I love smoothies for myriad reasons, but namely, because they’re the closest we’ll get to actually good-for-you fast food. Smoothies are a true convenience meal—blend them up, drink them down on the run. One of my favorites has only three ingredients yet can be packed full of superfoods—if you’re doing it right.

The true goal with any smoothie you whip up? To preserve the beneficial fiber. All that high-speed blending can break down the complex cell walls of fruit, transforming your humble smoothie into a speedy glucose delivery system (it’s a fact that some fruit-laden sips can spike your blood sugar just as quickly as juice!), which is why you’ll need to add a few extra fiber-rich elements to your recipes. Here’s how to get the most benefits from your blend.

The 4 Essential Ingredients for the Perfect Smoothie:

The key is in the equation. When crafting your next smoothie, make sure your blender is packed full of these four elements: fruit, fat, protein, and fiber. Being mindful of this ensures that you’re creating a balanced blend that’ll keep you feeling full and satisfied long after you finish the last sip.

1. Fruit

The base of any smoothie is whole fruit, but the kicker is in the quantity. As a rule, I recommend no more than 2 servings of fruit per beverage—and one serving equals ½ cup of raw fruit. Fruits with edible skins, like berries, apples, peaches and pears tend to be higher in fiber and are therefore slower to spike your blood sugar.

Wondering if you should choose fresh or frozen? Both options are solid, but research has shown that when just-picked fruit is flash-frozen, the process can actually preserve more nutrients than in its fresh counterparts (plus, you usually don’t have to add more ice—one fewer step!).

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Recipe: Sweet + Simple Berry Smoothie

  • 1 cup organic frozen mixed berries
  • ½ can organic coconut cream
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly ground organic flaxseed

Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender and blend until a smooth consistency is reached.

2. Healthy Fat

If you’ve been making fat-free smoothies up until this point, you’re doing it wrong. Not to be rude, but the creaminess that stems from coconut milk or cashew yogurt or a handful of walnuts is what makes sipping a smoothie that much more enjoyable, not to mention healthful—your brain, skin and hormones all loooove fat. And those slow-burning fatty acids means that smoothie will stick with you all the way till lunch.

 

Nut or seed butters (I love almond butter or coconut butter in smoothies) or even half an avocado are all great ways to bulk up your blends—just add a little extra water if things get too thick.

 

Recipe: Almond Strawberry Smoothie

  • 1 tablespoon raw almond butter
  • 3 raw walnuts
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 avocado
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger root, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseeds (see note below)
  • 2 to 3 ice cubes, depending on how cold you like your drinks

 

Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender and blend until a smooth consistency is reached.

3. Plant-Based Protein

There’s a reason for the zillion protein powders flooding the market these days: they’re a quick and easy way to boost your energy, build muscle and turn a snack smoothie into a meal. Choose a plant-based protein that uses pea, hemp, or pumpkin seeds as the main ingredients, as brown rice and soy formulas have been found to harbor heavy metals (eek).

 

Powders are a cinch, but you can also pour in your own concoction of nutrient-dense seeds if you’re looking for a whole-food option. Try 2 tablespoons of chia seeds (4 grams of protein) or hemp hearts (8 grams of protein) or mix them together.

 

Recipe: Chocolate Avocado Smoothie

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 c zucchini
  • 1-2 T organic pumpkin seeds
  • 1-2 organic pitted dates
  • 1 c organic coconut milk
  • 1 T organic cacao powder
  • 1-3 T organic 100% pea or hemp protein powder
  • 1 T organic cacao nibs
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan pink sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract

 

Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender and blend until a smooth consistency is reached.

 

4. Filling Fiber

Along with fat and protein, fiber is the third element of a filling smoothie. Essential for long-burning fuel, fiber not only supports good digestion but also boosts metabolism. If you’re sipping your smoothie in place of breakfast or lunch, fiber is key for making it a healthful meal replacement.

Pack in the leafy greens (try baby spinach, baby kale) or seeds (hemp, chia, sesame, or flax), but don’t forget about less commonly used veg, too, like zucchini or summer squash, cooked sweet potato, frozen cauliflower and peas. These relatively neutral-tasting plants are fiber superstars that’ll transform your smoothie into a powerhouse without compromising on flavor.

 

Recipe: Green Goddess Breakfast Smoothie

  • 1 cup unsweetened cashew milk
  • ½ avocado
  • 1 cup spinach/kale
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons raw almond butter (organic if possible)
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined coconut butter (or oil)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 ice cubes

Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender and blend until a smooth consistency is reached.

Jessica D'Argenio Waller, CNS, is a board-certified nutrition specialist and herbalist with an MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health from Maryland University of Integrative Health. She writes a weekly column about how to best transition and sustain and plant-based lifestyle. To submit a question for her to answer, please fill out this form.