In my article “6 Crazy, Exotic Superfood Cocktails, Shakes & Mind-Bending Recipes” I claim that I truly believe I could survive the entire rest of my life armed with merely a blender and a handful of select superfoods. OK, OK – possible a ribeye steak, a touch of red wine and some gelato sprinkled in here and there wouldn't hurt.
Regardless, if your idea of a smoothie is a handful of spinach, a banana, a bit of ice, and on a really, really special day a scoop of man-in-a-can protein powder, then prepare for your mind to be blown by the cornucopia of immune-supporting, metabolism-boosting, cognition-enhancing, muscle-building ingredients you can add to a smoothie or shake without forcing it to taste like the foul dung of Godzilla.
In this article, I’m going to fill you in on the latest iteration of my own personal smoothie recipe, and then give you the lowdown on what I consider to be the very best part of any good smoothie: the top nine ingredients you can toss into your blended goodness after the blending process is complete – ingredients for the added crunch, texture and flavor that can morph a simple smoothie from a ho-hum “liquid salad” into a complex recipe that tastes like a nourishing, healthy version of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
After all, with the proper ingredients and close attention paid to flavor, balance, texture, and of course, nutritional profile, a smoothie can easily be transformed from an industrial-tasting protein shake to a natural, clean, satisfying and delectable, mildly hedonistic treat. Just imagine a rich spoonful of flavorful cacao nibs, coconut cream, maqui berry, and almond butter. The selection of smoothie essentials you’ll discover in this article will give you just that, and allow for any number of unique combinations.
Sound tasty? Let’s do this.
My Ultimate Fitness Smoothie Recipe
Although a nuked Reese's peanut butter cup can certainly brighten a weary morning, I'm come a very long way since my daily breakfast of microwaved oatmeal with protein powder, peanut butter and a chocolate bar (I’m not kidding, that used to be my go-to breakfast, and a cocktail of nuked and oxidized proteins, vegetable oils and sugars you can try sometime as a fun kitchen experiment to give to someone you don't like).
Instead, every morning, I now simply chew on a what I consider to be the most nourishing, vitamin and nutrient packed meal of my day: my morning big-ass smoothie. And by chew, I do indeed mean chew. I use a high quality blender that can take a serious beating, mix the entire smoothie at a texture that allows me to eat it with a spoon (so that the enzymes in my mouth can initiate pre-digestion), then scoop it all into my lucky Theodore Roosevelt “Man In The Arena” mug.
And what's the current iteration look like? Knock yourself out.
-Gather four to eight varieties of leafy greens, wild plants, vegetables and herbs. Chop and add to blender. On one morning, I might include dinosaur kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, mint, parsley and cilantro, and on another morning purple cabbage, red lettuce, carrot, basil and ginger. No rules.
-Add 3-6 ounces of full fat, BPA-free coconut milk
-Add 1 tsp MCT Oil
-Add 1/2 of a chopped avocado
-Add 1-2 scoops (20-30 grams) vegan or whey protein powder
-Add 2 teaspoons organic ceylon cinnamon (this can lower blood sugar response to a meal)
-Add 2 teaspoons organic cacao powder if you like chocolat-ey goodness
After blending, for added texture, crunch and the chewability factor, add any of the essential smoothie ingredients you’ll discover later in this article. For example, on a typical morning, I’ll toss in:
-1 handful unsweetened coconut flakes
-1 tablespoon organic cacao nibs
-1 handful raw almonds
-3-5 brazil nuts
-1 pinch high quality salt
Should this seem overboard to you, here a recipe one of my readers (Eric) recently sent to me, a recipe he drinks each day and a recipe that makes the complexity of my own smoothie seem quite trite. By the way, in a podcast that I will release very soon, I reveal that Eric healed himself of stage 4 prostate cancer and is quite the health hacker himself. You're going to be extremely, extremely familiar with him and his shocking story when that podcast is released (click here to subscribe in iTunes if you haven't yet).
“Ben, place these ingredients into large-mouth quart sized Mason jars during the weekend to save prep time:
- Brazil Nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Primal Defense Ultra
- Active Lipoic Acid (300 mg)
- CoQ10 (200 mg)
- Vitamin C (1,000 mg)
- Vitamin B Complex
- Vitamin D3 (3,000 mg)
- Thorne curcumin (Meriva – SR)
- CissusQuadrangularis Extract
- Pine pollen extract
- Bladderwack powder
- Tongat-Ali powder
- Maca Root powder
- MSM powder
- Cinnamon powder
- Maqui Berry powder
- Matcha green tea extract
- Sunflower lecithin
- Cacao nibs
- Cacao butter
- Schizandra extract
- Astragalus root extract
- Chlorella powder
- Spirulina powders
- Seaweed (both Dulse and Hiziki)
- Goji Berries
- Collagen protein
The day prior to making a shake from these ingredients, I take the jar of powders and add the following:
- Spring water (stir the powder and pills)
- Raw-milk kefir
- Natto(wake it up first by stirring)
- Aloe vera juice
The mixture is then allowed to soak overnight. The next day, the contents from the jar are put into a blender with:
- Parsley (curley – full bunch)
- Cilantro (full bunch)
- Fresh Ginger
- Cranberry juice
- Olive oil (raw unfiltered cold pressed)
- Coconut vinegar
- Avocado pit (if I have avocado that day)
- Raw (frozen) liver
- Palm oil
I then run the blender on high for about a minute, and then bring it down to a low level and add:
- Pastured raw eggs (2)
- Whey protein
….Eric’s smoothie recipe is even more a giant, scary and intimidating smoothie than mine (albeit delicious, as I’ve attempted his entire recipe with surprising success). Despite being very complex, it's primary saving grace could be that somehow, unlike my own smoothie, it at least does not have the color and appearance of cat diarrhea after blending. So there's that.
And if you dig complex smoothies like Eric's or mine, you may also want to check out the smoothie recipe of one of Finland's top biohackers, a guy who goes by the nickname “Vessi”, who I interview in this podcast. When you click on that podcast, be sure to check the resources section of the shownotes, where I link to an elaborate excel spreadsheet that highlights Vessi's choice herb and spice ingredients for his personal smoothie. I've sipped this concoction with him in the comfort of his own home and can personally attest to the “peristaltic” nature of it. Meaning you will be on the toilet with a glorious bowel movement within a couple hours of consuming his recipe.
But now it's dive into the fun stuff…
…nine essential smoothie ingredients that can transform any smoothie into ultimate nourishing deliciousness, and allow you to plug-and-play your own choice of superfoods into your own smoothie recipe.
So let's take a deep dive into some of the most interesting, fringe or tastiest superfood ingredients I’ve discovered to truly bring your smoothie taste and nutritional benefits to the next level.
My Nine Essential Healthy Smoothie Ingredients
Golden berries are considered to be one of the lost crops of the Incas, and one of the small selection of foods grown at the ancient mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu. A nutritional powerhouse, golden berries contain vitamins C and A, iron, pectin, beta-carotene, protein, bioflavonoids and niacin, and have a mouth-watering, tangy sweetness that you'll love (and kids love them too!)
I’ve tried a lot of golden berries, and Sunfood’s are by far the best. They’re soft and plump and sweet. They’ve got a delightful chewy quality, and a complex floral citrusy flavor, like kumquats and tangerines and roses.
And no, for you low-carb, ketotic, nutrition nazis: the trace amount of fructose or other low-glycemic index sugars you'll get from sprinkling a small handful of these (or any of the other superfoods below) on your smoothie will be a mere speedbump to your postprandial blood glucose levels. Go ahead: consume these with all those vegetables and fats, then test your ketones or blood glucose and see what I mean.
In a recent podcast interview with Kevin Rose, Kevin and I dig into some of Kevin’s favorite superfoods, and his top recommendation was a special raw cacao bar made in New York City. After interviewing him, I just had to try the Fruition chocolate for myself, and began to break up a quarter bar into my morning smoothie as an alternative to cacao nibs. Kevin wasn’t wrong: this is some of the most flavorful, antioxidant packed chocolate I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Fruition cacao hails from the Dominican Republic and Peru, their 100% cacao-only bar is not for the faint of heart who might be used to eating the average Hershey’s or Snicker’s bar, but once your palate adjusts, you will find this bar crackles with vibrant flavors. These bars are organically produced, bean to bar production, and havethe most wonderful chocolate flavor you’ll ever experience.
Spirulina, Arthrospira platensis, is a fresh water micro-vegetable that gets its name from its microscopic spiral shape. Spirulina has been eaten by many cultures throughout history and if you could go back in time to visit the Aztecs you would find them using ropes to skim spirulina from the surface of lakes and ponds. They would then set the algae out to dry and make small, nourishing superfood cakes.
A breakthrough in molecular gastronomy has occurred on a little algae farm in Costa Rica, resulting in a product that is unprocessed super-healthy spirulina, but tastes like Pringles potato chips.
Yeah, you read correctly. Remember years (or weeks) ago, when you used to eat these oh-so-processed salty fatty chips without much remorse? Those days might be over, but you can now indulge daily and proudly in these spirulina crunchies, which somehow manage to explode in the mouth with the exact same flavor profile as a Pringle.
These crunchies are crunchy little bits of 100% pure spirulina. Spirulina is one of nature’s most perfect, nutrient rich foods and there has never been a more delicious way to get high quality nutrition into your body. Spirulina is a renowned source of protein, chlorophyll, trace minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and is also a world class immune system booster. Plus spirulina is known to protect against and detoxify radioactive particles and can help balance your body’s pH (alkalinity).
Spirulina Crunchies are 100% non-GMO and are grown and processed without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and are rigorously tested to guarantee that they are free of pollutants such as pesticides and heavy metals and bacteria.
Packed with 18 different amino acids and eight essential amino acids, including isoleucine and tryptophan, Goji berries are one of the highest antioxidant containing fruits in the world, typically containing 2-4 times the amount found in blueberries. Goji berries are an excellent source of trace minerals, such as zinc, iron, copper, calcium and phosphorous, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B6 and E.
While fortifying the immune system and helping to stimulate the body to produce more natural human growth hormone, studies with elderly people have shown that these powerful berries can decrease the signs of aging, increase the function of T cells and white cell interleukin-2 while uplifting mood, increasing optimism, improving appetite and encouraging better sleep patterns.
I’ve tried a lot of goji berries, and Sunfood’s are by far the best. They’re plump and soft and flavorfull, unlike all the hard dry bitter crunchy little gojis out there. I never fully appreciated the deliciousness of goji berries until I tried this version – you’ll want to snack on these constantly, even after you’ve polished off your smoothie!
Hemp seeds are nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acid, with more essential fatty acid than flax or any other nut or seed. Hemp oil has a perfect 3:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid — these are known for their role in preventing heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, arthritis and much more.
Hemp also contains phytonutrients, which may boost immunity, purify the skin, and strengthen connective tissue. Plus, hemp is high in protein — it contains more protein than milk, meat or eggs, and contains all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) our bodies cannot produce. It’s also high in fiber. Hemp is an amazing source of essential minerals, including magnesium, manganese, and iron. It’s an especially great source of magnesium, which is a key nutrient for health — affecting almost every system in the body — but is sorely lacking in the Standard American Diet. Lack of magnesium plays a role in many conditions such as osteoporosis and weak bones/teeth, heart disease, migraines, muscle spasms, painful menstrual periods, and even diabetes. I make sure I eat a few tablespoons of hemp seeds every day, just to make sure I get my magnesium. All the other goodness just comes along for the ride.
Nutiva's certified organic hemp seeds are grown without any chemical pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Are Nutiva hemp seeds raw? You bet. Nutiva's hemp products are cold-processed (under 104°F) from raw, live hemp seeds. These folks utilize a mechanical process to remove the hard shells, yielding these delicious organic shelled hemp seeds.
In my humble opinion, organic unsweetened toasted coconut flakes are the next best thing to fresh coconut. With no added sweeteners or flavorings, you only get the pure, nutty taste of the tropical fruit. You can sprinkle coconut flakes on top of yogurt, stir them in a bowl of hot oatmeal, add them into your favorite trail mix, or try them in cookies or cakes – but I prefer to add them to a smoothie as an instant source of fiber, healthy, satiating saturated fats, and texture.
Coconut flakes contain surprising amounts of protein too. Protein rebuilds cells and helps you maintain healthy tissues and muscles. It also provides dietary fiber. The American Heart Association recommends that you consume at least 25 grams of fiber each day to reduce your risk of constipation and hemorrhoids by encouraging proper digestion and regular bowel movements. Fiber may also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
In addition, coconut flakes are an excellent source of iron, which is crucial for the formation of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that is responsible for getting oxygen to each part of your body. Without enough iron, your cells don't get sufficient oxygen, which can lead to weakness and fatigue. You also need adequate amounts of iron to support your immune system.
Finally, coconut flakes contains zinc, a mineral crucial to the strength and health of your immune system, and it also plays a critical role in wound healing. The mineral supports normal cell division and enables you to taste, see and smell properly as well.
The nutritional profile of chia seeds is as stunning as their voluptuous mouth feel. Their taste is really subtle – gently nutty, and a perfect base for all sorts of flavors. Revered by the early Aztec and Mayan cultures, chia seeds are a superfood packed with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. Tiny but mighty chia seeds are versatile for use in recipes both savory and sweet, including yogurt and oatmeal, or in smoothies, added to sauces as a thickener and to muffins and cakes as an egg replacement.
If you love the tapioca-like texture, you’ll want to keep from tossing them into a powerful blender, and instead add them to your smoothie after blending. But if you want a smooth thick creamy texture without a lick of dairy, a blender will transform chia gel instantly. I’ve tried many different brands of chia seed, and Nutiva’s are the best. They plump up really well, and have a perfectly delicate taste.
So why are chia seeds so darn good for you?
Chia, or Salvia Hispanica L. the ancient super food of the Aztecs, who valued it more highly than gold. The Tarahumara in Copper Canyon, Mexico, the greatest long distance runners on the planet, have had a long history of using this slow-burning rocket fuel for both athletes and warriors alike. Chia typically contains 20% protein, 34% oil, and 25% dietary fiber. It is also the highest omega-3 nutrient source found in nature with perfectly balanced omega 3, 6, 9 profiles and ratios. This recently revived oil seed crop is considered a perfect food because it‘s one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein. Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. They provide stamina, endurance and reduce cravings, because chia seeds absorb so much water and have high soluble fiber levels that help release natural, unrefined carbohydrate energy slowly into the bloodstream.
What in the heck is a mulberry? It's the fruit of a group of trees known as Moras that also produce silk. The berries can be multiple colors, but here we are talking about the Chinese White Mulberry, a golden pale fruit with mild flavor and an overload of nutrition.
Mulberries are sweet, uniquely delicate berries bursting with flavor as well as vitamin C, which may function as an antioxidant to contribute to healthy immune function. Originally from East Asia, they come from deciduous trees that are so hearty and fast-growing that people began to cultivate them all over the world. In addition to vitamin C, mulberries are also rich in iron, plus they have calcium, potassium and vitamin A. Naturally sweet and amazingly fragrant, they are truly nature’s candy!
So what else is special about mulberries? Fiber is the first thing you'll notice when looking at the nutrition information for mulberries – they're chock full of the goodness that will keep your, ahem, chocks flowing.
Here's even more benefits of mulberries:
-Mulberries have significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Scientific studies have shown that consumption of berries have potential health effects against cancer, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections.
-The berries contain resveratrol, another polyphenol flavonoid antioxidant.
-The berries also contain small amounts of vitamin A, and vitamin E, in addition to the above-mentioned antioxidants. Consumption of mulberry provides another group of health promoting flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, ß-carotene and α-carotene in small but notably significant amounts. Altogether, these compounds help act as protect from harmful effects of oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
-Zeaxanthin, an important dietary carotenoid selectively concentrates into the retinal macula lutea, where it thought to provide antioxidant functions and protects the retina from the harmful ultraviolet rays through light-filtering actions.
-Mulberries are an excellent source of iron, which is a rare feature among berries, contain 1.85 mg/100 g of fruits (about 23% of RDI). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
-They also good source of minerals like potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
-They are rich in B-complex group of vitamins and vitamin K. Contain very good amounts of vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid. These vitamins are function as co-factors and help body in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Betcha didn't know you could get all that from a tiny little dried berry, eh? You're missing out on one of nature's most power-packed foods if you haven't yet tossed a few of these bad boys into your gaping maw.
Finally, we get to the reason my mouth is dyed green every morning: chewable algae in the form of chlorella.
Chlorella comes in many forms, including these chewy, edible tablets that you can sprinkle on top of a smoothie. It is a single-celled freshwater micro-algae that contains the highest known quality of chlorophyll found in nature. Chlorophyll has a chemical structure very similar to hemoglobin, and because of these properties, it can carry oxygen around in the blood and increase your red blood cell count. There is even recent research that shows that a combination of chlorophyll in your bloodstream and exposure to sunlight can allow you to produce ATP without actually eating any calories.
Compared to other commercial sources of chlorophyll like wheat grass, barley, and alfalfa (all popular ingredients in “greens” supplements), chlorella has five times more chlorophyll than wheat grass, twelve times more than barley and nearly ten times more than alfalfa. Because of its extreme photosynthetic efficiency from the high levels of chlorophyll, chlorella is a very attractive potential food and energy source (it is also high in protein and other essential nutrients, and when dried, is about 45% protein, 20%fat, 20% carbohydrate, 5% fiber, and 10% minerals and vitamins).
Chlorella, by virtue of its superior RNA and DNA content, could assist in slowing aging process and preventing the onset of many chronic, degenerative illnesses associated with getting older (and these same speedy repair mechanisms help you to recovery from workouts with lightning speed).
The indigestible cellulose of chlorella’s cell wall can attract and bind with heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium and help to remove them from your body. These natural detoxification properties mean that chlorella is a good way to reverse the damage from environmental pollutants and toxins found in many foods. In addition to leaching metals, chlorella can assist with the removal of hydrocarbon pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, and can also have protective effect on the liver, your body’s valuable toxin filter.
For chlorella, I go with the “RecoveryBits” I discuss in this article about how to eat algea. For 100% organic cracked-cell wall chlorella, they can't be beat.
After reading this, is your head spinning with ideas for your smoothie that go far above and beyond simple ho-hum ingredients like ice, spinach, bananas and milk? Or have you decided to screw it all and go back to the simplicity of corn flakes, or bacon and eggs?
Either way, now is your chance to go out, have fun, and create your own flavorful, highly nourishing recipes using the ingredients and techniques you’ve just discovered. I’d love to hear more about the recipes you create, so if you have your own recipes or if you have more questions, comments or feedback about these nine essential healthy smoothie ingredients and how to make the ultimate fitness smoothie, leave your comment below and I'll reply!
Oh yeah, you may also dig this little tip: How To Biohack Your Green Smoothie (And Can High Speed Blenders Really Damage Your Food?)