If you want a tasty way to bounce back from a hard workout, take in a healthy midday snack or to just stay hydrated with a nutrient-packed drink, a smoothie is a great way to go. Armed with just a few ingredients and a blender, you can whip up a delicious nutritional powerhouse – one that contains compounds that may help improve recovery, fend off illness and even prevent cavities. To add an extra healthy "umph" to your next blended beverage, mix and match any of these 20 items.
While many of us think "banana" when we think of potassium, on a calorie-for-calorie basis, the humble apricot actually contains more of this vital electrolyte. Dietary potassium can lower blood pressure by blunting the adverse effects of sodium. Other possible benefits of a potassium-rich diet include reduced risk of developing kidney stones and decreased bone loss. The adequate intake (AI) of potassium for adults is 4,700 mg per day; 100 calories of apricots contains 541.
Beets are getting a lot of press lately – mainly because of their high nitrate content. Nitrates are thought to improve athletic performance, but with a drawback of having the potential to negatively impact overall health; however, when nitrates are consumed in whole food form, they are thought to be safe and effective. Recent research examined the performance of two groups of runners: one full of individuals who consumed baked beets before a 5K run, while the second group took a placebo before running the same distance. The result? Individuals who consumed beets ran faster at the end of their runs and also reported lower perceived exertion (meaning that even though they were running faster, it didn't feel harder).
Blueberries stuff a ton of nutrition into a tiny package, delivering impressive amounts of vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients like quecertin and ellagic acid. Those last two compounds may protect against chronic diseases including cancer and heart disease. And quercetin is a hot topic in the sports nutrition world because of anti-inflammatory and other health benefits.
4. Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice provides a tart taste along with powerful flavonoids called proanthocyanidins. Research shows drinking cranberry juice cocktail daily can promote urinary tract health, providing protection against certain harmful bacteria that cause urinary tract infections.
5. Citrus Fruits
It goes without saying that citrus fruits – orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit – offer a potent dose of vitamin C. But did you know that these fruits also contain folate, which helps produce and maintain your body's cells, and fiber, which promotes GI health? Of course, vitamin C is the real star in this group, as it is critical for muscle and collagen repair – which can really come in handy if you're fighting off an injury or healing a wound.
Read more: 9 Out-of-the-Ordinary Breakfast Smoothies
6. Cruciferous Vegetables Such as Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
Looking to make a super-food smoothie? Look no further than broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage and bok choy. All of these cruciferous vegetables contain disease-fighting and immunity-boosting phytonutrients, as well as the essential nutrients vitamin A, vitamin C and folic acid. Just don't overcook these veggies before you blend them. Too much heat can strip them of their vitamins and phytochemicals. Try using frozen veggies and blending those instead. They'll deliver all of the health benefits you want, and they'll chill your drink!
If you're looking to fight inflammation – and what athlete doesn't suffer from the occasional ache or pain? – then add flaxseed to your next smoothie. Flaxseed contains more inflammation-fighting omega-3's than other readily available fat sources. Two components of flax, lignans and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), have been found to assist immune health. Flaxseed is highly sensitive and easily oxidized, so for the most health benefit, purchase whole flaxseed and grind just before adding to your smoothie.
You needn't rely on red wine to get your daily dose of the heart-protecting antioxidant resveratrol. By adding red or purple grapes or grape juice to your next smoothie, you'll take in compounds that can help reduce blood pressure and cardiac hypertrophy, lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol and slow the progression of atherosclerosis (or hardening) of the arteries.
9. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt adds a calcium-packed protein boost to any smoothie. This popular snack item is thicker, creamier and more nutrient-dense than traditional yogurts, and much like kefir, Greek yogurt contains probiotics that can boost GI and immune health. By going with Greek, you'll also get about twice as much protein as you would from regular yogurt and nearly three times as much bone-building calcium per 150-calorie serving.
Perhaps Popeye should've grabbed a can of kale instead of spinach. Kale is incredibly nutrient-dense, offering impressive amounts of potassium, as well as vitamins A, C and K, in less than 35 calories. One cup of raw kale also packs potent amounts of antioxidants, notably lutein, which protects the eyes against oxidative damage and has been found to be effective in fighting macular degeneration.
If you're having GI problems or would like a little help regulating your bowel eliminations, then kefir may be right for you. This tangy dairy drink, which has a taste similar to yogurt with a thinner consistency, is full of probiotics. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), probiotics are "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host to help promote a healthy digestive flora." Translation: Probiotics give the "healthy" bacteria in your gut an edge over the "bad" bacteria. Improving this balance can lead to better digestive health and even boost immune function.
Read more: 10 Ultimate Smoothies for Any Time of Day
12. Noni Fruit
There are plenty of reasons that noni fruit has gotten a lot of good press as of late. A host of research has found that noni fruit, which is commonly sold in juice form, is a potent antioxidant that offers anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular boosters and a host of other health benefits. A recent clinical trial found that the noni supplementation resulted in a reduction in total cholesterol and triglycerides levels in subjects with both normal and elevated lipid levels (an indicator of heart disease) – and those benefits were even more significant for those subjects with elevated levels.
Not only are oats a tasty source of dietary fiber (1/4 cup of oat bran supplies nearly 4 grams), but beta-glucans, a component of the soluble fiber found in oats, has proven effective in lowering total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, thus reducing your overall risk of heart disease. Added bonus? High fiber diets are more satiating and have been linked to lower body weights. Try making a small batch of oatmeal and adding it to your next smoothie – you're likely to be pleasantly surprised by the thick shake that results. If you're not up for cooking, simply add oat bran instead.
Read more: 6 Easy Smoothie Breakfast Bowls
Old medical practitioners may have been on the right track when they used the pomegranate to treat disease. Extracts of this once-exotic, now-commonplace fruit been found to have strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even anti-tumor properties. Additional research has found that the anthocyanins, tannins and high levels of antioxidants in pomegranates can help fight obesity.
15. Protein Powder
To give your drink a muscle-building boost, add a mix of whey and casein protein. This blend offers readily available, quick-digesting whey protein along with slower-digesting casein for a sustained supply of amino acids.
16. Tofu or Soybeans
Long relied upon as the go-to protein by vegetarians and vegans, soy benefit all athletes. Besides offering a host of vitamins and minerals, soybeans contain essential amino acids that can aid muscle repair and recovery. A study investigating the effects of soy supplementation on performance found that soy protein taken in combination with sago (a starchy source of carb) during moderate-intensity cycling delayed fatigue, resulting in an 84 percent improvement in endurance (measured by time to exhaustion).
Exercise can increase your need for micronutrients like iron and zinc and spinach is chock full of them. While low levels of iron and zinc can negatively impact athletic performance, cause fatigue and even result in poor muscle growth, spinach delivers loads of these nutrients while also supplying folate, a B-vitamin responsible for producing and maintaining new cells. Folate is also essential for DNA and RNA production. Pregnant women and women seeking to become pregnant should be sure to take in adequate amounts of folate, as this micronutrient is essential for preventing neural tube defects.
18. Tart Cherry Juice
There's plenty to love about tart cherries besides their delicious flavor. For example: Their high anthocyanin and quercetin content. The quercetin serves to prevent oxidative damage and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, while the anthocyanins, a class of antioxidant phytochemicals found in plants, helps to prevent diseases like cancer. Runners and cyclists in particular may benefit from consuming tart cherry juice: Recent research found that endurance athletes who consumed approximately 12 ounces of the drink twice daily for a week prior to and on the day of a strenuous relay race experienced fewer muscle aches and pains at the finish line compared with those who consumed the placebo.
Read more: 5 Promising Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice
Rich in lycopene, tomatoes are a proven ally in the war against skin cancer. Lycopene also has been shown to promote prostate health. Add tomato to your next smoothie using either canned tomato that is whole or has been juiced – the nutrients in the tomato are concentrated and locked in during the canning process.
Think outside the box and choose the most widely consumed beverage in the world (besides water) as a base for your next smoothie. Not only will you be adding flavor, you'll also get antioxidants, phytochemicals and flavonoids – all of which fight oxidative damage and may reduce the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease.