For me, summer is synonymous with smoothie season—what with a smaller appetite and a craving for lighter and fresher fare under the welcome warmth of the sun. Also, smoothies are just too cold to have in winter.
Many of you agree. General manager Alexandra Brigham of Eternal Abundance (1025 Commercial Drive) says smoothie popularity peaks during hot weather. Last summer, she had to hire someone just to make juices and smoothies at the organic and vegan café and market.
The café’s all-organic smoothies, prepared with housemade almond milk or alkaline water, are on my list of best smoothies in the city because they are both delicious and nutritious. The Green Goddess, for example, has a spicy kick from fresh ginger blended with kale, spinach, and chard. But first things first: what’s the difference between a juice and a smoothie?
“In a smoothie, you’re blending the whole fruit and vegetable, so you’re getting all the fibre,” says Zach Berman, co-owner of the Juice Truck. “In a juice, we’re separating the pulp from the liquid, so you don’t get fibre in a juice.” But because there’s no fibre, the nutrients in a juice are absorbed much more quickly and easily by the body, he adds.
The Juice Truck serves freshly cold-pressed juice and blended smoothies from their watermelon-coloured truck at the corner of Abbott and Water streets in Gastown. It’s my top pick for smoothies. Ingredients are nutrient-rich and their smoothies sing with flavour. Like Eternal Abundance, it serves a variety of smoothies, from blueberry to greens to Almost Chocolate, which consists of banana blended with medjool dates, almond butter, and raw cacao. Berman thinks it’s their top seller because it’s got the taste of a chocolate milkshake but all the nutrients of a healthy smoothie. My favourite is the same as the Juice Truck’s employees: the Hybrid, blending cold-pressed carrot-ginger juice with almond milk, banana, cinnamon, and raw vanilla.
One smoothie plus over fresh-pressed juices is that you can add “superfoods”. “It’s easy to add hemp seed, chia seed, or raw maca, whereas these don’t fuse so well with juices,” says Berman.
I’ll get to the nutritional benefits of these additions in a moment, but can smoothies be substitutes for meals on a regular basis?
Desiree Nielsen, a Vancouver registered dietitian, says a meal should consist of healthy fats and good-quality carbs and protein. If you’re thinking of opting for a smoothie as your regular breakfast or lunch, make sure all three are included. Most fruits and vegetables provide good-quality carbs. For healthy fats, add ground flax, hemp, or chia. For protein, look for smoothies made with plain or greek yogurt and silken tofu. Or add whey (dairy), rice, hemp, or pumpkin seed.
Most smoothies cost around $7 or $8, with an extra $1 for additional ingredients. Maca, a popular option, is a root plant grown in the Andes and a potent adaptogen. It helps bring your body into balance by providing energy and resisting stress, says Nielsen. Wheatgrass is a cleansing anti-oxidant that also provides energy.
But even with added shots of goodness, not all smoothies are equal. In my taste/nutritional survey of smoothies in the city, I wondered why one smoothie—though pumped with superfoods—tasted so sickly sweet. I looked closely at the list of ingredients and found its base was a low-fat frozen yogurt. Remember that many low-fat options add sugar to compensate for loss in flavour and texture from the lack of fat. Also, frozen yogurt does not make for a healthy smoothie base, says Nielsen. Though healthier than ice cream, it’s a dessert. Sugar-rich pasteurized juices also offset the benefits of the nutrient-rich ingredients.
Nielsen advises seeking healthier bases for smoothies: coconut water (low in sugar, rich in potassium, which means electrolytes that are good for hot weather), coconut milk (the kind you find in a can is rich in healthy fats), and vegan milk made of coconut (not as fatty as canned coconut milk, but fortified with the same nutrients as dairy milk). Housemade almond milk is rich in protein, and hemp milk (again, housemade rather than commercially produced) provides even more protein and good-for-you, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.
Green smoothies made of vegetables, of course, have less natural sugar than smoothies made with tropical fruit.
The last to make my list of the three most nutritious and damn delectable smoothies in the city? I give that one to Nielsen, who also recommends Organic Lives at the Chopra Yoga Center (451 Granville Street) for healthy but tasty smoothies. Her favourite? “The Superexpialadelicious, because it is delicious and chocolate-y and packed with superfoods.”