Smoothies are the perfect on-the-go breakfast – they’re quick and easy to make, and a convenient way to fuel up for the day or recover after a workout. They’re also a great way to get more protein in the morning.
Research has shown many benefits of enjoying breakfast, particularly when protein is involved. The American Society for Nutrition states that eating a protein-rich breakfast helps with better blood sugar control, reduces nighttime cravings and increases muscle mass. According to a meta-analysis published in August 2021 in the journal Nutrients. And people who drank a high-protein drink for breakfast gained more muscle and strength than those who had it for lunch or dinner, according to the results of another study published in December 2021 in Frontiers of nutrition.
Despite these benefits, most Americans don’t include enough protein in their morning meal, according to the American Society for Nutrition. Smoothies can be a tasty solution.
So how much protein should you aim for in your morning smoothie? The optimal amount you need in a day varies with factors including age, gender, body size and activity level, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Estimates vary, but generally range from 0.8 g, according to the Institute of Medicine, to 1.2 g, according to other research, of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day. This means that a person weighing 130 pounds should consume between 47 and 71 g of protein, total, each day. This amount should ideally be spread out over the day, because your body can only handle so much protein at once.
If weight loss is your goal, you’ll want to have between 14 and 30 g of protein at breakfast. A study published in Journal of Nutrition Progressfound that at least 30 g of protein at breakfast provided the greatest satiety and appetite control among the participants. And people who ate a morning snack that contained 14g of protein ate fewer calories later in the day, according to a separate small study published in Nutrition Journal.
More protein at breakfast also supports other aspects of health, including stronger bones and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to the University of Arkansas. Today’s Dietitian reported that eating high-protein snacks improves blood sugar levels, lowers blood pressure and may improve athletic performance in active people.
The best types of protein for smoothies
A scoop of protein powder isn’t the only way to add this valuable nutrient to your smoothies. While protein powders are convenient, they do come with some risks. Protein powders are considered a dietary supplement, so they aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to Colorado State University. That means no one is checking to see if the actual ingredients or quantities listed on the label are truly in the protein scoop. Protein powders tend to be processed and can contain added sugars, calories and harmful contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides, reports Harvard Health Publishing. To avoid these toxins, choose a third-party tested protein powder.
Many whole foods are great sources of high quality protein. These include:
- kefir:A fermented milk drink, kefir contains probiotics like yogurt, which aid in digestion and support immune health. One cup of plain fat-free kefir contains 9 g of protein, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Kefir also contains calcium to support bone health and is 99% lactose free, so people with lactose intolerance can typically tolerate it.
- Milk: One cup of cow’s milk contains 8 g of protein and is fortified with vitamin D and vitamin A, according to the USDA. Vitamin D supports bone health, the immune system and can improve mood, while vitamin A supports eye and skin health. The USDA indicates that cow’s milk is also one of the cheapest complete protein sources, as defined by Johns Hopkins.
- Soya milk: Nondairy milks can vary widely in their protein content, but soy milk offers among the most protein per serving than other plant-based beverages, according to Time revised, and is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, according to the USDA. One cup of soy milk contains 7 g of protein, notes USDAdata. Soy milk is also lactose-free and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well. Choose a plain carton of unsweetened soy to limit your intake of added sugars.
- Greek yogurt: Because it’s strained, Greek yogurt has more protein than the regular kind, a whopping 25 g per cup of nonfat yogurt, according to USDAdata. It also contains live, active cultures, which support gut health. Prebiotics and probiotics work best together, so pair a probiotic like Greek yogurt with a prebiotic like a banana in a smoothie for a synbiotic effect.
- Cottage cheese: Cheese? In a smoothie? YES! Cottage cheese packs a staggering 23g of protein in one cup, per USDA data, and its lumpy texture smooths out in the blender. It also contains bone-building minerals, and some varieties even contain added probiotics. Look for low-sodium cottage cheese, so your smoothies aren’t salty.
- Tofu:Silken tofu mixes easily, and a 3.5-ounce serving contains 7.4 g of plant-based protein, according to USDAdata. It also adds a creamy mouthfeel to smoothies and adds iron.
- Nuts: Peanuts pack the most protein per serving of all nuts at 7 g per ounce, per USDA data, though almonds and pistachios are close behind at 6 g per ounce each. In addition to protein, nuts also contain dietary fiber and healthy sources of fat. You can add nuts by handfuls to your blender or add a tablespoon (tbsp) of two in nut butter form. Just be sure to use natural nut butters with no added sugar or salt.
- Seeds: Like nuts, seeds offer a trifecta of protein, fiber, and healthy fats in one small package. Just 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain 6 g of protein, according to the USDA, while the same amount of chia and flax seeds each contain about 3 g. According to Oncology Nutrition, grinding flax in your blender will unlock their nutrients and help you better absorb their healthy fats and fiber.
- Oats: This whole grain can thicken a smoothie without affecting the taste too much. You can add any variety of oats to your blender, from steel cut to quick cooking. Just one packet cup of Quick Oats has 5.5 g of protein, according to the USDA.
Once you’ve stocked up on your favorite quality protein sources, you can combine them to make all kinds of delicious and filling breakfast smoothies. Here are eight delightful examples.
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