Top 5 Healthy Smoothie Ingredients You Haven’t Tried

By Leslie Goldman |

Plus, one trendy mix-in you’re better off skipping.

Older man making a smoothie

Looking for a healthy, delicious, and easy-to-make breakfast? Smoothies check all the boxes.  

“They’re nourishing, hydrating, taste amazing, and you can take them on the go,” says Julie Smolyansky, author of The Kefir Cookbook: An Ancient Healing Superfood for Modern Life and CEO of Lifeway Foods. “Plus, they’re an easy way to help fulfill your daily fruit and vegetable quota.”  

But the same old banana-berry-yogurt combination can get a little boring.  

To keep things interesting, consider these five unique ingredients that bump up the nutrition quotient and add a surprising dose of deliciousness. Plus, scroll to the end for one trendy mix-in you’ll want to avoid.  

Sip It: Frozen Cauliflower  

Cauliflower is in everything these days, from pizza crust to mac and cheese. Why not smoothies?   

Frozen cauliflower adds thickness and body to smoothies while also sneaking in a serving or two of veggies, says Tamara Duker Freuman, R.D. Freuman is a registered dietician at New York Gastroenterology Associates and author of The Bloated Belly Whisperer. Cauliflower is also low in calories, high in vitamin C, and a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (others include broccoli and Brussels sprouts). Why that’s good: Cruciferous vegetables contain anti-inflammatory plant compounds called glucosinolates that may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and improve heart health, says Wendy Bazilian, R.D.N., a doctor of public health and nutritionist in San Diego and co-author of the Eat Clean, Stay Lean book series.  

What about the taste? Since cauliflower has such a mild flavor, you won’t even know it’s there, Freuman says. Simply swap in a heaping half-cup of frozen cauliflower florets or one-third cup of frozen riced cauliflower for the usual frozen banana.  

One cautionary note: If cauliflower makes you gassy, start with smaller amounts, maybe adding a bit of frozen cauliflower along with the frozen banana.  

Sip It: Tahini 

Tahini is best known as the ingredient that makes hummus rich and creamy, but it also makes for an unexpected but tasty smoothie mix-in. Made from ground sesame seeds, this paste is surprisingly versatile, says Sally Schimko, founder and creator of The Tahini Goddess. “It’s the peanut butter of Israel,” the native Israeli says. (In fact, one of her go-to smoothies is a “PB&J” blend, combining 1 cup of nut milk, a handful of fresh mixed berries, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter tahini.)  

Tahini is high in a variety of key vitamins and minerals such as calcium, copper (a mineral that helps your body absorb iron and form red blood cells), selenium (which helps decrease inflammation and promotes immune health), and phosphorus (important for maintaining bone health). One 2-tablespoon serving provides nearly 130 milligrams of calcium, which is more than you’d get from half a cup of cottage cheese!  

Those same two tablespoons deliver three grams of fiber and more than five grams of protein, which is important because “seniors often have difficulty getting enough protein in their diet,” says Reshma Shah, M.D., an instructor at Stanford University’s Healthy Living program and co-author of Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families.   

If that’s not enough to persuade you to try it, Dr. Shah adds that sesame seeds, the main ingredient in tahini, “contain many beneficial phytochemicals that may play a protective role against heart disease, inflammatory conditions, and some cancers.”  

Tahini comes in two types: unhulled or hulled, where the outer shell of the seed is removed. Hulled tahini tends to be smoother with a milder flavor that’s better suited for smoothies. Try adding 2 tablespoons to the blender or drizzle it over the top of your cup before enjoying, Schimko suggests.  

Sip It: Olive Oil 

Yes, the same silky oil you drizzle in the skillet before cooking meat or vegetables makes an excellent addition to smoothies. And your heart will thank you!  

Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who ate more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day had a 14 percent lower risk of developing any kind of cardiovascular disease and an 18 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. This condition happens when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart and other parts of the body and may lead to a heart attack.  

One caveat: Olive oil adds a distinct flavor, so if you’re not a big fan, try blending half a tablespoon with strongly flavored ingredients such as cocoa powder, pineapple chunks, or mango, Freuman suggests. Even better, add a handful of spinach to the blender too. The leafy green hardly affects flavor and is rich in fat-soluble vitamins (A and K), which are better absorbed when paired with a fat source such as olive oil.  

Sip It: Kefir 

Yogurt gets a lot of love among healthy eaters, but kefir is like its more powerful cousin when it comes to probiotics — the good-for-you bacteria that help improve digestion, boost immunity, and even regulate mood. The drink is made by seeding milk with kefir “grains,” which are tiny bundles of yeast and bacteria, and letting it sit. Over time the grains ferment the milk, resulting in a smooth drink that’s packed with healthy bacteria and very low in lactose, making it easier to digest for some.  

“The probiotics are what give kefir its characteristic tang,” says Smolyansky, whose father brought kefir to the United States in the 1970s when they emigrated from Ukraine.  

Those probiotics might also help keep your skeleton strong. In a Swedish study, 90 older women (average age of 76) were given a powder that contained either health-promoting live and active probiotic bacteria (such as what’s in kefir) or a placebo every day for one year. At the end of the study, the women who received the powder with active bacteria lost half as much bone compared with those who received the placebo.  

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Try using kefir in place of yogurt, Greek yogurt, or milk in your smoothies. Just be sure to check the ingredient list before you buy. Some commercial kefir drinks contain high amounts of added sugar.  

Sip It: Green Peas 

They don’t get the same accolades as spinach and broccoli, but frozen green peas are “a nutrition powerhouse when it comes to veggies,” Dr. Shah says. “While you wouldn’t necessarily think of peas in your morning smoothie, they are actually quite a versatile ingredient and can offer a nutritional boost.”  

More specifically, a half-cup of this freezer staple has more than 4 grams of protein (more than most vegetables), nearly 4 grams of fiber, and three times as much iron as a half-cup of spinach. Green peas are also a good source of manganese (a trace element involved in various metabolic processes, bone formation, immune response, and blood clotting) and vitamin K (important for blood clotting and bone formation).  

Like frozen cauliflower, peas create an extra-creamy texture and have a mild flavor that pairs well with sweeter ingredients such as bananas, berries, or a splash of 100 percent fruit juice.  

Skip It: Activated Charcoal

Some cafés and beverage companies mix activated charcoal (AC) into smoothies, touting its “detoxification” benefits. In a way, they’re correct: AC binds to other substances it encounters and ushers them out of the body before they can enter the bloodstream. This is why it’s used in emergency rooms to treat certain kinds of poisoning and for drug overdoses.   

But this same spongelike quality means “activated charcoal can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb medications when taken within a few hours of them, which can interfere with their effectiveness,” Freuman says. “This is particularly concerning for people who rely on certain meds whose doses are carefully measured to work for you, like antidepressants and thyroid medications,” she says. “But also just in general for medications that you really wouldn’t want to fail you, like blood pressure medications.” 

The bottom line: If you really want to try activated charcoal, check with your doctor first and tell them about all medications you’re taking — both prescription and over the counter. Not that intrigued? Play it safe by skipping this trendy ingredient.  

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