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Photo: Three smoothies in glasses. Photo: Fruits in fromt of a blender. Photo: Green smoothie in a glass surrounded by green vegetables.

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1245

Build a Better Smoothie

  • Luanne J. Hughes, MS, RDN, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator, Gloucester County
  • Gabrielle Meranshian, Priority Nutrition Care Dietetics Intern
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Smoothies can be a great option for a healthy, on-the-go breakfast, snack or dessert for kids and adults. Be cautious, though. Not every smoothie is a nutritious choice. Some are loaded with sugar, fat and extra calories. Choose your smoothie ingredients wisely to make a healthy addition to your daily diet. The ingredients you choose influence the nutrient content of your smoothie. A smoothie that includes healthy ingredients like vegetables, fruits, protein, dairy or "dairy alternative," and fiber is nutrient-rich and abundant in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more.

An All-Around Healthy Smoothie

With a busy schedule, it can be challenging to incorporate all of the foods you need to eat to stay healthy. With a little planning, you can build a nutrient-packed smoothie that's both tasty and healthy. Use MyPlate, the USDA's nutrition guideline depicting the five major food groups (vegetables, fruit, dairy, protein and grains) as a guide. Smoothies are a great way to create a beverage using ingredients you enjoy, as one way to maintain a balanced diet. To build a "better" smoothie, try to incorporate as many of these food groups as possible.

Fruits & Vegetables

Most Americans don't get the recommended daily number of fruit and vegetable servings needed for optimal health. Studies suggest, as part of a healthy lifestyle, both fruits and vegetables support digestion, help reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Choose a smoothie that combines both fruits and vegetables. Sweet fruits blend nicely with many vegetables to create a tasty, nutritious smoothie.


There is limited research available to document how the amount of protein eaten impacts the development of chronic diseases. However, evidence is mounting to suggest that high-protein foods may play a role in improving the health of an aging population. In fact, eating lower fat protein sources like fish, chicken, beans, or nuts in place of red meat (including processed red meat) can lower the risk of several diseases. Adding protein-rich ingredients like beans, seeds and nuts to your smoothie will increase the potential health benefits and they'll also keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.


Although you may not have considered adding grains to your smoothie, they make a delicious addition. Adding whole grains like oatmeal, flax seeds and quinoa to a smoothie will thicken the texture and add fiber. Whole grains are an important source of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps you feel full for a longer period of time, while helping your body digest the foods you eat. Dietary fiber can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of developing diabetes and help prevent constipation and diverticulosis.


Dairy foods like milk and yogurt are often used to give smoothies a thicker, smoother texture. Dairy foods are rich in calcium, vitamin D and phosphorous to build strong bones. Selecting reduced fat and fat-free milks and yogurts offers another lower-fat protein ingredient, as well as an excellent source of calcium.

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Which Smoothie is Best for Me?

Pick a smoothie recipe that serves the best purpose for your lifestyle. Are you trying to eat more greens or calcium-rich foods? Are you trying to eat more lean protein or include more fiber daily? Or, do you need an alternative treat as a dessert replacement or a healthy, "on-the-go" breakfast? If chosen wisely, a smoothie can be a convenient and tasty option to promote a healthy lifestyle. Follow these steps to build a better smoothie.

Step #1 -- Choose A Base

Bases provide the foundation for a smoothie. When preparing, add the base first, so it sits at the bottom of the blender. This will help blend all ingredients more easily. There are a variety of bases to choose from.

Dairy Bases

Reduced fat dairy bases such as fat-free milk and cottage cheese provide protein and texture to a smoothie. Fat-free or reduced-fat yogurt makes an excellent base, as well. It creates a creamy smoothie without the added fat of cream or ice cream. Try Greek yogurt for an even thicker texture. Greek yogurt contains more protein and fewer carbohydrates than traditional yogurt, and it's packed with probiotics that help with digestion, too.

Non-Dairy Bases

For a sweeter smoothie choose a 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Fruit and vegetable juices are good sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Juices are more calorie-dense and are a more concentrated source of simple sugars than whole fruits and vegetables, though. Water is a low-cost, calorie-free option that can be added to reduce the thickness of a smoothie. Or, add ice to thicken a smoothie. Almond, soy, rice and coconut milks are great options if you're avoiding lactose or cannot tolerate traditional cow's milk. Check the nutrition facts labels to compare the calorie, protein and vitamin/mineral profiles of non-dairy milks. Individual brands vary.

Step # 2 -- Pick a Fruit

You can use fresh or frozen fruit in a smoothie. If you use frozen fruit, be sure to use less ice. Larger fruits (peaches, apples, etc.) blend easier if they're peeled and cut, rather than added whole. Bananas are a common smoothie ingredient because they add thickness while adding a mild flavor. Fruits will sweeten a smoothie, while providing antioxidants and color. Blue/purple fruits (like berries and plums) and red/ orange fruit (cherries, mangoes, peaches, etc.) add sweetness to a smoothie.

Step # 3 -- Add a Vegetable

Whether you choose spinach for its mild flavor, trendy kale, collard greens, or something new like parsley or Swiss chard, adding dark green, leafy vegetables will fill your smoothie with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Chop tougher leaves like kale and collards to help them blend more easily. Some culinary authorities suggest that freezing leaves improves the blend-ability and can help reduce bitterness, as well. Avocados and mashed red/orange vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and carrots add thickness to smoothies. They're also rich in vitamins and antioxidants, which help protect against cancer and other diseases.

Step #4 -- Boost Up the Nutrition

Once you've built a better smoothie, try adding a booster to enhance the flavor. Add walnuts or almonds for a boost of protein. For a sweeter flavor add cocoa powder, honey, agave nectar or cinnamon. Flax and chia seeds provide Omega 3 for heart health. Adding these healthy boosters will provide a great flavor while keeping you fuller longer. Blend in mashed beans (black, red, white, kidney and navy) for a protein and fiber boost. Beans thicken smoothies without adding flavor, and they blend well.

Smoothies can be a convenient and nutritious option for a tasty breakfast, snack or dessert that provides vitamins, minerals and protein. Give some of our favorite recipes a try; then, experiment by using our smoothie chart as a guide. There's no limit to what you can create.

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For More Information

Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) works with families, schools and communities to promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. Visit for information on all of our programs, and learn how to bring them to your school, worksite or community organization.

Check out these other valuable sites, too:

Build Your Smoothie Recipe Collection with these Favorite Smoothie Recipes

Blueberry Avocado Smoothie


Green Smoothie: Spinach, Pear and Banana

From Family Sponge: A Playground for Parents

High-Energy Smoothie

From Superfitlady Blog Spot

Mango, Kiwi and Spinach Smoothie

From Yummly Recipes

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September 2015