Smoothies have been mega popular for a while now - any health, fitness or food page on Instagram just isn't complete without colourful glasses or bowls decorated with extravagant toppings and some of the smoothie temptingly overflowing down the sides. Some Instagrammers obviously spend hours making them look incredible, so it's easy to see this as just another health craze, only popular because they're so photogenic. But when done right, nutritionally-speaking, smoothies can be an incredibly healthy part of our diets. Here's why:
It's a really easy way to sneak in fruit and (even more importantly) vegetables
It's so easy to get several portions of fruit and veg into one smoothie (for instance in my go-to green smoothie or my blueberry protein smoothie bowl). The only other way you could realistically have several portions of vegetables in the morning would be to make a healthy vegan cooked breakfast, but we don't always have time for this (as much as a cooked breakfast every day would be amazing)! Fruit and veg are so incredibly important for our health. They contain protective bioactive compounds such as antioxidants, polyphenols, fibre, vitamins and minerals, which work through numerous complex mechanisms to reduce antioxidant stress, lower blood levels of VLDL and LDL cholesterol (the bad types), and help us to maintain a healthy weight. So it's no surprise that higher consumption has been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (1), lower risk of developing several cancers (2), reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (3), and lower risk of becoming overweight (4). In fact, higher intake of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduced overall mortality risk, by any cause (3).
They're a great way to take in absorbable iron
It's possible to get plenty of iron on a vegan diet. Legumes (like beans, lentils and chickpeas) and whole grains (like oats, quinoa, and brown rice) are great sources of iron, and have LOADS of other health benefits too. But again, we don't always have time to cook up legumes or grains in the mornings. Green leafy vegetables are another excellent source, so starting the day with some spinach or kale in your smoothie is a great way to keep your iron levels up. The iron in plant-based foods is different to animal sources - it's called non-haem iron and other foods we eat with it can either inhibit or enhance how much of the iron we absorb. Luckily, vitamin C massively increases how much we absorb (5), so combining the leafy greens with a handful of berries results in loads of absorbable (or bioavailable) iron in our smoothies. This helps to reduce fatigue and keep energy levels up.
You can make your smoothie high in protein
Toast or cereal can be a healthy option for breakfast, especially if we choose wholegrain options and avoid sugary toppings. But it's the one time of the day when it's a little harder to have a high-protein meal, again due to time constraints. But it's really easy to get protein into a smoothie - just half a scoop of a vegan protein powder is such an easy way to make sure you're getting a good dose of protein in the morning, especially useful if you're training for fitness, strength, or weight loss.
One quick point to make on this topic: protein supplements are absolutely not required if you're vegan - you'll get plenty of protein if your diet is balanced and varied. However, if like me you're into fitness, it's a useful tool to make sure your body's equipped with what it needs to optimise repair and growth, especially useful after working out. Many meat eaters have a protein shake after the gym for this same reason.
After a long night's sleep without drinking water, getting our fluids in the morning is very important to re-hydrate. A smoothie made with fruit and vegetables, blended with water is a great way to start the day, with plenty of fluids. There's loads of benefits of staying hydrated, including improved reaction times (6), mood (7), and alertness (8). Also, starting exercise when you’re already dehydrated can significantly lower your performance levels (9,10) so stay on top of your game by starting the day with a healthy and hydrating smoothie!
My tips for the perfect smoothie:
Use at least 50% vegetables - vegetables tend to be lower in sugar and calories than fruit and including them ensures a wide variety of nutrients in your smoothie
Have a variety of colours, always including some dark leafy greens - again, this general rule helps to ensure a wide variety of essential nutrients are taken in
Top up your smoothie with water - or use your favourite unsweetened nut milk - you need some liquid to blend up the ingredients, but topping up with fruit juice would add unwanted extra natural sugars and calories
Ps. Don't panic if your smoothie isn't a pretty colour. In fact, if it looks like pond-water, it's usually a good thing - it shows you've used a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables. Many mornings mine don't turn out a nice green or purple colour, they actually very often result in a brown-green appearance, but still taste great and do me the world of good!
1. Carter, P., Gray, L., Troughton, J., Khunti, K., & Davies, M. (2010). Fruit and vegetable intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 341, BMJ, 19, 19 August August 2010, Vol.341.
2. Schwingshackl, L., & Hoffmann, G. (2014). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of cancer: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of observational studies. International Journal of Cancer, 135(8), 1884-1897.
3. Wang, X., Ouyang, Y., Liu, J., Zhu, M., Zhao, G., Bao, W., & Hu, F. (2014). Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ, 349(7969), 9.
4. Mytton, O., Nnoaham, K., Eyles, H., Scarborough, P., & Mhurchu, C. (2014). Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of increased vegetable and fruit consumption on body weight and energy intake. Bmc Public Health, 14, Bmc Public Health, 2014 Aug 28, Vol.14.
5. Gillooly, M., Bothwell, T., Torrance, J., MacPhail, A., Derman, D., Bezwoda, W., Mayet, F. (1983). The effects of organic acids, phytates and polyphenols on the absorption of iron from vegetables. British Journal of Nutrition, 49(3), 331-342.
6. Edmonds CJ, Crombie R & Gardner MR (2013) Subjective thirst moderates changes in speed of responding associated with water consumption. Front Hum Neurosci 7, 363.
7. Rogers, Kainth, and Smit. "A Drink of Water Can Improve or Impair Mental Performance Depending on Small Differences in Thirst." Appetite 36.1 (2001): 57-58. Web.
8. Neave, Scholey, Emmett, Moss, Kennedy, & Wesnes. (2001). Water ingestion improves subjective alertness, but has no effect on cognitive performance in dehydrated healthy young volunteers. Appetite, 37(3), 255-256.
9. Goulet, E. (2012). Dehydration and endurance performance in competitive athletes. Nutrition Reviews, 70, S132-S136.
10. Bardis, C., Kavouras, S., Arnaoutis, G., Panagiotakos, D., & Sidossis, L. (2013). Mild Dehydration and Cycling Performance During 5-Kilometer Hill Climbing. Journal of Athletic Training, 48(6), 741-7.