18 Deliciously Healthy Smoothie Mix-Ins

Upgrade your blend with this guide to unexpectedly healthy smoothie ingredients

May 9, 2013
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Fruit and Vegetable Smoothies

If you want to find tasty smoothie recipes, you don't have to go too far; the internet is crawling with them. Problem is, many of these mixes are simply masquerading as health drinks. Boost the nutrients and cut down on the fat and calories in your next blend by adding these healthy ingredients--sample recipes included. Bottoms up!

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Nut Butter

To stop a smoothie from becoming straight sugar, add peanut, cashew, or almond butter for a satisfying mix of protein and fat, suggests Milton Stokes, RD, owner of One Source Nutrition in Stamford, CT. Remember, though: You only need one or two tablespoons--not a half cup!

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This veggie is packed with folate and betaine, two nutrients that assist in cardiovascular health. But multiple studies show beets may also give you a performance boost by increasing your endurance. "The nitrates found in beets that help the body use oxygen more efficiently," explains Marni Sumbal, RD, an endurance athlete and the owner of Tri Marni Coaching and Nutrition in Jacksonville, FL.

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Because of celery's low calorie count--each medium stalk has about six--you may think it doesn't contain much more than water. But it actually contains vitamins K and A, fiber, folate, and potassium, not to mention compounds called phthalides, which can relax artery walls, increasing blood flow. "Celery is a natural anti-inflammatory," says Sumbal.

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This knobby stem has long been thought to possess medicinal properties. According to the National Institutes of Health, it's commonly used to treat upset stomach and muscle soreness. Grate it into a smoothie for some tasty pain relief.

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Whey Protein

If you're active, you definitely need to stay on top of your protein consumption. "Protein is important to boost the immune system and build and maintain lean muscle mass," says Mitzi Dulan, RD, co-author of The All-Pro Diet. If real food sources aren't available, try whey protein powder. It gets absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, making it great for post-workout smoothies.

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Spinach or Kale

Dark leafy greens are brimming with nutrients. Baby spinach, in particular, is a great source of vitamin A, says Dulan, while one cup of kale provides nearly 90 percent of your daily-recommended intake of vitamin C. Surprisingly, these veggies blend seamlessly into tasty drinks.

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Silken Tofu

To make smoothies thicker and more satisfying, add protein, says Sari Greaves, RD, nutrition director at Step Ahead Wellness Center in Far Hills, NJ. Silken tofu is a heart-healthy source that blends easily.

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This tangy, fermented dairy product is similar to yogurt but contains more immune-boosting probiotics and less sugar. Plus, it's a great source of fatigue-fighting vitamin B12.

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Coconut Water

When whipping up a smoothie after an intense exercise session, swap tap water for coconut water. This exotic drink is rich in potassium, an important electrolyte lost in sweat.

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Wheat Germ

This tiny part of the wheat kernel is actually the most nutritious. Add wheat germ to smoothies for a wholesome source of essential nutrients like vitamin E, folate, thiamin, unsaturated fatty acids, and belly-filling fiber.

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Cocoa Powder

Indulge in the name of health. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that people who eat chocolate regularly (as many as five servings a week) have a lower average body-mass index--a measure of body fat based on height and weight--than those who mostly go without. And the flavanoids in chocolate have been shown to increase endurance. Instead of dropping chunks of chocolate into the blender, opt for natural or raw cocoa powder, which has 16 times more antioxidants than blueberries and is lower in fat than dark chocolate.

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A favorite of holistic doctor Andrew Weil, matcha is a high-quality powdered green tea that contains 137 times more antioxidants than conventional brews.

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Ground Flaxseeds

These tiny powerhouses are excellent sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that supports bone health. Just be sure to buy ground flaxseeds. Whole flaxseeds are difficult for the body to break down, which means the seeds (and all their nutrients) may pass through the body undigested.

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Coffee may sound like an odd smoothie addition, but its caffeine can help speed muscle recovery. According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, cyclists who drank a carbohydrate beverage with caffeine post workout restored 66 percent more glycogen to their muscles than those who drank a carb beverage without caffeine.

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Greek Yogurt

Switch your plain yogurt for nonfat Greek yogurt and you'll get nearly twice as much protein for roughly the same amount of calories. It's also creamier and adds a slightly tangy flavor.

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Chia Seeds

Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are chockfull of ALA and are best if eaten ground. They're also rich in protein and fiber--just one tablespoon contains 6 grams of each.

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By now you probably know why this fruit is such a nutritional rockstar--research links its high concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids to better moods and slimmer stomachs. The surprise? It's not just for guacamole. Use it in smoothies for a smooth and creamy consistency.

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Instant Pudding Mix

If you're in the mood for something indulgent, blend regular or sugar-free instant pudding mix into your smoothie, says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, RD. "It makes the smoothie nice and thick without the added calories of ice cream," she says. "By varying the flavor of the pudding (vanilla, lemon, chocolate), you can create numerous variations."