If you’re a health nut like me (or have got a health nut friend), I bet your smoothie-making routine goes a little something like this. Start with the basics: greens, frozen veggies, some fruit, avocado, etc. Then you reach into the pantry and start pulling out a bunch of containers full of seeds and powders no one a decade ago would have known the names of.
Chia seeds, hemp seeds, maca powder, etc. - You pour a little bit of each of these into your blender, get it all nice and smooth, take a picture for Instagram, and then enjoy. What do the hemp seeds do for your body? You’re not sure, but you know it’s good.
Sound familiar? It’s totally OK. There are tons of foods that I don’t know much about, but I love learning about anything health-related, so I thought it was about time I cleared up some of my go-to superfoods for smoothies. I added in a few that I've never used (trying an acai bowl is on my bucket list) and compiled a quick guide for you all. Let's start!
A personal favorite, so I must admit I’m a bit biased. Basically souped-up dark chocolate. You won’t find chocolate in a purer form than this. While crunching on these bitter granules alone may not be the first thing you want to do, there are delicious ways to incorporate their unique texture and health benefits into your meals. Because cacao nibs are basically the darkest of dark chocolates, they contain an amazing amount of flavonoids. Flavonoids are actually a group of naturally occurring plant pigments. “Among the many benefits attributed to flavonoids are reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, and stroke,” according to Psychology Today. Sounds good to me!
My absolute favorite way to use these is to toss them into a smoothie once it’s all nice and blended, and pulse quickly to chop and distribute but not pulverize them. Gives the smoothie a wonderful crunch. Try also adding some mint leaves! (Livestrong)
The taste of this popular berry has been compared to raspberries, blackberries, and pomegranate. The beautiful color they lend to acai bowls would certainly corroborate that! The purple also indicates that the berries contain lots anthocyanins, an antioxidant. They’re also high in fat - which is pretty interesting for a berry - and will fill you up at breakfast time. It’s possible that they have anti-cancer and memory-boosting effects, but more studies need to be done in order to support such conclusions. But with their yummy taste and virtually no drawbacks, I wouldn’t hesitate to eat these little guys, just in case!
Fresh acai berries don’t last very long fresh, which is why you will probably only find the powdered form. That’s actually not a problem because that will give you the most concentrated source of nutrients! Just blend some into your smoothie for a yummy, creamy, purple bowl (Healthline).
Bee pollen is a pretty buzzy supplement. It seems kinda weird, doesn’t it? But boy do those golden flecks look pretty. And they’ve got more than just looks. First, they’ve got tons of protein… which probably doesn’t matter much since you’ll be dusting them on your food, not measuring them by the cup, but it goes to show that they’re mightier than they seem! Bee pollen has got tons of other benefits too. It’s: anti-inflammatory (has even been compared to drugs), immune system-boosting (just be careful if you’ve got allergies), stress-relieving, and an antioxidant!
Avoid it if you’ve got an allergy to honey or bees. Otherwise, start slowly. Try adding it into your energy balls and bars, blending into smoothies, or sprinkling on top of toast (Dr. Axe).
Ch-ch-ch-chia! It’s almost hard to believe that these wonderful, nutrient-packed seeds were once most famous for growing into decorative plants when stuck into terracotta pots filled with dirt. What a waste! These little gray-black seeds have tons of fiber to help keep you full, as well as to feed the little bacteria friends in your gut. You’re welcome little bacteria friends. They’re also very high in antioxidants (as are many of the items on this list) and they’re 14% protein by weight. Not bad for a seed once marketed as a plant pet.
Want flawless skin? In a study, patients who consumed a ½ tsp of flaxseed oil per day (which is about 1 ½ tsp of flax seeds) showed significantly smoother, less sensitive skin (NutritionFacts.org)! Flax seeds also have lots of omega-2 essential fatty acids for heart health, lignans, which are antioxidants (there we go with that A word again!), and mucho fiber.
Blend flaxseed into your smoothie, or add it on top for a nice crunch. Flax seeds also taste awesome in bars or baked treats. Another cool idea? Make a flax egg as a vegan alternative in baking (WebMD).
Ah, maca powder. That which has an indescribable flavor. I’ll summarize the attempts that have been made: caramel, butterscotch, malty, earthy, nutty, vanilla... You really just have to try it for yourself. It comes from the root of a plant that is native to the high Andes of Peru. Pretty cool, huh? As for the benefits, maca powder regulates estrogen levels, which makes it perfect for a smoothie to soothe your PMS symptoms. It has also been shown to improve energy and mood. I don’t know about you, but I’m down for that. Plus, guess what? It’s another superfood with a superb amount of antioxidants!
Even though this powder is (surprisingly) in the same family as broccoli and cauliflower, I wouldn’t recommend putting it in a salad. It tastes amazing in smoothies though, and you can even use it to make pancakes (Dr. Axe).
How would I describe the flavor of these weird, elongated berries? Sort of green tea/chocolate-ish. Did you know they’re also called wolfberries? I like “goji” a lot better. Perhaps the coolest thing is that these berries have all 8 essential amino acids, which is somewhat rare for plant-based foods. Other foods that hold that title include quinoa and buckwheat. A round of applause for goji berries for being the outlier in a grain-dominated field. Goji berries have also been found to boost the immune system, lower blood sugar, and even alleviate insulin resistance.
Goji berries contain lotsa vitamin A, which is fat-soluble and can cause problems if you eat too much of them, so just don’t overdo it, okay? That shouldn’t be a problem because I think they taste best as a topping to add a touch of sweetness and tartness (Healthline).
So before I start, let me say this. Hemp seeds will NOT get you high. They come from the same plant, but the varieties used for hemp seeds contain way less THC than the varieties used for marijuana. So trust me, you’re totally fine eating the seeds. In fact, hemp seeds (AKA hemp hearts) are very rich in the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linoleic acid (omega-3), which regulate blood pressure and inflammatory responses (EUFIC). You want these in your body. There have been studies that have shown hemp seeds to have beneficial skin effects, and they might even improve your eczema symptoms. Most importantly for those eating plant-based diets, an impressive 25% of the calories in hemp seeds come from proteins.
I love sprinkling these on just about everything. They have a wonderful soft texture that also works nicely in making blended drinks like healthy vegan eggnog. You know what I’ll be making on December 25th (Healthline).
You’ve probably seen this powder’s gorgeous color flaunted on Instagram, but let’s take a look at the health benefits behind that beautiful bluish-green color. Spirulina (AKA pond scum but let’s not call it that) contains a wide variety of nutrients, including: lots of riboflavin and thiamin as well as, in smaller amounts, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin K, vitamin E, and folate. An interesting effect of this superfood is that it detoxes heavy metals. The phycocyanin pigment that the powder possesses also lowers blood pressure. On top of that, it’ll reduce your cholesterol and your chance of stroke.
If you are taking medications or are being treated for a chronic condition, ask your doctor before taking spirulina. Otherwise, you can blend the powder into smoothie bowls, mash it into guacamole, or stir into juice (Dr. Axe).
Whew, that was a whole lotta learning! I’m tired now. I’m sure one of these superfoods can help boost my energy! Orrrr I'll just go to bed :P I’m off now for a good night’s sleep and hopefully a smoothie bowl in the morning.
What superfoods do you love putting on your smoothies?