The Optimal Smoothie Anatomy
Have you ever had a smoothie or açaí bowl for breakfast, and found yourself hungry before the morning has even passed? Or perhaps you’ve chosen to white-knuckle it until lunch, but then found yourself overeating, and a few hours after sleepy, laden with food coma at your desk.
If you came to me with this issue, I’d ask the 2 things as a health coach:
- Was your smoothie or bowl fruit-heavy? Yes! Mango and pineapple, my favorite!
- Did you add protein, fat, and fiber? Nope, but I did add granola to ‘balance’ it out. And a drizzle of honey of course!
The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
The culprit in the above scenario is most likely due to a blood sugar spike and crash. Though marketed as ‘healthy,’ what many people don’t realize is that these fruit-heavy smoothies and bowls have a direct impact on blood sugar. Fruit is a natural source of sugar. That’s not to say fruit is bad – I’m not here to demonize fruit. In fact, I love fruit! They’re delicious and full of phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and more. But I just think there are ways to use it your advantage, instead of having it work against you.
Think about it this way: if you’re having 2 cups of pineapple in your smoothie or bowl, that’s 28 grams of sugar you’re starting your day off with. You’ll probably feel great and energized after, riding that rollercoaster upward, but within the 90-minute to 3-hour mark, you may find yourself crashing, hard. You might feel tired, hungry, and shaky as those cravings and obsessive thoughts kick in. As this dip happens, your body will naturally lean toward the quickest way to get your blood sugar back up: simple carbohydrates, which is – you guessed it – more sugar. And so the cycle ensues…
Breaking the Sugar Spike-Crash Cycle (and How to Use it to Your Advantage)
How can we break out of this vicious cycle and naturally stabilize blood sugar to have more consistent energy throughout the day (and have it work to our advantage)? The solution is to add essential macronutrients (protein, fat) and other key components (fiber, greens) to create a more balanced meal that will elongate your blood sugar curve and slow down digestion and the absorption of glucose.
Riding the blood sugar rollercoaster is exhausting. Living in a spike, crash, and overeat cycle is hard to sustain. If this pattern sounds familiar to you, keep reading to learn how to give your smoothies a Fab Four makeover, turning it into a tool that works for you.
The Fab Four Smoothie: Your Secret Weapon
Starting your day with a Fab Four Smoothie will set you up for success. It’s important to break your overnight fast with a balanced meal – most importantly, with protein. Studies have shown that protein at 25% of total caloric intake can increase satiety throughout the day and decrease obsessive thoughts about food.2 Another study showed women who increased their protein intake at the start of the day from 15% to 30% of their total caloric intake lost 11 lbs. in 12 weeks, without doing anything differently3. Starting your day with protein can also help balance your hormones and mood.
I included this as the first recipe in the Back to Basics series because it’s been a staple for me since 2017. I use it as a quick, easy tool every morning so I feel nourished, satiated, and calm, knowing that I chose to start my day with a nutritious meal.
Aside from breakfast, the Fab Four smoothie can be used as a tool as an on-the-go meal replacement or bridge tool in between meals:
- On-the-go Meal Replacement: Let’s say you need a meal in between those back-to-back meetings (or in our current climate, video calls) that you won’t have time to prepare a nutritious, balanced meal for. Make the Fab Four Smoothie ahead of time, and store it in an aluminum bottle which will keep the temperature cool for hours.
- Bridge Tool: Ever left a dinner party feeling hungry still? Or found yourself accidentally hovering over the snack bar? Another way I use the smoothie is as a bridge tool if I’m headed to a (socially-distanced) gathering where the food choices are unclear, and might not be the most satiating for me. In this case, I’ll have a smoothie or even a smaller, half-portion before I leave, so I can arrive feeling calm, with my blood sugar levels balanced. This way, I won’t arrive hungry and accidentally overdo it on the snacks (and ride the blood sugar rollercoaster!).
The Anatomy of a Smoothie
Despite the simplicity of throwing things into a blender, there is an optimal way to build a smoothie. Take it from someone who has gotten a lump of protein powder and chia seeds stuck to the bottom of the blender, created smoothies that were way too thick, and caused many kitchen messes by overstuffing their blender (oops!).
Another tip is to read the label of your protein powder for accurate serving sizes. For a while, I assumed 1 scoop of protein powder was enough for me, when it was actually only half the recommended amount. I thought, “Something must be wrong with me!”. But once I bumped that up to a normal serving of 20-30g of protein, I was able to truly reap the benefits of the Fab Four Smoothie.
For the first few times you’re making the smoothie, I recommend sticking to the actual measurements for fat, fiber, and greens. This way you have a basis to go off of, say if you need to remove fat or reduce fiber. Once you find your sweet spot, you can eyeball it!
- Start with 1-1.5 cups of liquid as the foundation to your smoothie to prevent clumps from sticking to the bottom of the blender. The amount of liquid will affect the thickness of your smoothie (for thicker 1 cup, for thinner 1.5 cups). I recommend unsweetened so you can have more control over the amount of sugar that’s going into your smoothie. I tend to go for nut milks with as few ingredients as possible to keep the number of stabilizers, preservatives, fillers, etc. to a low.
- Next, go off the Fab Four checklist:
- Protein: Aim for 20-30 grams of protein. Sometimes it will mean more than 1 scoop, so make sure to check the label of your protein powder.
- Fat: Start with 1 tbsp fat to see if it keeps you full. If not, add 1 more for next time. This can be a nut butter, coconut MCT oil, or anything similar.
- Fiber: 1-2 tbsp of fiber. Adjust as needed. Chia seeds will give you a more gelatinous, thicker smoothie, while flax seeds won’t have much effect on the texture.
- Greens: Start with 1 handful of vegetables, like spinach, cauliflower rice, or zucchini. If you’re using fruit, aim to keep it to 1/4 cup.
Make sense? Now that you know the basics of what you need to feel nourished, full, and balanced, my hope is that you feeling more confident the next time you constructing your meal!
Here are some of my staple Fab Four Smoothie recipes for you to try at home:
- Lattimer, James M, and Mark D Haub. “Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health.” Nutrients vol. 2,12 (2010): 1266-89. doi:10.3390/nu2121266 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/
- Leidy, Heather J et al. “The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) vol. 19,4 (2011): 818-24. doi:10.1038/oby.2010.203 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20847729/
- Weigle, David S et al. “A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 82,1 (2005): 41-8. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16002798/