A breakfast smoothie can be a great way to start your day. Smoothies can be an excellent way to get protein, fiber, good fats, and other nutrients from fruits and superfoods, like spinach and leafy greens. They pack tons of nutrition into a small on-the-go cup, and they can taste more like a dessert than a healthy snack or meal.
But smoothies aren’t without their faults. If you make a morning smoothie at home or order the wrong blend from your favorite juice joint, your refreshing drink can spike your blood sugar and then send it crashing leaving you queasy and fatigued, rather than satisfied.
Even if a smoothie is overflowing with healthy foods, it can cause blood sugar levels to spike if portions are too large or it isn’t made with the right blend or ratios of ingredients.
When blood sugar levels rise quickly, the insulin that rushes to get excess sugar out of your blood and into your cells can cause a blood sugar crash. This can leave you feeling fatigued and hungry, instead of satisfied and energized.
If you have diabetes and spike your blood sugar with a smoothie, or any other food or drink, your cells may not be responding as well to insulin, so your sugar will stay elevated for a longer period of time. This can cause headaches, fatigue, increased thirst, blurred vision, and make it challenging to concentrate.
Whether or not you have diabetes, you’ll want to stick to a small, 8- to 12-ounce smoothie to ward off blood sugar spikes. This size will contain about 175 to 450 calories, making it an ideal snack or small meal.
The right balance
Just as a healthy snack or meal contains a mix of carbs, protein, and fat, a healthy smoothie should contain the same mix. This balance is essential to preventing unwanted blood sugar highs and lows. While there is no ‘perfect’ ratio of ingredients, a good guideline would be to have a serving of protein, one serving of fruit, a tablespoon or two of good fat, and a serving or two of vegetables.
Watch out for added sugars from sweetened yogurts, sweetened non-dairy milk, or juice. Combined with the fresh fruit that is typically in smoothies, this is far too much sugar. Even though the sugar in fruit is “natural,” not “added” sugar, if you’re drinking all that sugar at once without much protein or fat, it will cause a large blood sugar spike.
- Start with a liquid
Some good low carbohydrate liquid bases for smoothies include:
- Unsweetened almond, hemp or other plant milk which contains about 1 gram of carbohydrates per cup.
- Unsweetened soy milk is another good option with just 3 -5 grams per cup.
- Cow’s milk, on the other hand, has about 12 grams of carbohydrates (lactose sugar) per cup. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use cow’s milk. Just be sure to add less fruit to your blender than you normally would to keep the total sugars to a minimum and keep blood sugar spikes at bay
- Iced green tea
- Pick a Protein
Protein is key to slowing down digestion and helping you feel full and satiated. High-protein smoothies can slow the absorption of food, and this reduces the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream. It’s also important in helping you maintain muscle mass, which helps to regulate blood sugar as well.
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Silken tofu
- Protein powder: vegan, rice, pea, or whey
- Fit in some Fruit
Breakfast is a great time to get in a fruit serving. Just make sure it is one serving. Too many smoothie recipes contain 2-5 servings of fruit in one smoothie and that is too much sugar to absorb at once.
- A serving is: ¾ – 1 cup berries, a small banana or ½ large banana, 1 orange or ½ grapefruit, ½ cup mango or pineapple
- Frozen fruit adds a nice texture to smoothies
- Berries including, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are powerful inflammation fighters and are loaded with nutrients while also being lower on the glycemic index
- Pick a Vegetable
Not a big fan of spinach or kale? Try sipping them instead. A handful or two of leafy greens are loaded with antioxidants and contain potassium and vitamin K while remaining very low in sugar. They can easily blend into a smoothie without altering the flavor too much even if they do give your shake a slightly green hue. Some veggie ideas:
- 1-2 handfuls dark leafy greens like spinach, kale or Swiss chard
- ½ cup cooked pumpkin or sweet potato
- 1-2 small beets and beet greens
- ½ – 1 cup celery or cucumber
- A serving of powdered greens supplement
Fruits and vegetables also contain fiber which is essential to good health. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble. It is harder for the body to break down soluble fiber. This means it takes longer to release its energy, reducing the risk of a glucose spike.
Insoluble fiber boosts digestive health and reduces the absorption of other foods in the gastrointestinal tract, which also helps to prevent blood sugar spikes.
Fiber can also leave you feeling fuller for longer and can help prevent weight gain as a result of overeating due to not feeling full and can help prevent a buildup of cholesterol in the blood.
- Choose a healthy fat
There are many sources of healthful fats that can be used in smoothies, such as avocado and chia seeds. Fats play an essential role in the body, helping us absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K that are in our vegetables and fruits. Fats can also help slow down the speed at which sugar enters the blood and leave you feeling satisfied. However, too much fat can lead to weight gain, so it is essential to balance the quantities – about 2 tablespoons is good.
Some healthful sources of fat to add to a morning smoothie include:
- almond or peanut butter
- chia, flax or hemp seeds
- cashews, pecans, walnuts or almonds
- Add flavor and nutrition without sugar
Herbs and spices are nutrient powerhouses. Other ways to add flavor to your smoothie without adding any sugar include:
- a pinch of spice, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, or turmeric
- fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, or coriander
- vanilla, almond, peppermint, or other extracts, but not syrups
- unsweetened cocoa powder, or cacao nibs
- black coffee
- Make a meal of it
A smoothie can seem like a drink, but it can contain as many carbs and calories as a full meal.
Account for the carb and calorie content in the smoothie and use it to replace a meal, or just have a very light snack with it.
If it is still tempting to reach for a full breakfast or lunch, opt instead for sparkling water or unsweetened tea or coffee as a drink.