Chad Nelson

Chad Nelson

Optimizing Your Life

Smoothies: Health Bombs or Health Builders?

In today’s world, if you tell someone that you had a smoothie for breakfast, the assumption is that you are a health-minded individual who puts thought into what you’re eating and that the smoothie you made was loaded with nutrients.

However, the reality is that although the concept and intentions behind making smoothies are usually good, most concoctions of “blended goodness” are far from health-promoting due to their high amounts of sugar. And although most of the time the sugar comes from fruit, it is typically in a pretty high amount due to the large volume you can blend to produce a much smaller volume of the end product.

Many people don’t realize just “how much sugar” certain foods contain, including various fruits and juices. Here’s a quick metric to learn: 4g of sugar = 1 tsp. Now, find a candy bar, juice drink, muffin, or protein bar and look at how much sugar it has. For every 4g of sugar on the nutrition label, imagine putting 1 tsp of sugar into that food or beverage. It adds up fast! Here’s an example with orange juice. They say it is full of vitamin C and good for you, right? Well, 1 cup of that liquid sunshine typically has 20g of sugar, which is 5 tsp! And that is just 1 cup; most people are piling more sugar on top of that in the same meal.

But, back to smoothies…

Smoothies have become a new common item on people’s breakfast menus. Whether they make them at home or if they stop by a local smoothie shop to get a creatively named and concocted recipe of foods you might not combine at home in a blender, but will pay for someone else to, it doesn’t make them “health builders” if the main ingredients are fruit or fruit juice. Instead, they are “health bombs”.

The impact of all of that “blended sweetness” in our bodies sends a huge signal to produce A LOT of insulin, which begins the vicious cycle of spiking and crashing our blood sugar throughout the day. Even if you add a scoop of your favorite protein powder, the sugar is still there and is still having a negative impact on your body, which is why a high-sugar smoothie breakfast isn’t an optimal choice and is more of a health bomb.

So, how do we make a smoothie a “health BUILDER”? It isn’t that hard, and it will taste good too!

First, you need to look at your liquids. Instead of using any kind of fruit juice base, I suggest you start with unsweetened nut milk, such as almond or cashew, assuming that you aren’t allergic to nuts. I also like to add some full-fat coconut milk (the canned variety, such as Thai Kitchen) to not only make it creamy but to add more friendly fat to the mix. If you are an active person or possibly spending hours on the golf course in the hot sun, adding some unsweetened coconut water is a good idea because it has magnesium, potassium, and manganese which are electrolytes and help with hydration, and it also offers some natural sweetness. Because amino acids are building blocks for the body and essential for cellular repair and other functions in the body, I think fantastic additions include a bone broth protein which is rich in collagen and helps to support joint health in athletes, as well as whey protein isolate which is well-known to support muscle growth and promotes muscle recovery in athletes.

Since protein powders come in a wide variety of flavors these days, you have a range of flavors to choose from such as chocolate, vanilla, apple cinnamon, to banana without added sugar from fruit or juice. Depending on what you like, you can add cinnamon to control blood sugar or turmeric to reduce inflammation.

A dash of Himalayan salt is always a good idea, and I often put in a splash of liquid stevia to sweeten it just a tad. If you want something more indulgent-tasting, add a scoop of organic, unsweetened peanut butter to a chocolate smoothie, and it will taste like dessert! If you really like a fruity smoothie, adding ½ cup of organic berries is your best choice because they are low-glycemic and loaded with antioxidants.

Making the perfect smoothie is a bit of a science and takes practice to get your ratios and portions just right for your liking. The list of superfoods—from greens to herbs, to spices–you can add to make it even more of a health-builder is pretty long, and can sometimes alter the taste that people enjoy.

So I suggest you start with the basics: unsweetened nut milk, coconut milk, coconut water, a blend of bone broth and whey smoothies (if you are active), a dash of sea salt, a splash of liquid stevia, and add-ons such as organic peanut butter, almond butter, or organic berries depending on what you prefer. If you stick with those basic ingredients, you’ve created a wonderful health-building smoothie for breakfast, lunch, or a snack in between activities.

Chad Nelson

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