After a few weeks of no-holds-barred eating, one of the fastest ways to get back on the healthy track is by blending up a fruit- and veggie-filled smoothie.
Instead of going with the usual Jamba Juice–inspired fruit smoothie, opt for something a little more complex. Don’t be basic—start the new year strong by throwing in a few of these wild ingredients with the usual frozen berries and protein powder for a serious kick of nutrition.
A daily dose of (sea) greens
Get a little weird and add some algae to that blender. Spirulina, a form of blue-green algae known for its plentiful vitamins, is far from the pond scum that lives on the bottom of row boats—it’s harvested in non-contaminated bodies of water. That means that you’ll only reap its rewards: Gram for gram, spirulina has the highest protein content of any food on the planet, in addition to its plethora of B vitamins, copper, iron, and magnesium.
Spirulina can lower LDL cholesterol oxidation, reduce blood pressure, and help combat side effects of seasonal allergies. But maybe most impressively, the seaweed can significantly lower blood sugar levels, which in turn decreases belly fat storage. Add a tablespoon or two to turn your smoothie bright green and add loads of nutrients.
Get buzzy benefits
Want to make that finished smoothie a little more Instagram-worthy? Sprinkle a little bee pollen on top for a bright finish that’s not only pretty, but healthy. It doesn’t smell or taste like much, but the stuff is seriously powerful.
About 40 percent of the nutrition in a teaspoon of bee pollen comes from protein, which is pretty significant for a plant-based substance. The other 60 percent includes essential amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, beneficial fatty acids, and 28 different minerals such as calcium, magnesium, selenium, nucleic acids, lecithin, and cysteine. Although it’s nutrient-dense, bee pollen is low in calories, which means it won’t turn your smoothie into a calorie bomb.
The bee byproduct also has antioxidant activity, and works with the body to fight free radicals that damage cells and cause chronic illnesses (including cancer), nerve cell injury, and even premature aging. Antioxidants help prevent disease in the long term, and also boost the immune system come cold and flu season: The antimicrobial properties of bee pollen keep illness at bay, and it’s been studied as a remedy for seasonal and environmental allergies. Throw a tablespoon into the blender, and then sprinkle some on top with other superfoods like hemp hearts, chia seeds, and goji berries.
Harness the power of Ayurveda
Time to get familiar with ashwagandha. This tiny red fruit is well known for its powerful restorative effects in India, where Ayurvedic medicine originated nearly 5,000 years ago. Usually ingested as a tea or in powder form, the earthy-tasting herb is used to strengthen the immune system, improve vitality and vigor, and boost energy levels. It’s basically nature’s energy drink—and the perfect addition to a morning smoothie.
Ashwagandha is also considered an adaptogen, meaning that once ingested in can help modulate and control one’s response to stress. It’s useful against external stress, like dealing with a difficult work environment, as well as easing internal stressors like anxiety and insomnia. A typical recommended dose is anywhere from 600 to 1,000 milligrams daily, so try adding 1-2 tablespoons before you hit “blend.”
Try a magical fruit
Berries, mangoes, apples, oranges, bananas—the list of fruits that work well in smoothies is endless. But there’s one that you might be overlooking: Beans. Yes, they are technically a fruit. And as crazy as it may sound, they’re actually antioxidant-packed and add fiber, vitamin B, and vegan protein to any dish … Smoothies included.
On their own, beans don’t have a ton of taste, which means they won’t ruin your concoction. Instead, kidney beans or red beans will actually add a little density and thickness (just like a banana would) without upping the sugar content. Add as many as you’d like, but we’ve found that ½ cup works really well.
Have fungi with it
First beans, now mushrooms? Stay with us. You don’t need to add whole mushrooms (although you could) to your smoothie—but it’s definitely worth it to add them in powdered form, especially if it’s going to replace a morning cup of coffee.
Mushrooms like lion’s mane, reishi, and cordyceps are well researched for their health effects, including increased stamina, higher energy levels, quicker muscle recovery, and overall improved performance. The best part—they actually taste pretty good in a smoothie, especially chocolate or vanilla. Not sure where to start? Here are the four most popular superfood mushrooms and their functions:
- Cordyceps can increase energy and boost recovery
- Lion’s mane can boost brain power and mental clarity
- Reishi helps regulate sleep cycle and eases stress levels
- Chaga improves immune function and prevents illness
Pick whichever works with your goals—or combine a few—and add them into the blender!
Regardless of whether you’re ready to add beans to your smoothie or if you’re already itching to sip on ashwagandha, step out of your comfort zone and try something new this year. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho