Image of Strawberry-Lemon Smoothie courtesy of Vanessa Porter via Flickr. Photo has been cropped.

You put stuff in a blender. You run the blender. 60 seconds later, you have a healthy breakfast on the run. Or not on the run… I enjoy sipping my smoothies over the morning paper. Either way, it’s a great start to your morning.

But what, exactly, goes in the blender? In this two-part article, I’ll have ten suggestions. This month, the four suggestions are foundational; next month, the following six will be bonuses. Things like maca powder and bee pollen. And in case you were worried, everything is going to taste just fine: you shouldn’t have to start your day with a grimace.

And if you want to skip talk of ingredients, and get straight to recipes, come in and ask for a copy of our “Smoothie Inspiration” recipe sheet.

Protein Powder. Protein “sticks to the ribs,” as my grandmother used to say. A smoothie without protein may taste delicious, and it may be nutritious, but it won’t be nearly as satisfying – and you’ll probably be hungry by lunch.

You can find protein powders made from rice, hemp, peas, eggs, soybeans, or any combination thereof. For some reason, vegan proteins have become very fashionable the last few years. [Debra says they also are grittier, and not to her taste!]

Certainly, you can use any kind of protein. But personally, I’m a big fan of whey. Whey is derived from dairy. It’s a more bioavailable protein than most vegan sources, and has a nice milky taste. A high-quality whey will be undenatured – processed in such a way that the dairy proteins are left largely intact, conferring some of the immune, digestion, and detox benefits of raw milk.

If you prefer to avoid dairy, I’ll suggest our Debra’s Brand Organic Vegan Protein Powder. And if you want it to taste delicious right out of the bottle with only water, the Orgain Organic Plant Protein (chocolate and vanilla) does a good job at a good price.

However since some of my ingredients add flavor – and since I like to get creative – I prefer the versatility of an unflavored, unsweetened protein.

I usually do more than a suggested serving, shooting for 25-30 grams protein. That about equal to four eggs.

Frozen Fruit: deep, dark, rich red and blue and purple berries are packed with antioxidants and other protective compounds that can keep the blood vessels supple, the eyes bright and healthy, and the brain vibrant well into old age. But this kind of nutrition is hard to come by in winter, in New England.

Frozen berries are a wonderful solution. Not to mention, you’re probably going to want something to flavor your shake, and it might as well be packed with nutrition. Even in summer, when fresh berries are plentiful,  I like to mix it up. Frozen mango is nice (with lime, and a pinch of chili). So are cherries (with a splash of vanilla or almond extract). Apricots and peaches go nicely with cinnamon and cardamom. Or I’ll go to the Hispanic grocer in my neighborhood to buy something I can’t pronounce.

But 3 out of 4 days, I come back to the same old Frutti di Bosco mixed berries from Asiago Foods. These “wild” Italian berries include red currants, blackberries, raspberries, and bilberries [1]. These aren’t the perfect, lush, ambrosial berries you’re used to in the supermarket. They’re compact, dense, and full of seeds – and fairly tart. But I like that. I enjoy the strong flavors. I know that seeds are nutrient-dense – and I like the texture when it’s blended.

I add about a cup of fruit per shake, give or take.

Fish Oil or Flax Oil: It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into all the myriad benefits of fish oil and flax oil. But trust me: they are myriad. There are a plethora of benefits. A superfluity of benefits. A voluminous number of benefits. There are a lot. This is foundational nutrition.

And then, if you’re taking these oils already, you realize a tablespoon of oil is equal to 8, 10, even 12 large capsules.

Plus, oil makes your shake creamier. Sort of like the difference between low-fat sorbet, and rich, lush full-fat ice cream. A high quality fish oil will not taste fishy. I use an overflowing tablespoon of flax oil, or a scan tablespoon of fish oil.

Greens Powder: I think we all know salads are good for us. That they contain all sorts of health-promoting properties not found in an “A to Z” multivitamin.

A good greens powder may contain concentrated powdered vegetables. But it will also contain superconcentrated green nutrition you don’t normally see on your plate. Grass juices like wheatgrass, algae like spirulina and chlorella, baby broccoli sprouts, seaweeds, and nutritive lichens.

It’s unfortunate – your beautiful pink, red, or purple smoothie is about to turn brown. But stepping past the visuals, a good greens powder will not harm the taste of the smoothie.

My two favorite greens powders are Green Vibrance from Vibrant Health, and Tonic Alchemy from Dragon Herbs. Green Vibrance is an excellent product – one of the very few that actually gets better when you look at the fine print! In addition to all the standard ingredients, it throws in a robust probiotic, prebiotic fibers, and small amounts of immune- and liver-strengthening herbs.

The greens in Tonic Alchemy are almost as good as the ones in Green Vibrance. It contains a probiotic, too, but substantially weaker than the one in Green Vibrance. What you get in exchange is a helping of tonic, adaptogenic herbs like ginseng, ashwaghanda, reishi mushroom, and goji berries to reduce stress and increase energy.

[1] The label says blueberries, but I think it’s translated wrong. Bilberries are European blueberries. Unlike our American blueberries, which are white on the inside, bilberries are dark purple-blue all the way through. Also, I should mention that while the Frutti di Bosco isn’t labeled USDA organic, it apparently does meet Italian organic standards (whatever those are…)

Adam Stark