Drinking smoothies is a great way to get out the door in a hurry in the morning, but there’s way more to love about them than the quickness with which you can drink one down.
According to U.S. News & World Report, green smoothies made with leafy green vegetables and nut milks are whole food marvels, along with healthy green juices (though arguably so is any vegetable juice, like this healthy V8-style tomato juice). And when superfoods become part of the mix, they pack an even more powerful punch of vitamins, minerals, omega fatty acids, and phytonutrients.
Vegans, vegetarians, gym devotees, and whole-foodies, these add-ins are for you. But first, let’s get the rundown on exactly what we’re talking about.
What Are Superfoods?
A superfood is a nutrient-dense ingredient that’s loaded with essential health-enhancing, disease-fighting properties. These are also referred to as functional foods.
When combined with a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables, the ingredients described here act as an extra power boost.
And Essential Fatty Acids?
You will see omega-3 fatty acids mentioned as a component of many of these nutrition boosters, so keep this information in mind.
First, these are referred to as “essential” because they’re needed for health, but the body can’t make them on its own.
Alpha-linoleic acid (an omega-3) and linoleic acid (an omega-6) are fatty acids. EPA and DHA are also types of omega-3s. These contribute to a variety of effects in the body, including skin and nerve health, brain health, blood pressure, and blood clotting.
What’s important to keep in mind here is that omega-3s and omega-6s need to be consumed in a proper ratio for optimal health. Today, many people get too many omega-6s in their diets, so consuming foods high in omega-3s can help to regain this crucial balance.
Many foods containing essential fatty acids spoil quickly. Be sure to keep them in the refrigerator and consume them quickly.
For more information about essential fatty acids, and nutrition in general, check out Nutrition and You by Joan Salge Blake, available on Amazon.
What About Phytochemicals?
As for these often mentioned but not always fully understood components of diet, phytochemicals are the many natural compounds in plants, often those that give them their smells and colors, that are considered beneficial to those who eat them and that have been shown to lower the risk of certain diseases.
In other words, certain natural foods are endowed with unique beneficial properties, and it’s a wise smoothie-maker who incorporates them into his or her daily routine.
Animal-based foods also contain health-promoting compounds that go beyond basic nutritional benefit. These are known as zoochemicals. When obtained from animal-based products, omega-3s are an example of a zoochemical.
Be sure to try new foods in moderation, using nutritious recipes like you’ll find in Crazy Sexy Juice by Kris Carr, available on Amazon, as a guide.
And so without further ado, let’s get to our list of popular ingredients and their amazing potential health benefits as true superfoods!
1. Acai Berries
One of the most antioxidant-rich berries, acais come from the acai palm of South America.
When you shop, look for unsweetened acai puree to combine with blueberries and pomegranate, two other vitamin C-rich antioxidants, for a boost to your immune system.
Though frozen typically isn’t best when it comes to fresh berries, you’ll probably have to go with a frozen puree if you live outside South America, since acai doesn’t ship well.
2. Aloe Vera
The juice of this succulent plant, native to northern Africa, is widely respected for its phytochemical content, particularly saponins that cleanse the blood and improve the immune system, lignins that aid in absorption, and anti-inflammatory salicylic acid.
A comforting remedy for digestive discomfort, purchase it in juice form to combine with other anti-inflammatories like cucumber, honeydew, and pear.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
The probiotic properties of this superfood make it a worthy complement to any juice blend. It also offers anti-inflammatory properties, may restore a healthy pH balance to the stomach, and has been said to provide some relief from acid reflux symptoms.
Try incorporating apple cider vinegar into any recipe that includes pears, apples, and cucumbers.
Unfortunately most apple cider vinegar found in most groceries stores has been pasteurized removing any probiotic properties.
We like Bragg’s Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar because it contains live active bacterial cultures that are beneficial for your digestive track. It’s pretty hard to source in most grocery stores but you can find it on Amazon.
Avocados contain the beneficial omega-3 known as alpha-linolenic acid. They are also high in another very important nutrient, oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat.
Avocados are a versatile superfood that helps in the battle against heart disease and cancer. With a thick consistency and unique, almost nutty flavor, avocados are the perfect fruit for drinks, blending beautifully with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
5. Bee Pollen
Bee pollen is a nutritional wonder that is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
That being said…
With its sweet flowery taste, bee pollen is great in nut-milk-based green pick-me-ups as well as fruit juice blends, and is especially delicious in combinations that include cinnamon, like this fresh papaya and ginger smoothie.
Foodal recommends YS ECO’s Bee Pollen Whole Granulars
The opinions of juice connoisseurs vary on how to properly enhance a drink with bee pollen. Some blend while others sprinkle it on the finished beverage, reminiscent the queen bee atop her throne.
6. Cacao Nibs
From Mexico, Central America, and South America, these raw chocolate bits have a bitter chocolatey taste.
They’re rich in antioxidants, minerals, flavonoids, and monounsaturated fat, not to mention protein, for a nutrient-rich supplement to your favorite blended beverage.
Foodal recommends Viva Lab’s “Best” Tasting Organic Raw Cacao Nibs
This is a hot one, so use it sparingly until you’re familiar with its heat! As a capsaicin-containing anti-inflammatory, this beverage-booster is intense.
Feeling a little under the weather? Cayenne may boost your immune system and even help to decongest your sinuses.
Give a kick to your kale with a nutritious green smoothie, like the one I make with my NutriBullet blender. Experiment with your favorite fruits and veggies!
8. Chia Seeds
Remember chia pets? Yup, these are the same seeds.
Perhaps the most popular of the superfood supplements described here, chia seeds come from the same plant family as mint. They’re an annual herb that produces very pretty flowers that would look lovely in your garden if you live in the correct climate. This plant is native to the southern and central parts of Mexico.
Chia seeds are relatively inexpensive, so buy a big bag – and make sure to use a high-speed blender for a smooth smoothie!
Foodal recommends Viva Labs Organic Chia Seeds 2 Pound Bag
Chia seeds are high in fiber, as well as protein and omega-3s. They’re hydrophilic, meaning they attract and absorb water. Combining them with juice and waiting about half an hour will form a jelly-like substance.
Chia seeds go great in green mixtures, lending a hint of nuttiness to the overall flavor.
This spice is an excellent beverage enhancer, as it aids in the management of blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Cinnamon contains cinnamic acid, an antioxidant that helps to keep essential omega-3 fatty acids from oxidizing.
With a high-speed blender, you can add cinnamon in stick form directly to your juice. Freshly grated or ground cinnamon are also good options.
How about a blend of nut milk, apples, bananas, blueberries, honey, cinnamon, and a dash of cayenne for a spicy pick-me-up?
10. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is extracted from the flesh of the mature coconut, which is harvested from the coconut palm.
It helps to balance blood sugar and may aid thyroid function. It’s also anti-fungal, anti-viral, and full of antioxidants.
Be sure to use a high-speed blender or melt the oil first, for a smooth consistency. When chilled, it forms beads that some people really like, whereas others aren’t fans of the texture.
It will impart a sweet, mild coconut flavor to your drink, and is great with tropical fruits like mango.
11. Flax Seeds
Flax (a.k.a. linseed) is a fiber crop that is cultivated in cooler areas of the world. Flax seeds are not only highly nutritious, but linen fabric is also made from cellulose fibers found in the stalks of the same plant!
Just mix a tablespoon into your mixture, blend with your high-speed blender, and reap the benefits of this nutty, slightly grassy superfood.
12. Goji Berries
Rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and C, goji berries contain carotenoids, color pigments that may be effective in fighting cancer.
These little nuggets of nutrition are on the tough side, so consider soaking them ahead of use.
Foodal recommends Healthworks Raw Organic Goji Berries
Their bitter taste creates a flavorful counterpoint to the sweetness of coconut and mango, as well as a savory base for green drinks rich in kale.
13. Hemp Seeds
Chock full of omega-3s and omega-6s, hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein. Blending them into your drinks will take you a long way toward a healthy heart.
Buy shelled seeds called “hemp hearts” that can be tossed directly into your beverage.
Foodal recommends Nutiva Organic Shelled Hempseed
Mildly nutty, hemp seeds blend quietly into any smoothie or juice blend, imparting nutrition without changing the flavor. Try a few tablespoons in our recipe for tahini banana smoothies.
14. Maca Powder
Maca is an herb that is native to and grows in the high Andes of Peru. Its nutritional value is concentrated in the root.
Dried maca can be stored for several years, and is usually used in powdered form for mixing into liquids.
Maca has a nutty flavor, which you may immediately love or otherwise may acquire a taste for. It is known for increasing energy and endurance, and some experts claim it can help to balance hormones.
Foodal recommends Soul Organic’s Maca Powder
As with all superfood ingredients, start slowly with maca to gauge your digestive tolerance for it.
Try blending maca, flaxseeds, and a banana to your next healthy beverage concoction!
15. Nutritional Yeast
Known also as brewer’s yeast, the kind that’s used in making beer, this superfood is dense in protein, B vitamins, and minerals. As a beverage supplement, you’ll want to use either flakes or powder.
Don’t confuse nutritional yeast with the kind of yeast cakes or packets that you use for baking. They are not the same.
Also, nutritional yeast is bitter, so use it sparingly at first with the guidance of recipes, like some of my favorites in Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family, available on Amazon.
It’s got a nutty/cheesy essence that imparts a unique savory flavor layer to blends of fruits and veggies like carrots, spinach, apples, and oranges.
Spirulina is made from an aquatic plant, and its superstar components are protein and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as phytonutrients that act as powerful antioxidants.
Spirulina may also contribute to dental health, and it binds with heavy metals, thus helping to remove them from the body. It can help to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, and may aid in fighting cancer as well.
Best enjoyed in green smoothies (or why not a green juice, like spinach and apple; or a pinch in some green carrot juice?), you may find the taste of spirulina to be unpleasant at first. The taste can also vary depending on the origins of the spirulina that you buy.
You don’t have to hide it only in green juices and smoothies. Add a pinch of it to this apple beet carrot juice, for instance.
Foodal recommends Amazing Grass Green SuperFood Original
Experiment with combinations of fruits and vegetables until you become more accustomed to its flavor (or a pro at masking it!).
Turmeric is an Indian root looks a bit like ginger. Known for its antioxidant properties, it promotes the healthy metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, and may offer benefits to sufferers of digestive and inflammatory issues. It may also offer cancer-fighting benefits.
Peel and grate turmeric to blend into a variety of beverages. Its piquant flavor is great in green smoothies, as well as juice combos that include carrot or pineapple. Try it on our recipe for a dairy-free pineapple coconut smoothie.
Walnuts, and nuts in general, are great sources of protein. Shelled walnuts resemble the lobes of the brain, and it is actually said that eating them contributes to optimal brain function.
The walnut is rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3s. It contains biotin, a B-complex vitamin that helps process fatty acids, and contributes to strong nails, hair, and skin. It may also be helpful in managing cholesterol.
Soak shelled walnuts before blending for a smoother texture, and enjoy them with bananas and blueberries.
Packed with powerful antioxidants, wheatgrass is an ingredient you’re probably going to need some time to get used to. Its grassy taste isn’t everyone’s favorite, but the value of its anti-inflammatory, immune-building properties far outweighs what it lacks in flavor.
You can buy wheatgrass juice, but for the most nutritional benefit you’re going to want to juice it yourself. If you choose to make your own, keep in mind that it’s very tough. You’ll need something heavy duty like a masticating juicer to squeeze out its essence.
Once it’s juiced, you can add a shot of wheatgrass to fruits like pineapple and banana with either a coconut water or nut milk base, for a refreshing energizer.
For those that don’t have the time to grow their own, you can also buy powdered versions. Although they all aren’t made the same. A lot of supplements are massed produced in China with questionable production methods.
We highly recommend Dr. Berg’s Raw Organic Wheat Grass Juice Powder. It’s made in Utah on a ancient lake bed where it has the ability to pick up all sorts of trace minerals and is processed in a method that better retains all of the nutrients.
You can find it on Amazon.
Get Your Game On
The rest is up to you. Learning about nutrition is one thing, but putting that knowledge to use in fabulous, nutrient-packed smoothies and juices (and even a delicious mango lassi, for a uniquely refreshing treat) is something else altogether!
Make each day a healthy one, and let these superfoods keep you at the top of your nutritional game.
What’s your favorite add-in? Let me know in the comments!
A Note of Caution
The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Consult with your health care professional before considering any plant-based remedies for your health and wellness.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
Revised and expanded from a post originally written by Lori Jo Hendrix. With additional editing and writing contributed by Allison Sidhu.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.