The 12 Best Things to Put In a Belly-Friendly Smoothie

1
Why Drink Smoothies?

fruit smoothie
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When they are done right, smoothies can be a great way to pack a powerful nutritional punch in a quick, easy and portable meal. Smoothies allow you to take in larger amounts of certain superfoods than you would be able to if you were merely eating them. This includes those great-for-your-health green leafy vegetables.

Smoothies are a nice option if you have IBS or other digestive problems. Plant fiber is pulverized when blended and therefore may be easier for you digestive system to handle. The "good guy" bacteria in your gut will be thrilled by the increase in the number of plant foods that smoothies provide. Happy, healthy gut bacteria are less likely to cause abdominal pain, gas and bloating and motility problems. Having an optimal bacterial balance in your belly is also good for your overall health.

One downside of smoothies is that if they are too sweet, they can have a not-so-healthy impact on your blood sugar levels and can contribute to weight gain. You can avoid this by making sure your smoothies contain lots of high fiber foods and that you avoid high sugar ingredients.

In the following slides, we will look at my picks for foods to include in your smoothies that meet my important criteria: they must be good for your gut and must be IBS-friendly. They are offered in no particular order as my taste preferences and yours will be different. Play around with different ingredients and listen to your own intuition as to which foods will be the yummiest and healthiest for you.

2
Non-Dairy Milk

variety of milks
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Smoothies need a liquid base. You can certainly just use water, but you may want the taste or nutrients of a milk. I like to use a little non-dairy milk, then fill the blender up to the halfway mark with water.

Cow's milk contains high levels of lactose which can cause belly symptoms in people who are lactose intolerant. Soy and rice milks are considered to be high FODMAPs foods, meaning that they can worsen symptoms in people who have IBS, and therefore should be avoided. 

The following non-dairy milks are belly-friendly options:

  • Almond milk 
  • Coconut milk (limit ½ cup)
  • Hemp milk
  • Oat milk (limit 1/8 cup)

Depending on how many frozen items you are adding, and how much of a slushie-consistency you like, you may want to round out your smoothie with ice. 

3
Kefir

glasses of kefir
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Kefir is a fermented food made from milk. Like other fermented foods, kefir is filled with a wide variety of probiotics - those "friendly" bacteria that are so good for digestive and overall health. Although kefir does come from animal milk, the fermentation process results in a low-lactose product.

Kefir differs from yogurt in that it contains a wider variety of bacteria strains as well as some yeast. In addition to all its gut flora-enhancing qualities, kefir is a great source of many essential vitamins. I personally tend to skip the non-dairy milks mentioned in the last slide and instead use some kefir with water as my go-to smoothie base.

Unfortunately, to my knowledge kefir has not yet been tested by Monash University for its FODMAP content. Because of it's low-lactose level, it might be fine, but to be on the safe side, if you have IBS, you may want to test kefir in small quantities to look for any symptom reactivity.

4
Banana

banana
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With their velvety texture, bananas make a great base for any smoothie. Bananas are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are considered low-FODMAP and therefore should not set off any belly symptoms. 

One of the best things about bananas and smoothies is that smoothies are a great way to enjoy bananas that have become over-ripe. Just take off the skin and freeze them! This gives you a great cold base for your smoothies. My own experience is that bananas are an absolute must-have for an enjoyable smoothie. You may have a different experience.

5
Leafy Greens

green leafy vegetables
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Now we are talking! The whole point of drinking smoothies for health is to get in a higher volume of nutrients than you could get just by eating them. You may be amazed at the amount of energy you experience when you begin to add leafy greens to your smoothies.

Almost any leafy green will be good for your digestive health, but here are the ones who have been identified as being low in FODMAPs and therefore less likely to set off unwanted symptoms:

  • Baby spinach
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard

If you are new to adding greens to your smoothie, you may want to start with the milder-flavored spinach and then work your way through the others.

6
Frozen Berries

pile of berries
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Berries are good for your brain - and your belly. I would highly recommend using frozen organic berries in your smoothies.

Frozen berries have several advantages. One, along with your frozen banana, you will have no need for ice. Frozen also means that they are always available in your freezer any time you are looking for a quick, healthy, belly-friendly meal or snack. Frozen produce is also picked at the height of ripeness - thus you are getting the fruit when it has the most amounts of nutrients. Fruits and vegetables in the produce section are picked when they will best travel - not necessarily when they are chock-ful of nutrients.

If your budget allows, buy organic, because you don't want to expose your sensitive digestive system to pesticides if you can help it. Locally grown fruit is another great option as small farmers can rely on more traditional methods for plant health rather than soaking the plants in chemicals to get them to grow.

Low-FODMAP berries include blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. If you have IBS, you may want to avoid blackberries if you know that you are reactive to polyols, a type of FODMAP.

Warning: Berries in your smoothie will turn it to a funky brown color. Still delicious, but the color may take some getting used to.

7
Your Favorite Fruits

fruit salad
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You don't have to limit yourself to just berries. Most fruit make a great contribution to a delicious smoothie - frozen or not. You just want to make sure that you are balancing your smoothie out with green leafy vegetables and some of the healthy fats we will look at in the coming slides so that your smoothie isn't too high in sugar.

The following low-FODMAP fruits would earn my seal of approval for a belly-friendly smoothie:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew melon
  • Kiwi
  • Lime
  • Papaya (paw paw)
  • Pineapple

Let me share with you my little trick. Whenever I entertain, I always put out a fruit bowl for dessert to balance out the cakes and cookies that others bring. Once the party is over, I freeze the leftover fruit in little bags that then can hang out in my freezer for future smoothies.

8
Nut Butter

almond butter
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Healthy fats are another way to slow the rise in blood sugar from all of the fruit that you might be putting in your smoothie. Nut butters not only fit that bill, but add a delicious flavor to your smoothies. You don't need much - just a tablespoon will do. Your best choices are peanut butter or almond butter. Cashews are high in FODMAPs, so best to skip that type.

9
Coconut Oil

coconut oil
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Coconut oil is another healthy form of fat that will help to slow down the absorption of your smoothie fruits into your blood stream, while enhancing your heart health and helping you to better absorb all of the vitamins and minerals that you are getting from the produce in your smoothies.  I would recommend adding approximately 1 tablespoon of oil to your smoothies.

10
Avocado

avocado slices
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Another healthy-fat recommendation is the amazing avocado. Even if you don't love the taste of avocados try them in your smoothies! In addition to being a plant-based source of protein, as well as offering you lots of vitamins and minerals, they add a lush texture to your smoothie.

The only downside to avocados for a person who has IBS is that only 1/8 of a whole is considered low-FODMAP. But this is the beauty of smoothies! You can cut an avocado into 8 parts and freeze 7 of them. You now have avocados at hand for the foreseeable future.

11
A Little Sweetener

maple syrup
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Hopefully, between the bananas, berries and other fruits you may have included,  your smoothies are sweet enough! However, if you just need a little more sweetness to counter-act the taste of your greens, you can add in a little sweetener. Although the evidence is far from conclusive, honey may offer some antibacterial and anti-allergy benefits. However, honey is high in the FODMAP fructose and therefore is not a good option if you have fructose malabsorption. If that is the case, maple syrup may be a better pick. Just remember to just use a few drops!

If you find that you down your smoothies very quickly, that is a sign that they are too sweet. Try to play around with the amount of sweetener that you use so that you can keep it to a minimum.

12
Cacao - Because Chocolate Is a Wonderful Thing

cacao powder
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And because the universe is a wonderful place, cacao (raw chocolate) is really good for you! For our intents and purposes here, it is good to know that cacoa may actually have prebiotic qualities. This means that it is a food that "feeds" the good-guy bacteria in your gut. And it tastes so good! The problem with most chocolate is that it contains added sugar and, often, unhealthy forms of fat. However, cacao powder has all of the wonderful health qualities of chocolate, without the downsides. Unfortunately, cacao on its own is bitter (that's why candy makers add sugar!) 

In a smoothie, however, you can get the taste and health benefits of chocolate, because the bitterness is set off by the other ingredients in your smoothie. Cacoa powder is also low in FODMAPs, so no worries there. Feel free to add a heaping tablespoon and enjoy your delicious elixer.

13
Chia Seeds, Flaxseed & Hemp Seeds

chia, hemp and flaxseed
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Smoothies are a great vehicle for taking in the fiber benefits of chia seedsflaxseed and raw shelled hemp seed. All three are nutritional powerhouses. Both chia and flaxseed are thought to add in optimal stool formation - always a good thing! Each type of seeds is also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in the healthy functioning of so many of the cells of our bodies.

Chia and hemp seeds can be added directly to your smoothies. Flaxseed needs to be ground first in order for you to enjoy its health benefits. (For best results, keep your seeds in the refrigerator. This is especially important with ground flaxseed so as to avoid spoiling.) Start with a tablespoon of whichever one appeals to you most to allow your body time to adjust. You can then work your way up to tablespoon of each as a great way to round out your belly-friendly smoothie!

 

Sources:

Hertzler, S., & Clancy, S. "Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion." Journal of the American Dietetics Association 2003 103:582-587.

Tzounis, X., et.al. "Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 93:62-72.

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