Whether you enjoy them as a meal or a snack, smoothies are an awesome way to pack your day with nutrients and sneak some superfoods into your diet. They’re also great if you like to get creative and play mad scientist in the kitchen. As a dietitian, I’m all about weird-is-good when it comes to food, so I always encourage my clients to try out different flavors and experiment. Here, I get some fellow dietitians to share their favorite strange-but-seriously-delish smoothie ingredients.
Healthy smoothie basics
To make sure that your smoothie supports your health goals, there are a few basic things to keep in mind. First, decide if it’s a snack or a meal. A common mistake I see clients make is skimping on protein when they need their smoothie to stand in for breakfast. Another slip-up I see all the time: going way overboard with the add-ons when that smoothie is meant to be a post-workout snack. Yes, you need to refuel, but a 500-calorie smoothie can offset a 300-calorie burn without your realizing it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that portions count. Be mindful not to go overboard on fruit. If you wouldn’t eat that much solid fruit in one sitting, don’t throw it in the blender. Most of us wouldn’t eat a whole banana, a cup of berries, and a mango in one go, yet may think nothing of drinking that much in blended form. A lot of “healthy” ingredients like nuts, seeds, coconut oil, and the like are packed with nutrients, but the extra calories can add up quickly. Choose just a few to focus on or use smaller servings if you want variety.
If you can’t get into drinking a meal (I’m right there with you), try pouring your smoothie into a bowl and adding some toppings to turn it into a (wait for it) smoothie bowl.
My personal favorite weird-is-good smoothie ingredient is frozen cauliflower. Still with me? The cauliflower actually lends a creamy consistency without any of that funky cauliflower taste. Because it’s white, it doesn’t impact the color, which is great for vegetable skeptics.
Cauliflower is a bona fide superfood with tons of antioxidants, B-vitamins, potassium, and fiber. Added bonus: it’s an awesome way to sneak extra veggies in if you’re just not into the spinach-in-smoothie thing. This Blueberry Cauliflower Smoothie from dietitian Lindsay Livingston of The Lean Green Bean is a delicious way to get your fix.
Beets have a mildly earthy sweet taste that blends really well with other flavors. They’re also an antioxidant powerhouse. They’ve been touted for their anti-inflammatory benefits thanks to betalain, the pigment that gives beets their bright red color.
For the smoothest blending, steam or roast the beets first and slice them before throwing them in the blender. Looking for a handy shortcut? Buy them pre-cooked—fresh and frozen varieties are both available. Dietitian Gabrielle Vetere of Macrobalanced loves beets in her smoothies. This protein-rich recipe from Vetere pairs beets with cherries, another antioxidant powerhouse—perfect for a post-workout meal!
We often think of pumpkin as a fall food, but this bright orange squash is great any time of year. Adding canned pumpkin to smoothies lends a pleasing, creamy texture and a ton of vitamins like A and C, plus potassium and filling fiber (a half-cup serving boasts four grams).
Dietitian Annette Jochum adds that the flavor is almost undetectable, yet “you get all the benefits of a vegetable!” No pumpkin? Butternut squash and kabocha squash provide similar benefits. Use cooked, canned, or even frozen.
Yes, way. Dietitian Michelle Loy of Go Wellness tosses citrus peels into her blender. “It adds a burst of flavor to the smoothie,” she explained, “and they’re chock-full of fiber and vitamin C. Plus, the peel packs in potent phytochemicals like flavonoids, carotenoids, and limonene.” Just be sure to wash well before tossing in there.
If you haven’t tried avocado in your smoothies yet, you’re in for a treat. Julie Harrington, the Culinary Nutrition Consultant of RDelicious Kitchen, says, “The healthy fat paired with nutrient packed fruits and vegetables, help fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) be better absorbed. Plus, it makes smoothies really creamy—almost like a milkshake consistency.”
In this recipe, Harrington combines avocado with tropical fruits for a delicious treat. Don’t want to hang your smoothie plans on the pace at which an avocado decides to ripen? Next time you go shopping, buy a few extra and then when they hit the sweet spot, scoop out the flesh and store in an sealed bag or container in the freezer.
From personal experience, it’s best if you freeze in single portions—that way you’re not trying to hack off pieces of rock-solid, ice-cold avocado to break off the amount you want. All you have to do when you’re ready to make your smoothie is throw in your frozen avocado and blend away.
Oatmeal is a smoothie add-in you may already be familiar with (if you haven’t tried blending your overnight oats into a smoothie, I suggest you get on that, stat—it tastes like eating cookie dough that happens to be good for you), but there’s a whole world of grain options.
Play around with throwing cooked quinoa, sorghum, millet, and other grains into the blender. You’ll enjoy a boost of fiber, complex carbs, and important vitamins and minerals like iron, selenium, and magnesium.
While we tend to autopilot to sweet flavors in smoothies, there’s a whole world of savory spices out there. Dietitian Shannon A. Garcia of KISS in the Kitchen is all about turmeric. “It gives a gorgeous color while also providing some extra nutrition and unique flavor. Plus, it’s a super inexpensive ‘add-in,’ so all the more reason to try it out!”
Also awesome: turmeric is an antioxidant, inflammation-fighting powerhouse that’s been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of health conditions. Whether you’re fighting off a cold or just looking for a post-workout nutrition upgrade, give it a try.
In this recipe, Garcia pairs turmeric with mango and citrus for a satisfying flavor boost.
Cayenne is another savory spice that’s great in smoothies. Aside from boasting a range of potential health benefits, it adds a delicious contrast to sweet smoothie ingredients. Why not pair it with cacao for a flavor boost with an extra kick?
Dietitian Kelly Jones of Kelly Jones Performance Nutrition, raves, “A touch of ground cayenne pepper is great to add a little heat to balance out the sweetness of fruit! It also can increase blood flow, which is helpful for recovery post workout.” Try her sweet and spicy smoothie recipe to add a little zing to your day.
For a vegan protein option that’s not a powder, try silken tofu. Dietitian Vincci Tsui-Low likes it because “it makes your smoothie creamy and smooth, and is a great vegetarian source of protein.”
A half-cup serving (about a quarter of a block) provides ten grams of protein. Cut it into cubes first for easy blending. Because it blends up with all the other ingredients, you don’t get that wiggly tofu texture that turns a lot of people off.
Cooked sweet potatoes are a fantastic way to add extra fiber and important nutrients like potassium and antioxidants to your smoothie. They also lend a smooth, creamy texture. You can use boiled, roasted, or steamed.
Purple sweet potatoes pack an even more powerful antioxidant punch thanks to the anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give purple sweet potatoes and other purple and blue foods like berries their vibrant color. Dietitian Sharon Palmer tosses them into this nutrient-rich smoothie for a delicious boost.
If you haven’t jumped on the tahini bandwagon yet, drop what you’re doing and go get yourself a jar. This seriously delish ground sesame paste makes a wonderful addition to sweet and savory foods alike. It’s also a great nut-butter alternative for allergy sufferers.
Dietitian Abbey Sharp, YouTuber and blogger at Abbey’s Kitchen says, “I love adding tahini to smoothies because it adds a salty, savory, rich flavor while thickening up the texture of the smoothie. It’s also rich in healthy monounsaturated fats that keep you satiated longer.”
Her Pistachio Tahini Protein Smoothie elevates your post-workout sip to a full-on experience.
Not into protein powder to add a boost to your smoothies? Give egg whites a try. Each three-tablespoon serving provides five grams of protein and about 25 calories. New Jersey dietitian Mandy Enright, creator of the couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials is a fan.
“The egg whites not only create a great creamy, frothy texture, but also add a boost of protein… Make sure to use pasteurized egg whites to keep your smoothie safe.” This blueberry muffin-inspired smoothie will turn you into a believer.
Frozen shelled edamame
You may have tried frozen edamame as a snack or appetizer, but did you know you can throw it in the blender for a high-protein, high-fiber smoothie boost? Amy Gorin a registered dietitian and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, New Jersey, loves this plant-protein powerhouse in her smoothies.
“It blends into a nice creamy mixture, and it allows you to net a lot of protein in a smoothie! I typically pair it with frozen banana, milk, and vanilla bean.” This delicious recipe is perfect as a quick and easy breakfast or satisfying afternoon snack.
If you’re looking to break out from your Greek yogurt smoothie rut, try cottage cheese. Registered Dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, recommends cottage cheese.
“I add cottage cheese to my smoothies for a great boost of protein. Once it’s blended, you’re left with a delicious creamy texture. Compared to plain Greek yogurt, the cottage cheese is less tart so you don’t need to add as much sweetener.” Still skeptical? Try her game-changing PB & J Smoothie Bowl.
Another overlooked protein option is ricotta cheese. Dietitian Lindsey Janeiro of Nutrition to Fit loves ricotta in smoothies.
“Just like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, ricotta cheese packs a punch of protein (14 grams in a half cup) but with a [milder] taste.” Her Wild Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Smoothie may taste like dessert, but it makes the perfectly satisfying breakfast or snack.
Dry milk powder
Whey and other protein powders can get expensive. For a more budget-friendly option, check out skim milk powder (usually found in the baking aisle of your local store).
Alida Iacobellis of Nutrition Kitchen says, “I like adding skim milk powder to give a smoothie a bit of a protein boost while keeping a nice thick and creamy consistency.”
Available in fat-free, low-fat, and whole-milk varieties, you’re able to customize based on your nutrient needs. A 1/3-cup serving provides eight grams of protein, about the same amount in an eight-ounce glass of milk.
Lentils are a smoothie secret weapon, thanks to the way they blend up easily into a creamy texture. They also boast eight grams of fiber and nine grams of protein per half-cup serving. Next time you make a pot, stash some in the freezer—or use pre-cooked lentils.
Dietitian E.A. Stewart says, “Frozen lentils are a delicious plant-based way to add protein and fiber to a smoothie. They’re pretty mild tasting, so no one will guess they’re in there.” Try her Ginger Peach Mango Lassi and see for yourself.
Dietitian Christy Brissette, president of 80 Twenty Nutrition puts matcha green tea powder in her smoothies for an antioxidant boost. “[It] has ten times the antioxidants of other green tea,” she says.
These antioxidants, called catechins, have been studied for their role in cancer prevention, heart health, and their potential to boost metabolism, among other things. Try her Superfood Smoothie Bowl to start your morning off right.
Think beyond the almond milk and try cold brew as your liquid smoothie base. When you’re on-the-go, you can get your caffeine fix while you slurp down a quick breakfast or snack.
This deliciously simple Cold Brew Smoothie recipe from Megan Beck Nutrition is perfect for those hectic days when you have to choose between food and coffee. In a pinch, you can also brew a pot of coffee and let it chill in the fridge. Feel free to customize by adding your favorite protein to give it more staying powder.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
Have fun trying new things. Afraid you’ll hate it? If you don’t like something, just pat yourself on the back for trying something new and move on, knowing that you never have to make it that way again. You never know, though, you might just find a new favorite.