How to Build a Protein-Packed Smoothie

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Smoothies are my absolute favourite breakfast food - especially in the summer when I want something cold and refreshing to start my day. When whipping up my own smoothies at home, I aim to include a source of high-fibre carbohydrates, some healthy fat, and a hearty serving of protein. I don't know about you, but as much as I love the convenience of protein powders, I don't always want to dish out a ton of money on them. Over time I have found different ingredients that give me the same boost of protein in my smoothies for a fraction of the cost of protein powders, and these ingredients have other unique nutritional benefits as well. If you try any of these ingredients out let me know in the comments what you think and feel free to share your own favourite smoothie ingredients!

Protein Boosters

Silken Tofu

If you've never tried it before, tofu in a smoothie might sound a bit frightening but when used right, it's actually quite tasty! Silken tofu gives smoothies a wonderfully creamy texture and has no effect on flavour. Be careful not to use too much though, as your smoothie can end up being too thick and pudding-like. Unlike regular firm tofu that you would use baked or fried in recipes, silken tofu is not pressed so it retains its water content and has the softest texture of all tofu varieties. Silken tofu is commonly used in desserts like pies and mousse. Like regular tofu, it is a good source of calcium as well as complete protein.

Greek Yogurt

This ingredient is quite popular as a smoothie ingredient, so most of you reading this have likely used it before. Vanilla is the most common flavour for smoothies, but by using plain nonfat Greek yogurt instead, you'll slash the sugar content by about 12-13 grams (which is equal to 3 teaspoons of sugar!). Greek yogurt is a great smoothie addition because it lends a creamy texture and tartness to balance the sweetness of any fruits you add. Like silken tofu, it is also a complete protein and a great source of calcium.

Hemp Seeds

Raw shelled hemp seeds are a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and manganese - making them tiny nutrient powerhouses! Hemp seeds are an incredibly versatile ingredient that adds a light nutty taste to smoothies and compliments many different flavours - my favourites being cocoa powder, banana or mixed berries.

TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)

TVP is a soy product made from defatted soy flour, so it is a complete protein and fat-free. TVP is also a great source of fibre, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. It is typically used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes because it is sold as granules similar in size to ground beef, but it has no flavour on its own so it won't make your smoothie taste funky. Typically you would rehydrate the dry granules with water to get a product similar in texture to ground beef or bulgur. This is not the texture I want in my smoothie, so instead I grind the dry TVP granules into a fine powder which I find has a similar texture to ground oats in a smoothie. Only use this ingredient when you will be eating your smoothie as soon as it's made, as it does thicken and become gelatinous if it sits for too long.

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Making Your Smoothie Complete

As I mentioned early in this post, I aim to include 3 components in my smoothies: high-fibre carbohydrates, a little healthy fat, and plenty of protein to keep me full. 

High-fiber carbohydrates could include:

  • Fruit (e.g. banana, berries, pineapple, mango)

  • Vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, cucumber, beets)

  • Rolled oats or oat bran

  • Wheat germ

Healthy fats could include:

  • Nut butters

  • Nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews)

  • Seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds)

  • Avocado

Other proteins could include:

  • Nut butters
  • Nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews)
  • Seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Skim milk or skim milk powder

When choosing a liquid component, go for water or other low-calorie, low-sugar options like unsweetened almond, cashew and soy milk or skim milk. Be mindful of the quantities of ingredients you add to your smoothie because you can easily pack a lot of calories into a single serving. I aim to keep my breakfast smoothie under 400 calories, but this can vary based on your individual calorie needs.

For smoothie recipes using the four high-protein ingredients I discussed today, stay tuned for next week's blog post!

Ryan Stallard