lately smoothies have been all that I am craving; first thing in the morning or after working out. I find that I can digest smoothies better on an empty stomach for breakfast or immediately after an intense workout. I am also super specific about what goes in my smoothie; trying to keep them as low as sugar as possible (without it tasting like you are drinking swamp) and careful as to what protein is being used. Not necessarily because I am trying to be high maintenance; but if you are like me and have a variety of digestive issues (currently or in the past; SIBO, leaky gut, IBS) smoothies might not always be the best thing for you especially when they are loaded with sugars, weird proteins, and simply packed with too many ingredients.
To be honest, I tend to not add any actual protein powders into my smoothies but rather fill it with greens, fiber, healthy fats, and natural protein sources. I think there are too many protein powders out there that are filled with “fillers”, gums, added sugars, weird ingredients you've never heard of and so forth! Once I ditched the powders I did notice that I could tolerate smoothies better; I wasn’t constantly bloated or hunched over in stomach cramps from the powders or from the added sugars.
For me; I do love smoothies first thing because I think it is the fastest way I can ensure that I am getting in some greens in the morning, little fruit, fiber, and healthy fats AND they have actually improved my digestion, give me energy, as well as helping my skin get back its natural glow. I am also not a big breakfast eater and generally not as hungry in the morning, so smoothies have been perfect to help that- sipping on them slow all morning with my coffee!
I started to experiment with my morning smoothie in terms of natural protein sources; or simply not using protein powders, and found a few things that I am going to mention below that helped keep me full and energized all morning long. I will mention that this isn’t always the case and sometimes I will add protein powder to my smoothies if I have just finished an extremely tough workout or if I feel that my body is craving something a bit extra. To be clear, I do love Philosophie protein or often use Vega if it is the only thing available.
Here are some add in’s that I have been using daily for my smoothies to up the protein without the powder.
The obvious! Homemade (click for my homemade cashew milk) is always the best, plus not only is it higher in protein than store bought brands, but it makes the smoothies extremely thick and tends to keep me fuller for longer. Totally understand that we all aren’t making our own nut milks and many places do not have homemade as well, but I always choose almond milk, hemp, or oat milks. Hemp and Oat milk tend to have a bit more protein than almond milk and often times the first ingredient is water, but hemp/oat have about 4-5 grams per cup (also contains healthy fats, fiber) but almond milk has only 1 gram - which goes the same for cashew milk (1 gram), but if you make it at home it has about 6 grams! - which is why homemade is better; but if you have a dairy allergy or limit your dairy intake these are the better options of course.
I recently started to add in gluten free quick cooking oats into my smoothies. Depending on what else I am adding in, I usually do about 2 spoonfuls and it blends in smooth! Normally we digest oats at a slower pace which will give you that full feeling, plus it adds fiber, helps lower the "bad" cholesterol and protein into your smoothie! It is also made up of resistant starch which helps feed the good bacteria in your gut. I haven't tried extra thick oats or other varieties, but I am sure it will work if you blend on high for a few extra minutes and either way they do not have to be cooked before hand! One of my favorite smoothie combinations using oats is:
1 - 1.5 cups nut milk
1 frozen banana
2 tsp. chia seeds
1 tbsp or more peanut butter
2 tbsp. cacao powder
1/4 cup oats
optional add ins: handful of spinach, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, cacao nibs etc!
DAIRY FREE GREEK YOGURT
If you can tolerate dairy, then go for it! If not, I stick to brands like Kite Hill Greek Style Unsweetened yogurt. Just 1 container contains 11 grams of protein and only 1 gram of sugar PLUS is filled with probiotics! It is tart tasting so I usually add in blueberries, cinnamon, or almond butter to cut the taste slightly, but adding in yogurt not only adds in extra protein but it makes your smoothies smooth and thick. If you are using a flavored yogurt, careful of the sugars especially if you are adding in fruits.
My favorite addition; especially on top and then eat the smoothie with a spoon! Even though I love peanut butter the most, too much of it causes my stomach to bloat up like crazy! It also has the most protein (8 grams) where as almond butters have about 7 grams, just like sunflower seed butter! I also stick to brands that just contain the nut/seed and salt; nothing else- no oils or added sugars. Cashew butter has anywhere from 4-5 grams, I do like this as it can be slightly on the sweeter side naturally and I feel that I can actually taste it in my smoothies. If I am trying to cut back on the amount of nut products in the smoothies I will tend to stick with tahini (4-5 grams of protein) or sunflower seed butter! Often times it is a little easier to digest for me! They all offer some addition healthy fats, fiber, and can add taste without added extra sugars.
Hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. I tend to stick to ground flaxseeds out of habit but I love adding in hemp seeds or ground chia seeds (as I find that I can digest that easier than regular chia seeds- or just less bloat) Not only do they all add in a good amount of fiber, but protein as well! Hemp seeds have the most protein (roughly 7 grams per 2 tbsp ), easy to digest, help to increase energy, and contain healthy fats. Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats as well, help keep your digestion regular and contain about 4-5 grams of protein per serving! Ground flaxseeds are my favorite as I mentioned before that I can digest these easier; but it is also a personal preference. I have found that increasing the amount of chia seeds or flaxseeds at a time is better for your GI track- so start with 1 tbsp. then gradually increase to 2 tbsp; too much fiber at once can cause boating, GI symptoms, but it also might increase or decrease your bowel movements- so find the middle ground! I also do love adding in pumpkin seeds into my smoothies or sprinkling them on top; they are an alkaline seed, contain protein, and are filled with healthy fats for your heart and brain!
CHICKPEAS / QUINOA
If these do not bother your gut, then add them in! You won't taste a thing. I tend to have a hard time digesting chickpeas, but quinoa is OK for my stomach. You can even add silken tofu in your smoothie, make it smooth and super thick! About 1/2 cup cooked quinoa gives you roughly 4 grams of protein where as 1/2 cup of chickpeas contains about 15 or so grams of protein and a great amount of dietary fiber ( = better digestion). Quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and is full of iron, magnesium, as well as potassium! I am sure you've seen recipes that call for chickpeas in brownies, cookies, and so forth- you won't taste it in your smoothies either! A recipe with chickpeas to try out- it resembles a PB and Jelly!
1 cup almond milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup chickpeas (drained / rinsed)
dash of cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground flaxseed
sweetener of choice!
I feel that people are often surprised as to how much protein you can get from just by adding greens into your diet. About 1 cup of kale contains 3 grams of protein. I tend to stick to kale and spinach in my smoothies, but often times I add in frozen peas and broccoli! Frozen peas make smoothies extra thick and creamy- you won't taste a thing plus it contains 8 grams of protein in just 1 cup!! Broccoli is great too as it is high in fiber and full of antioxidants. Often times I will save the stems of the broccoli, freeze them, and then blend into my smoothies. I love making acai bowls with frozen peas and broccoli so I can use a bit less fruit to keep the sugars down, while still keeping the bowls super thick!
I also love adding in:
cinnamon, turmeric, ginger
collagen (contains protein too! A typical serving contains about 9-15 grams!)
There are so many ways that you can make a smoothie and things that you can add in for optimal nutrition and health! A few things that I have learned along the way to better support my gut health are:
*not over packing the smoothies; keeping the fruit to green ration somewhat even OR sticking to a ration of 1 - 1.5 cups fruit to 2 cups greens
* too much fiber to start can cause bloating (think; too many greens, oatmeal, chia seeds, nut butters- stick to a few at a time)
* too much fruit = a great deal of sugar = bloating (for me!) Instead I will naturally sweeten with cinnamon, peppermint extract, vanilla, maca powder etc!
* sip the smoothie slowly! It is so easy to down a smoothie in record time, but that might lead to bloating or stomach pain!
hopefully this will give you more options for your smoothies, especially if you have a hard time digesting or tolerating protein powders!