If you like to add a bit of yogurt or milk to your smoothie mixes, give kefir a try. It’s a fermented milk drink made with milk from cows, goats or sheep, and many people find it easier to digest than whole milk. You can also look for kefir made from soy or other dairy alternatives.
Banana powder: If you want the potassium of bananas without the bulk of adding them whole, try using banana powder instead. It’s made from dried bananas finely milled, and its potassium can act like a natural energy drink after a tough workout. Edica Naturals makes one that you can also mix with water for a quick pick-me-up.
Nut and seed butters: A dollop of a natural butter from a healthy nut or seed can give you a bit of healthy fat in your smoothie, which is important as a little bit of fat helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A and E. Nuts To You nut butters are also made without additives or additional sugars, or you can make your own hemp butter by blending hemp hearts, hemp oil and butter in a food processor.
Flax: Flax seeds need to be ground in order for us to take advantage of their healthy omega-3 fats, and ground flax seeds are perfect for mixing in with other smoothie ingredients. The small brown or golden-coloured seeds also offer protein and fibre. If you like your morning shakes to be really smooth, you can go with a flax powder.
Coconut: The coconut fruit has a lot to offer us. Adding coconut water (the liquid inside young green coconuts) to your smoothie in place of other liquids provides you with nearly fat-free hydration and electrolytes. Blue Monkey sells coconut in a powdered form that makes it easy to make your own water on the go, though it has added sugar. You can buy coconut-based milks that work well in smoothies, and a bit of coconut oil can provide energy and healthy fats for nutrient absorption.
Protein powder: There’s a constantly growing array of protein powders available on the market and including one in your smoothie will make it more filling. Vega makes a variety of powders that are vegan and free of common allergens like soy. Their Vega Energizing Smoothie is a great way to have a morning drink if you don’t have time to blend something up. Manitoba Harvest makes several hemp-based protein powders, both flavoured and unflavoured, that also have omega-3 fats.
Chia: The Aztecs were on to something — chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fats and are full of fibre. They’re also a source of calcium, and they’re being researched for their role in diabetes prevention. And yes, these are the same seeds used to grow greens on Chia Pets. Chia seeds and powder thicken when added to liquids, so keep that in mind when you use them.
Maca: If you run on caffeine, consider adding some maca to your morning smoothie. Maca is a root plant indigenous to Peru that’s a good source of iodine (so avoid it if you’re on a low-iodine diet for medical reasons). Vega sells powdered maca products.
Cacao: If you love chocolate, cacao is a great way to add that taste to your smoothies without all the added fat and sugar. Cacao beans, also called cocoa beans, are the seed from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter get extracted. They’re full of flavonoids, and unlike chocolate they’re only minimally processed, so the nutrients are left largely intact. Look for both cacao powder and nibs (pieces of the bean).
Non-dairy milks: Going with a dairy alternative for the liquid portion of your smoothie is a great way to mix things up, and can provide you with different tastes. Hemp Bliss milk comes in a few different flavours, both sweetened and unsweetened, and has calcium and omega-3 fats. You can also choose almond milk if you want to avoid dairy, but watch out for the high sugar content in store-bought flavoured varieties. Instead, make it yourself at home. And if you have allergy issues, rice milk is a great option.