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How to build a GREAT smoothie
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Let’s talk smoothies. Not the sugar bombs you can buy at most chains, not a post-workout snack, but an actual meal-replacement smoothie. One of these should fill you up for 4-6 hours, balance your blood sugar and get you well on your way to hitting your protein intake for the day. It’s a morning ritual for me (one of many!) and with a little bit of social proof from family and friends, I can say with some confidence that my smoothie formula is prettayy, prettayy, good. Also great for meal prep if you’re heading out in the morning. And if you intermittent fast, this would be an excellent way to break your fast.
NOTE: If you’re a savory breakfast person, this post is probably not for you :) But I have 5 delicious savory smoothies in my cookbook that will add a protein punch to any meal, so scroll to the bottom to learn more!
A great smoothie has 3 non-negotiable components: Protein, Fat and Fiber. Carbs are optional but enjoyable and good when you stick to a portion size. Here’s how I think about them.
Components of a really great smoothie
Here’s a graphic representation I had fun making that hopefully gives you an idea of portion sizes to hit those macros. There are lots of nuances though, so keep reading!
PS: nutritional information as always provided on a best-efforts basis and intended to be a rough guide only.
Protein (30-40g) - A satiating and strength-building amount. A protein powder is the easiest way to do this, at least in part. I like grass-fed whey or pea protein, although others should be fine as well. And it’s probably the only place I like some low-glycemic sweeteners like stevia, erythritol or monk fruit, so I don’t have to add additional sweeteners. Try to find one without a ton of ingredients and additives. Vanilla protein is very versatile and pairs well with almost everything. Be sure to read the protein serving on the label so you know if you need 1 or 2 scoops.
If you’re not into protein supplements, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are good hearty bases. You can do 1 cup of either (20g protein) and add on nuts, eggs, etc., to hit 30g.
If you’re vegan, try tofu (you’re gonna blend it anyway) or a high-protein plain yogurt.
In nature, protein usually comes paired with fat so if you use full fat Greek Yogurt or cottage cheese, remember that they will satisfy part of the fat requirement below (1 cup ~ 8g fat), or use non-fat versions for pure sources of protein. You can use eggs as well, they are about equal parts protein and fat. I love adding one raw egg into my smoothie - it sounds gross but it makes the texture light and frothy and you can’t taste it at all.
Fat (15-20g) - Getting a good dose of healthy fat in first thing in the morning is so important! It will satiate you, balance your blood sugar and keep you from getting cravings. Nut-milk is a good option for pure fat, but I prefer to use whole nuts, nut butter or avocados because they come with the added benefit of fiber. Remember that nuts also come with a non-trivial amount of protein (6g per oz./28g) and fiber and rotate your nuts too - almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios are all great.
So are peanuts, although they’re not nuts but legumes.
Macadamias are great but they have slightly different macros and are mostly (good) fat.
For those that are allergic to nuts, sunflower seeds or butter are a good option.
Fiber (5-10g) - Smoothies are an excellent opportunity to get some veggies in first thing in the morning without even thinking about it! If you haven’t tried frozen cauliflower rice in a smoothie, DO.IT.NOW. It makes the texture creamy and substantial while adding hardly any calories.
Other non-starchy vegetables work really well too - zucchini, spinach, kale, celery are all winners. Rotate, rotate, rotate and get lots of different plants into your diet, your microbiome will thank you later.
You can add on psyllium husk powder, acacia powder or inulin for a good source of soluble fiber.
Ground chia, flax and hemp seeds are also great sources of fiber (and non-trivial fat). Although in my humble opinion, seeds are better off in a chia pudding - they stick to the blender or smoothie cup in a pesky manner and make it harder to clean.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try cooked/canned chickpeas or white beans, but remember they will satisfy part of your carb limit.
If you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, start lower and ramp up as your gut will probably need practice.
Carbs (10-15g) - Fruit is best. Berries are a fantastic low-sugar, high-fiber option. Apples or pears are great too as they add plenty of fiber (please don’t peel them). Bananas add more sweetness but stick to 1/2 banana (pro-tip: freeze the other half for a banana ice cream smoothie the next day!).
Try melons, kiwis, whatever you like. Rotate and think seasonal. (In winter I use frozen organic berries. Citrus fruits in smoothies can be weird, think smoothie bowl instead). If you’re into sweeter tropical options like mango and pineapple, you might want to limit to 1/2 cup and err on the higher side of protein, fat and fiber to contain blood sugar spikes.
I’ve tried throwing in a tiny cooked beet (50g) into a berry smoothie and that works too, while making your smoothie pinker.
Sometimes, if I know I’m going to work out just before or after, I’ll add 1/4 cup of cooked steel-cut oats to my smoothie.
Liquid - I like water. You can also use nut milk but remember it adds to the fat content. Soymilk is also a decent option. Whole milk has more carbs (and fat) so factor that in. I’m not a fan of oat milk (pure starch). Pro-tip: add kefir or buttermilk to get some probiotic goodness your way (also adds carbs and fat).
Ice, Ice, Baby (or if you use frozen veggies and fruit you don’t need any)
Zing - Ginger, helps with digestion. Works well in some smoothies.
Sweetener - 1 date, 1 tsp maple syrup or honey, pinch of monkfruit, stevia or erythritol. If you’re using dates, maple syrup or honey, they’ll count towards your carbs. Don’t go overboard here and undo all the good!
I like the Ninja compact for personal smoothies, and the Vitamix when I making them for more than one. I’ve also heard good things about the NutriBullet.
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As we enter fresh berry season, here’s a recipe for a berry smoothie that you can think of as a template to mix and match ingredients.
Banana + cottage cheese + nuts + kale
Apple + ginger + mint + avocado + celery + cauli rice (my husband’s recipe! inspired by a juice from a local store)
2 small squares 80% dark chocolate + peanut butter + blueberries + psyllium husk
Always, always, remember to chew because digestion begins in the mouth! Drink it slowly - imagine the time it would take you to eat the same ingredients in a smoothie bowl (or you could just create a smoothie bowl instead).
I hope this post gave you a ton of ideas and a template to work with! What are your favorite smoothies? Comment below or feel free to ask questions.
What are your favorite sources of protein?
It is challenging to get 100g protein in a day from whole foods on a vegetarian diet - you would have to eat an awful lot of food. Or use the same 2-3 sources of concentrated protein every day, which doesn’t work for me as I get bored easily. That’s why I supplement with a protein smoothie in the morning to get a strong start to the day.
For lunch and dinner, I love mixing and matching my sources of protein from both plant and animal sources to get 20-30g per meal. I’m working on offering a weeknight dinner meal plan which will be built around protein and gut-healthy fiber. Think seasonal flavor-first recipes, simple enough for weeknights, yet special enough for weekends. Recipes you’ll want on repeat, complete with a shopping list. Sound like something you need in your life?
Send me your wish-list by filling out this simple 10-question survey. I’m curating recipes for Winter 2024 and will keep you posted!
I’m excited to partner with the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh to teach an exclusive cooking series from The Vegetarian Reset! These are virtual cooking classes so anyone can sign up. The first class is on October 17, 6-8pm and we’ll be making a couple of Indian recipes to kick off the festive season. See the full schedule and sign up below!
The Vegetarian Reset: Plant Forward Recipes from Around the World | Vasudha Viswanath
Navratri & Diwali Special: Cucumber Papdi Chaat & Sundal | Vasudha Viswanath | Oct. 17 | 6 - 8 p.m. [Rescheduled from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.]
Thanksgiving Special: Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie | Vasudha Viswanath | Nov. 14 | 6 - 8 p.m. [Rescheduled from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.]
Gluten Free Baking: Hazelnut Brownies & Almond Flour Cookies | Vasudha Viswanath | Dec. 12 | 6 - 8 p.m. [Rescheduled from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.]
I was honored to be on Dr. Michael Roizen’s podcast, (Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic), and even more honored that he tried 4 recipes from my cookbook! Listen to the episode here.
Join my cookbook group here on Facebook and share your pictures as you cook along from the book! You can also ask questions about recipes and I will help in any way I can.
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