The smoothie has become ubiquitous because it makes healthy eating sound easy and attainable. I'll admit to you right here: I love smoothies — throwing a bunch of things into a blender and then sipping on my breakfast. The more nutrients I can cram into that cool and creamy treat, the better. Healthy mornings are smart because mornings are when we have the most discipline since the day hasn't tired us out, and our willpower isn't exhausted. And smoothies are quick to throw together, and they're portable, which makes them a busy-person's best friend at breakfast. (You can even pre-prep smoothie ingredients in resealable bags to keep in the fridge or freezer for dump-and-blend convenience).
Not all smoothies are equal, however. Just because something is a "green smoothie" doesn't mean that it isn't loaded with sugar. (Just read the labels of some commercially-available smoothies). Making your own smoothies at home gives you a lot more control, of course. But even so, if you load up a smoothie with an apple, a banana, some honey and berries, you could easily be looking at the same amount of sugar as a can of cola, which we would never gulp down at breakfast. Yes, fruit is natural sugar, but it still needs to be consumed mindfully.
Here are some tips for reducing the sugar in your morning smoothie. First, get some creamy texture going from something other than the banana. Now, I love bananas, especially frozen ones in smoothies. But if you add some other creamy items to your smoothies — like some tofu, cooked white beans (yes!), or avocado — you can reduce the banana to a small slice or two for some body and a hint of sweetness without going overboard.
Second tip: freeze up some greens like spinach, sliced cabbage, or kale. Freezing greens mellow their flavor a bit so you can add them into smoothies for extra nutrition.
Next, use frozen mixed berries to satisfy your sweet tooth — they do have some sugar, but also bring fiber and nutrients to the table, so they are a great ingredient overall.
Finally, boost your smoothie with some secret ingredients that fool your palate into thinking your food is sweeter than it actually is. Orange zest, cinnamon, almond extract, unsweetened cocoa, pumpkin puree and coconut oil are all great ways to pump up the flavor of your smoothie without adding extra sweeteners like honey or sugar. Which means that tiny bit of banana or mango or peach will go much further in making your smoothie super tasty.
PURPLE POWER SMOOTHIE
Start to finish: 5 minutes
2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond/coconut milk
4 ounces soft silken tofu or about 1/3 of a package (Instead of tofu, you can use protein powder, or a few tablespoons of rinsed cooked white beans.)
1 cup frozen mixed berries
1/4 medium banana, frozen
3/4 cup shredded red cabbage (fresh or frozen)
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup ice cubes
Place 1 1/2 cups of the milk and the tofu in the blender and blend until smooth and no tofu lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Add the frozen berries, banana, cabbage, orange zest, extracts, and ice cubes. Blend until smooth, about one minute. If you don't have a high-powered blender, then you may need to stop, stir and continue blending about halfway through. Once the mixture is well blended, add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and blend just until all smooth. Pour into 3 glasses and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 86 calories; 28 calories from fat; 3 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 139 mg sodium; 12 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 4 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."