Healthy Ingredients You Should Be Adding To Your Smoothie

Smoothies are a relatively modern invention, believe it or not. In 1922, inventor Stephen Poplawski set out to revolutionize the drink world, placing a spinning blade at the bottom of a tall container so he could make frothier, better tasting drinks at his soda fountain (via Best Buy).

At around that same time, a real estate agent with a sensitive stomach hired a man named Julius Freed to run a juice shop he'd just opened. According to The Daily Meal, Freed came up with a chilled mixture of OJ, powdered egg whites, milk, and additional flavorings and created such a sensation that people were soon lining up to buy the drink — prophetically shouting "Give me an Orange, Julius!"

Those creations — the first blender and the first smoothie — laid the groundwork for a health food revolution. But as common as smoothies are today, and as much as we all enjoy making them in our kitchens, they can be pretty boring and basic: a combination of liquid, fruit, and maybe yogurt. You can do so much better! With a few easy additions — unusual fruits, unexpected vegetables, little utilized health food staples — you can quickly and easily ramp up your smoothie game, creating the best tasting, healthiest smoothies imaginable.

One essential ingredient all smoothies need is dark leafy greens

One of the easiest ingredients to add to your favorite frozen smoothie recipe is dark leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, and kale. "A smoothie that is all fruit is an unbalanced mini-meal," registered dietitian Anna Taylor told the Cleveland Clinic. "Grab a big handful of greens, rinse, and add to your smoothie to ensure you're not missing out on key nutrients," she said.

According to Verywell Fit, dark leafy greens are not just low in calories, they're also loaded with "a bonanza of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients" including vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, and potassium. Those nutrients aren't just good for your body, they're also good for your brain. A study published in Neurology revealed that people who eat at least one serving of leafy greens daily have a slower decline in brain function as they age compared to individuals who don't consume such veggies (via National Institute on Aging).

Need an easy green smoothie idea? Try pairing kale with almond milk, banana, Greek yogurt, pineapple, and peanut butter, suggested Well Plated. Canadian Living takes a simpler route with their greens-packed smoothie, which combines Swiss chard, mango, banana, coconut milk, and honey. Yum!

Adding bee pollen to smoothies gives you a boost of vitamins

Bees don't just provide us with honey. As these essential and vitally important insects move from flower to flower, pollinating crops and helping newly sprouted buds to bloom, they also collect tiny bits of pollen. They then take back this pollen to their hives as a source of food for developing baby bees. And according to Martha Stewart magazine, people have been consuming bee pollen — which bee keepers can collect while gathering honey from a hive — as a nutritional supplement for millennia.

Although it might not look like much, bee pollen is "the richest source of vitamins in a single food," natural health director at Neal's Yard Remedies, Susan Curtis, told HuffPost. This includes "a nutrient powerhouse of eighteen vitamins," plus numerous essential acids, she continued. Cooking Light reported that bee pollen may aid in pain reduction and it could even help to make you more resistant to allergies. "It's something people take for its antifungal, antimicrobial, and immuno-stimulating properties," registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz confirmed to Health.

Thankfully, working bee pollen into a smoothie is easy. You can add it directly to the blender, chef Candice Kumai told Self. Or spoon it on top before drinking for added texture and crunch. If you're allergic to honey or bee stings, though, you're going to want to steer clear of bee pollen.

Almond butter is a heart-healthy smoothie addition

Besides adding nutty flavor and creamy texture to smoothies, nut butters are also a vital source of healthy fats. "Most smoothies provide carbohydrate and protein but lack fat. The extra bit of fat in nuts, nut butters and seeds helps to slow your digestion," registered dietitian Kate Patton told the Cleveland Clinic.

When selecting the nut butter to add to your smoothie, you don't have to default to peanut butter. Yes, it's creamy and delicious, but according to Women's Health, almond butter is nutritionally excellent as well — with similar levels of fiber, protein, and iron, plus more substantial amounts of magnesium and vitamin E. It's also a better source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which researchers have said may help to lower cholesterol and keep the heart healthy (via Cleveland Clinic).

Luckily, when it comes to smoothies, peanut butter and almond butter are virtually interchangeable and can be easily swapped depending on specific tastes and preferences. Try combining almond butter with banana, strawberries, and yogurt (via Food & Wine). Or go sweet with a smoothie containing banana, almond milk, and cocoa powder. Either route is guaranteed to be delicious.

Oatmeal makes a savory and filling addition to morning smoothies

Oatmeal is a wonder food. It helps to keep blood sugar levels in check, improves digestion, and may even help to ward off some types of cancer (via WebMD). There are several ways to add oats to a smoothie, according to The Kitchn. The easiest option, per the site, is simply pouring oats directly into the blender as you add other ingredients, processing everything until smooth.

For a creamier drink, you can grind the oats before blending so you're left with a fine flour-like powder that mixes more easily with liquid. Letting your oats soak overnight in milk or other liquids can also soften them up so they disappear more easily into a smoothie.

Not sure where to begin? Look for inspiration from flavor combos you already know work well with regular hot oatmeal. AllRecipes features a smoothie recipe including soy milk, rolled oats, banana, strawberries, and a bit of vanilla extract, while Chef Savvy has gone a more decadent route, suggesting a smoothie made with soy milk, peanut butter, banana, and oats.

Chia seeds add a nutritional punch (and crunch) to your smoothies

The same tiny seeds used to create those cheesy, fast-growing novelty Chia Pets are also a highly nutritious health food, ideal for amping up the nutritional profile of a standard smoothie. "In addition to providing healthful fat, plant protein, and fiber, a one ounce portion of chia seeds packs nearly 20% of the daily target for calcium," Health explained.

Chia seeds are also a powerful tool for helping to slow effects of aging. As Delish highlighted, eating them regularly can result in "younger looking skin [and] healthier hair." These seeds can even reduce your risk for cancer due to all the antioxidants they contain (via Healthline).

Best of all, chia seeds — unlike flax and some other seeds – don't require any additional processing. When you eat them whole, they have the same effect on the body as if you'd eaten them ground, Bon Appétit pointed out. "It's just a matter of personal preference," the publication explained. For one easy and super tasty chia smoothie option, consider blending spinach, almond milk, pineapple chunks, banana, and chia seeds until smooth and creamy.

Beets add more than just a brilliant red color to a smoothie

Affordable and delicious, the humble red beet is an often overlooked veggie that deserves to be more than just an ingredient in tossed green salads. "They have carotenoids for eye health and nitrates," registered dietitian Chloe Paddison told Eat This, Not That. "They are well-known to be vaso-dilators, helping to increase blood flow, which helps blood pressure, brain function, and athletic performance," she continued. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that when consuming beets, athletes experience an increase in power and speed during training, as well as less muscle fatigue following their workout.

To successfully incorporate beets into a smoothie, you don't necessarily need to cook them first — but you do need to chop them as finely as possible so your blender is able to properly process them, Well Plated advised. Beets also work with a variety of flavor profiles. The Kitchen Girl's beet smoothie recipe calls for blending beets with apple, carrot, kale, and ginger, while The New York Times has offered up a flavorful beet smoothie containing orange juice, berries, granola, coconut milk, and honey.

Ginger lends a healthy bite of spice to smoothies

It's great with sushi. It's calming in herbal teas. It makes a delicious cookie. And ginger's powers don't stop there. It's also a highly potent superfood capable of adding heat and nutrients to smoothies. According to Everyday Health, ginger is a powerful pain reliever, circulation booster, and headache fighter. It's also good for the immune system, helping to fight off germ-born illnesses such as Salmonella and the common cold. Eating foods with ginger regularly can even help to prevent knee pain in joggers, registered dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone told Runner's World

You don't need a lot of ginger, either. The Spruce Eats explained that "as little as a 'thumb-sized' portion" of ginger added to a smoothie "could not only warm you up on a chilly day, but also protect you from infection, inflammation, and pain!"

To prep the ingredient for a smoothie, Martha Stewart advised peeling and mincing a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger. The variety of smoothies it works well in is nearly infinite. Try ginger in a tropical smoothie containing frozen pineapple, plain yogurt, pineapple juice, and cinnamon or a Southern-inspired ginger smoothie made with baby spinach, peaches, almond milk, and Greek yogurt.

Broccoli is surprisingly easy to hide in a smoothie

At just 55 calories per cup, broccoli is not only low cal but also dense with nutrients including potassium, folate and vitamins A, C, and B6. It's also a known cancer fighter thanks to a compound it contains called sulforaphane, which has been shown to help in the fight against multiple types of cancer (via Men's Journal).

Although it may not sound all that delicious, broccoli is a great addition to smoothies. The veggie is actually almost flavorless when paired with the right ingredients, according to The Path. The site recommends making a breakfast smoothie with broccoli, strawberries, peanut butter, and Greek yogurt, or blending banana, apple, celery, lemon juice, and honey along with broccoli for a sweet and tart green smoothie.

If you do plan to try it, know you can use either fresh or frozen broccoli and get great results. Just chop the florets finely and throw into your blender —  you don't even need to waste time removing the outer part of the stalk (via Everyday Healthy Recipes).

Olive oil is an "unconventional" smoothie addition

It's a staple in Mediterranean cooking and a vital ingredient for salad dressings. But certified personal trainer Lindsey Bomgren told fitness site Nourish Move Love that olive oil is also the "surprising ingredient" that she adds to almost all of her green smoothies. "Yes, it sounds odd," she admitted, "but I love it, and you can't knock it till you try it."

Bomgren is definitely on to something. Medical News Today reported that olive oil may fight heart disease, cancer, and depression. It could even aid with weight loss. According to a U.K. study, simply replacing the existing fat in your diet with equal amounts of olive oil may be enough to help some people lose unwanted pounds.

Registered nutritionist Rebecca Stib told Eat This, Not That that the effect stems from omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants found naturally in olive oil. She, too, is a proponent of adding olive oil to smoothies. "It's completely unconventional," she said, "but adds a ton of additional nutrients." If you want to give olive oil smoothies a try, consider an exotic blend of almond milk, olive oil, cocoa powder, dates, and avocado (via My Fitness Pal).

Fresh or in powder form, green tea is an ideal smoothie addition

Green tea may be one of the most powerful foods you can add to your diet. It can lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, according to researchers at Harvard. Plus, it can potentially aid in weight loss, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity. A study of 100,000 Chinese men and women even revealed that those who drink green tea regularly live longer than people who don't (via WebMD).

Best of all, you don't even have to drink your green tea steaming from a cup in order to enjoy its benefits. Chilled green tea and matcha (a powder made from leaves of the same plant used to make green tea) are ideal ingredients to add to a variety of different smoothies.

Eating Well recommends blending chilled green tea with frozen white grapes, baby spinach, avocado, and honey for a delicious and healthy smoothie. Matcha lovers will want to try certified culinary scientist Jessica Gavin's smoothie recipe, which pairs matcha with yogurt, almonds, banana, and spinach. Delicious!

For an unexpected smoothie sweetener, consider maple syrup

Maple syrup is more than just a great topping for pancakes. This naturally occurring sugar comes from the sap of the maple tree and is known for its bounty of antioxidants. Canadian Living reported that maple syrup contains a whopping 54 different compounds, all of which are good for the body.

According to WebMD, the antioxidants in maple syrup can have numerous positive effects, potentially helping to lower cholesterol levels, improve brain health and functioning, and reduce inflammation within the liver.

In smoothies, maple syrup adds a bit of flavor and, of course, sweetness. For a quick grab-and-go breakfast, Real Simple suggested a smoothie containing whole milk, oatmeal, cold-brewed coffee, maple syrup, and banana. Food.com went a fruitier route, pairing maple syrup with skim milk, plain yogurt, banana, fresh peach, and wheat germ. Whichever version you choose, just be sure to go easy with how much maple syrup you use. After all, it's still full of sugar (via Healthline).

Bright green spirulina is a smoothie superfood

A Chinese medicine staple, spirulina is made from a type of algae that grows on the surface of ponds and lakes (via Cleveland Clinic). Once harvested, it's dried and ground into a fine powder commonly found in health food stores.

Loaded with vitamins and minerals, the Cleveland Clinic pointed out that spirulina "has more iron than raw spinach and more beta-carotene than carrots." It's a "rich source of non-animal protein" and a "good source of B-vitamins and iron to support metabolism and boost immunity," the clinic continued. Two tablespoons of spirulina packs just 40 calories, but it supplies a whopping 8 grams of protein because it is so dense with amino acids (via Livestrong).

Spirulina works well in smoothies, and pairs well with banana, mango, spinach, and orange juice. You could also try a mixture of spirulina, banana, cucumber, coconut milk, and kale (via Minimalist Baker). If you do decide to consume spirulina, make sure you talk to your doctor before using if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have the metabolic condition phenylketonuria (PKU), or have an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis — all of which might be impacted by compounds present within the algae (via Mount Sinai).

For a creamy smoothie that's good for your gut, try kefir

Regular yogurt and Greek yogurt have been smoothie staples for years. For an elevated and even more nutritious smoothie, try swapping them out for kefir. The "fermented cousin" of regular yogurt, as Prevention described it, kefir is made when you combine cow's milk with "kefir grains" — yeast plus a live microorganism similar to the probiotics found in yogurt — and allow the resulting mixture to ferment. The result is a smooth, tangy drink that's incredibly healthy.

In addition to aiding in digestion and being good for the gut, kefir is also a great source of B12 vitamins, good for your bones, and also very high in protein (via Women's Health). Kefir also makes an ideal base for a smoothie. Simply pour it into your blender and add fruit and ice to taste.

Serious Eats recommends pairing kefir with fresh raspberries, mint, and honey, while Wanderlust and Wellness goes a bit more tropical with their kefir smoothie suggesting a combination of plain kefir plus banana, strawberries, fresh pineapple, chia seeds, and unsweetened coconut milk. Delish!

Cacao powder is the ideal ingredient for a healthy, dessert-like smoothie

Everybody loves chocolate! But before you add that rich, nutty, roasted flavor to your smoothie, make sure you're grabbing the right stuff. Despite the very similar spellings, cacao powder and cocoa powder are two very different foods. Yes, they both taste like chocolate and yes, they both come from the cacao tree. However, cocoa powder is generally sweeter and comes from beans that have been roasted, while cacao powder is more bitter and comes from beans that have been fermented and ground. According to AllRecipes, cacao powder is also processed at much lower temperatures, so it has higher nutrient levels. Elite Daily reported that "cacao has one of the highest antioxidants of any food on the planet."

To work cacao into a smoothie, simply add a tablespoon of the powder to your smoothie before blending. Food Network suggests pairing cacao powder with acai, blackberries, and bananas for a tropical smoothie while the foodies at The Spruce Eats prefer a more indulgent combo of nut milk, cacao, almond butter, banana, honey, and cinnamon.