Not just for athletes and body-builders, protein shakes are a delicious and healthy way to start the day. It’ll give you a hefty dose of fruits, veggies, protein, carbs, and other nutrients. Here’s a basic how-to guide to creating the perfect protein shake. From choosing the ideal protein powder to selecting which greens are best for blending. It is filled with tips, recipes, and suggestions to get your creative juices flowing–no pun intended!
Pick Your Powder
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of vegan protein powders now on the market. Every year seems to usher in a new and exciting brand! When choosing your protein powder, check out these three things on the nutrition label: (1) Grams of sugar per serving, (2) grams of protein per serving, and (3) any additional preservatives or flavorings that are listed. Also pay attention to the source of the protein–for example, though soy products are healthy in their whole, unprocessed, and/or fermented form (tempeh, edamame, etc…), it is best to limit one’s consumption of processed soy products, as they are hard to digest and offer fewer nutrients. Here are a few protein powder suggestions to get you started!
Bob’s Red Mill® Vanilla Protein Powder Nutritional Booster: 20 grams of pea protein, 12 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of added sugar per serving (sweetened with monk fruit extract). Also contains chia seeds and probiotics to improve digestion.
Healthy Skoop® Organic Vanilla Plant-Powered Daily Protein: 16 grams of pea and brown rice protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of added sugar per serving (sweetened with coconut sugar and stevia). Each serving also contains 35% of the daily recommended amount of iron.
Nutiva® Organic Hemp Protein: 15 grams of hemp protein, 8 grams of fiber, and 0 grams of added sugar per serving (this one is unsweetened). Also a good source of magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Vega® All-In-One Chocolate Plant Based Protein Powder: 20 grams of pea protein, 8 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of added sugar per serving (sweetened with stevia). Also contains spirulina, maca root, and several added vitamins and minerals.
For more suggestions of healthy plant-based protein powder brands, check out this article. Or, if you’re feeling especially inspired, try making your own protein powder, which allows you to create a customized mix of your favorite ingredients.
Pick Your Non-Dairy Milk
As with the protein powder, there are multiple varieties of plant-based milk out there, each with different nutritional profiles. Most are becoming increasingly available at major chain grocery stores, not just limited to specialty health food stores anymore. They are usually based in soy, almond, cashew, hemp, coconut, rice, or even pea protein. As a general rule of thumb, you will use approximately 1 to 1.5 cups of milk per protein shake, though you can adjust this amount depending on the desired consistency. Here are a few suggestions if you’re still new to the realm of non-dairy milk!
Silk® Protein Nutmilk: With 10 grams of pea protein per serving, this milk also contains 45% of the daily recommended amount of calcium. It is quite thick, so using a 50/50 ratio of milk-to-water might be your best bet when adding it to a protein shake. It also comes in chocolate for those of you with a sweet tooth.
SO Delicious® Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk: Though not high in protein, this milk adds a rich, creamy texture and provides a dose of healthy fats to your shake, which increases nutrient absorption and helps keep you full for longer.
Pacific Natural® Vanilla Hemp Milk: This milk is higher in sugar, making it best when using unsweetened protein powders. However, it also comes in unsweetened varieties and contains a hefty 50% of the DRA of calcium.
Check out this article if you’re interested in making your own almond milk. It is a relatively simple process, and all you need is a blender and a mesh strainer. Going the DIY route lets you control how much sugar goes into the milk. It also eliminates the need for additives or preservatives.
Pick Your Fruits and Veggies
Part of what makes protein shakes and smoothies so nutritious is that they’re excellent vehicles for a variety of fruits and veggies. Which will give you a boost of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’ll also give you the motivation to get out of bed and seize the day! Your imagination is the limit, but here are some ideas to get you started.
Leafy greens: Kale, spinach, and chard are a few of the tasty, nutrient-packed green vegetables that you can blend into your protein shake. These veggies are packed with nutrients such as vitamin K and folate (one of the B vitamins), and may even have anti-aging effects. Just throw a small handful into your smoothie (a little goes a long way). When using greens that have a more bitter flavor (such as kale), be sure to remove the stems first. In celebration of the end of winter, try out this Spring Tune-Up Smoothie.
Green peas: These round green veggies are a surprisingly good source of protein, are loaded with antioxidants and can be an excellent source of fiber when adding a handful to your smoothie. To learn even more about their health benefits, check out this article.
Bananas: An excellent smoothie staple, bananas can be used either fresh or frozen. When frozen, they add a distinctly smooth creamy texture that can quickly take your protein shake into milkshake territory. Bananas are packed with potassium, a mineral electrolyte that promotes heart health, so eat up!
Berries: Packed with fiber and other nutrients, both fresh or frozen berries are excellent additions to smoothies. They are also a great source of powerful antioxidants and may prevent cognitive decline in older people. Check out this Blueberry Açaí Super Smoothie, which is packed with nutrients and flavor.
Avocados: Strange as it may sound, avocados add both a rich texture and a hefty dose of healthy fats. Their mild flavor will not overpower the other ingredients. They are also a good source of fiber, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fats (some of the healthier fats).
Tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, papaya, etc..): Though oranges are not necessarily the best choice, given their fibrous texture, there are plenty of other tropical and citrus fruits that you can use to add some vitamin C and sweetness. Learn about the health benefits of citrus fruits here! Or whip up a delicious Pineapple Crush Smoothie.
Pick Your Add-Ins
Here’s where a dash of creativity comes into play. You can add any additional ingredients to your protein shake, from nuts to spices to other supplementary powders. Here are some suggestions to use as a starting point:
Nuts/Seeds/Nut Butter: Just a spoonful of peanut butter or a handful of sunflower seeds can add some healthy fats and extra protein. Check out this Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie for some inspiration!
Ground Cinnamon, Nutmeg, or Cloves: These pungent spices can add delicious flavor to your smoothie. They’re especially appropriate for holiday-themed drinks. If you’re a fan of cinnamon, feast your eyes upon this Cinnamon Apple Smoothie, filled with fiber and antioxidants.
Cocoa powder: Rich in antioxidants, the unsweetened cocoa powder is great for adding a chocolatey twist to your smoothie. Try out this Raw Chocolate Smoothie to see how cocoa powder can spice up your morning smoothie.
Nondairy Yogurt (like this vegan Greek yogurt!): Yogurt can add additional protein and calcium to your smoothie, as well as different flavors and a creamy texture.
Maple Syrup or Agave Nectar: If you are using unsweetened milk and/or protein powder, a spoonful of maple syrup or agave nectar will sweeten up your smoothie.
Looking for more smoothie ideas? Check out this list of 10 Unique Vegan Smoothies, or, if you’re looking to include leafier green veggies in your diet, try out these 11 Awesome Green Monster Smoothies.
For even more recipes, don’t forget to download the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook. This app contains thousands of delicious vegan recipes, and subscribing will give you access to new ones each day!
Lead image source: cherryliciousblog/Flickr