One Month of Smoothie Sensations

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I guess you could say I’m obsessed with books. Not the seemingly ubiquitous e-books and e-readers and anything else -related. Like, actual books. The ones with crisp pages that you hold delicately in your hands and maybe (probably) smell. Case in point: One glance at my kitchen and you’ll find, in a space that I suppose was meant to be a bar, a makeshift bookshelf. That’s right, folks. All books, no booze. You’ll find fiction novels, nonfiction essays, poetry anthologies, short story collections, various law books, the AP Style Guide from 2009—but you know what you won’t find? Cookbooks. On the makeshift bookshelf in my kitchen, you will not find cookbooks.

Considering that if I had to pick one food to live on for the rest of time it would be cereal, this fact is probably not shocking. Recipe hunting, though, has become a big part of my job. I read about food a lot, which means I naturally become more informed about healthier food choices and inspired to try out some of my finds. I also really like to eat, so there’s that.

Wellness is a Marathon
I discovered a book entitled 365 Vegan Smoothies: Boost Your Health With a Rainbow of Fruits and Veggies during one particular recipe hunt, and I dug right in. I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. But as someone who is trying to eat more fruits and veggies so I can actually “walk the walk” when it comes to health-conscious writing, I became intrigued.

The book’s author, Kathy Patalsky, writes this: “Wellness is not a sprint, but rather a very slow marathon—a lifelong journey, where you discover how your body and mind uniquely respond to food, exercise, stress, and daily challenges. Wellness requires a life-long commitment of healthy habits.”

True. This nod of agreement comes from the woman who, three years ago, lived on take-out pizza, dipped absolutely everything in ranch, and hadn’t set foot in a gym since her high school PE class. I couldn’t run more than a block if my life depended on it, and just the thought of weight-lifting made me ache. Now, I generally choose energizing and healthy foods that won’t make me sluggish—of course allowing reasonable room for some throwback pizza every now and then—and, Monday through Friday, I wake up at 4 a.m. so I can hit the gym before I shower and go to work. By lunchtime, my entire day is half over—I go to bed at 8 p.m. And yes, it’s usually still light out. Sometimes I feel my schedule is way more wonky now than it was when I worked full time in the bar business.

So, smoothies. Kathy exerts in her book that the healthy foods we put in our smoothies will energize the mind, body, and spirit—and, in turn, change our lives. Her book lists a whole bunch of reasons that smoothies are awesome, and by page six I was convinced that this was one healthy habit I had to adopt—or at least try.

My Regimen
For one month, I made a different smoothie every day. Kathy’s book places the recipes into 12 categorizes: detoxing, energizing, slim-down, beauty-boosting, healthy-digestion, etc. I tried to mix up the “type” of smoothie I made each day of the week, and at first I was very strict about what I put into the blender—I think my last blended creation was some sort of vodka slushie from my sophomore year in college, so as I undertook this healthier endeavor I didn’t want to stray too far from Kathy’s ingredient list. After that first week, though, I became more comfortable making modifications to the recipes. I began to experiment: replacing certain ingredients with others I thought would add better taste or texture, adding protein powder to post-workout smoothies, even trying out superfood powders for an extra antioxidant burst.

I’m here to convince you to take on your own smoothie regimen. Besides being a delicious habit, here are my six reasons why.

1. You save money.
Yes, a smoothie or latte or tea or whatever is your choice of morning vice is more convenient when purchased pre-made instead of buying all the ingredients and making the beverage at home. But it adds up, and a daily trip through the drive-thru can create quite the dent in your budget. Take Jamba Juice. I mean, it’s just fruit and juice blended and presented in a fancy to-go cup with a straw, right? So what do they have that you don’t have? If you said five more dollars in the company’s pocket, you’d be right. I’ll do the math for you: That’s $35 per week, $140 per month, and $1,825 per year. Call me crazy, but I’m fairly certain I don’t have nearly $2,000 in annual fresh fruit expenses.

2. You control what you consume.
You might think all the ingredients in your pre-made beverages are healthy, but making your smoothies at home ensures that only quality nutrients are going into your belly—and body. You can buy better types of milk and juice to eliminate unnecessary hormones and sugars, and if you go organic on fruits and veggies you’ll know that your end product won’t have any genetically engineered extras. You also can control portion size—of both individual ingredients, and the smoothie size as a whole.

3. You eat more fruit.
Think about it: What are the chances you would have, for breakfast, a cup of strawberries and a cup of raspberries and a whole banana and a scoop of peanut butter and a glass of almond milk? Chances are probably slim, no? Like, you’d rather reach for that chocolate doughnut, am I right? But fruit-packed smoothies—like that one I just mentioned—can be dressed up or down to your desired taste, and they help you get that healthy dose of nutrients you might not otherwise get. Because they are easy to take with you, you can sip on-the-go—at your own pace—to get your fill but avoid feeling bloated.

4. You drink less alcohol.
Yep, this is a good thing. The health benefits of going booze-free are numerous, but even swapping your regular happy hour beers for a smoothie can help get your body on a better track. Fruity, light, nonalcoholic drinks are great in the summertime especially because instead of working to dehydrate your body, they actually help to hydrate it. And, you’ll likely avoid the persistent craving for greasy bar food that often accompanies alcoholic beverages—instead, you’ll stay satisfied soaking up nutrients.

5. You lose weight.
I’m not in the market for weight loss, but it makes sense. Filling up on fruits and veggies is obviously better than choosing a burger and fries, so subbing a smoothie for a not-so-healthy breakfast or lunch should help shed some pounds.

6. You help rebuild muscles.
If you’re already active and exercising is a part of your daily routine, it’s important that you replenish your body with proper nutrients post-workout. Protein is especially important for maintaining lean muscle, so instead of opting for that pricey shake at your gym use your own tools to make a protein shake at home. You can choose ingredients that are already rich in protein, or you can add a scoop of protein powder to any smoothie for an extra boost. I used organic rice protein in my shakes, which I think enhances the flavor of the fruit, but you can use whey protein if that’s what you prefer—just make sure to choose a concentrate (not isolate) and cold-processed (not heat-processed) blend.

Ready to test your smoothie-making skills? These quick tips will help you make your best beverage yet.

>>Go frozen.
Frozen ingredients will give your smoothie that thick, frothy consistency. If you plan to make smoothie intake an ongoing part of your dietary regimen, portion everything in advance—for the week, or the night before—and have fruit ready to go in separate containers in your freezer. Additionally, many recipes call for frozen bananas; these can be tricky. To make life easier (and decrease prep time), peel bananas right after purchase and put all whole bananas in a large container in your freezer—you should be able to pull them apart fairly easily when ready to use, then you can cut them into smaller pieces for easier blending.

>>Buy high quality ingredients.
I prefer non-dairy milk—almond milk, specifically. The nutritional quality is through the roof, and it brings a unique flavor to fruit-heavy beverages. If almond milk isn’t quite your style, you could also try organic soy or cow’s milk. Choose juices that are low in sugar, use Greek yogurt, and go organic for your almond and peanut butters, fruits, and veggies.

>>Add super powers—I mean powders.
Superfood powders are a great way to supersize the nutritional value of your smoothie without packing on the calories. The folks at Navitas Naturals—an eco-friendly superfood company committed to sustainable living—were kind enough to send me a sample pack of powders for use in my smoothies. From Goji to Acai to Chia, just one tablespoon of any of these powders adds a huge heap of nutrients your smoothie might otherwise be missing.

>>Get a better blender.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my blender—an appliance leftover from my pizza-eating, ranch-dipping college days—wasn’t quite up to par. If you see smoothies and other blended foods in your future, invest in a reliable blender to make the task a little easier.

>>Experiment with herbs and spices.
The first time I added cinnamon to a smoothie, a whole new world of flavor opened up to me—I never knew that adding such a tiny amount of spice could make such a big impact on overall taste! And, cinnamon is loaded with health benefits. Other great smoothie adds that offer an array of benefits include cayenne pepper, mint, ginger, vanilla, and nutmeg. Make sure to finely chop any bulky herbs (such as mint) to prevent a gritty texture, and only add small amounts at a time so you can taste-test. With herbs and spices, a little goes a long way!

>>Skip the sweetener.
Most recipes that call for a sweetener—even a healthy alternative like agave—often don’t require it for the smoothie to taste great. Many fruits are naturally sweet, and mixing all that fruit juice together is usually enough to satisfy your sweet tooth without piling on extra, unneeded calories. Exceptions to this guideline might include watermelon- or cucumber-based smoothies—because both have high water content—and recipes that call for maple syrup—which is usually used to enhance other flavors in the recipe, like peanut butter or cinnamon.

>>Use a fun cup.
At home, I usually pour my smoothie in my big Iron Maiden mug—old merch from their concert a few summers back—to make my day rock just a little bit more. If I’m heading to the office or out running errands, I like to use my Lifefactory bottle—glass with a toxin-free silicone sleeve for on-the-go ease.

One Month Later…
Now that I’ve stuck to my daily smoothie regimen for an entire month, it’s hard to imagine not having a smoothie every day! I’m able to mix and match ingredients from multiple recipes, and I’ve even created a few of my own. Take note that smoothie calories can add up if you aren’t careful—some of my favorites hover around 400—so sub a high-calorie shake for breakfast or lunch, or pair it with a light meal (such as a salad). On the flipside, some smoothies didn’t even hit the 200-calorie mark—these ones make a great treat during the day when you feel your energy levels start to dip, and a smoothie will satisfy you longer than one of those tiny, pre-portioned snack packs. Frequent bathroom breaks might also be in order—especially if your smoothie recipe includes water-rich ingredients.

Overall, my smoothie experiment has shown me an easy way to eat more fruit—a goal that I never quite reached until now. Today, my fridge and freezer are stocked with all kinds of goodies: strawberries, bananas, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, almond and peanut butter, Greek yogurt, almond milk, orange juice, apple cider, and more. I have a designated cupboard for protein and superfood powders. And, I keep Kathy’s 365 Vegan Smoothies flipped open on my kitchen countertop—my manual for excellent inspiration—as I now embark on the journey to make my own creations.

Check out these easy smoothie recipes—sure to become summer favorites—and get ready to blend.

Banana Boost
This creamy combination packs potassium, protein, and is an all-around mood-booster—plus it puts a delicious twist on your morning coffee.

1 or 2 frozen bananas
1 cup vanilla almond milk
1 scoop instant coffee grounds, or 1 shot strong coffee
1 ½ tablespoons peanut butter
3 to 5 pinches ground cinnamon
½ cup ice

Skinny Apple Pie
Unlike your grandmother’s hot-out-the-oven dessert or that boozy shot from the Vintage, this apple pie is actually good for you. More like a slushie than a smoothie, this low-calorie indulgence is a great refresher on a hot summer day.

1 cup apple cider
½ frozen banana
3 to 4 tablespoons original almond milk
1 ¼ cups ice
2 to 3 pinches ground cinnamon

The Pink Pineapple
This healthy-digestion smoothie does a great job of keeping you full without causing belly bloat. Very citrusy, fruity, and downright tropical.

½ cup frozen strawberries
¾ cup frozen pineapple chunks
1 frozen banana
1 cup orange juice

PB&J Smoothie
If you ever wanted to savor the flavor of that peanut butter and jelly sandwich from your childhood, now’s your chance: crumb-free, delicious, and filling. Inspired by kids, made for adults!

1 ¼ cups vanilla almond milk
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup frozen berries (this is your “jelly”—try raspberries or strawberries!)
1 frozen banana
½ cup ice
1 scoop protein powder (optional, if you want an extra boost!)

Protein Pom-Berry Shake
No more post-workout woes—your body will be singing a happy tune after you treat it to this antioxidant-rich smoothie.

1 cup pomegranate juice
1 frozen banana
½ cup frozen blueberries
½ cup frozen strawberries
1 scoop protein powder

Walnut Cinna-Shake
Sweet, rich, and full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, this smoothie is perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or an immunity-boosting remedy.

2 to 3 tablespoons raw walnuts, soaked and drained
1 cup vanilla almond milk
1 frozen banana
3 to 5 pinches ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons maple syrup
½ cup ice

Feeling inspired? There are endless smoothie combinations to be had, so start simple but don’t be afraid to create new flavors. Remember, wellness is a lifelong marathon best ran slowly—and committing to healthy habits now will better prepare you to cross the finish line with your very best stride.

**Erica Tasto is an editor for Natural Solutions and Alternative Medicine and the author of "The Natural Suite" blog. Follow her on Twitter @editorerica.