They’re tasty, filling and photogenic. But chances are, most of us know very little about what’s inside our smoothies. Ingredients such as spirulina, wakame, acai, and “activated” everything fall under the banner of “superfoods”, and create the feeling that the secret to eternal health can be sucked through a straw.
Lola Berry, nutritionist and owner of smoothie bar Happy Place, puts their popularity down to a shift in thinking.
“It’s cool to be healthy,” she says. “People are tuning in to their bodies. Smoothies are a great way to sneak superfoods in and get a lot of nutrition in one meal.”
Here’s a guide to some of those strange-sounding smoothie ingredients, and the edge some people believe they provide.
Chia seeds are native to Central America and were once a staple food in the Aztec diet. They’re now a common smoothie ingredient (and the one responsible for turning smoothies gluggy if they’re not drunk quickly enough).
Meg Thompson, a naturopath, nutritionist and “real food devotee”, says the seeds’ popularity is due to the high representation of Omega-3 (a fatty acid), calcium and fibre. “You get a lot of bang for your buck with chia,” says Thomson. “It’s a great form of fibre, which is important for a happy digestive system.”
Another common-but-mysterious smoothie ingredient is spirulina, a blue-green algae safe for human consumption. Lola Berry, jokingly calls it “fancy pond scum”, but says its high protein content and antioxidants can be beneficial. Thompson also recommends the algae – which comes in powdered form – as a good supplement for vegans who may be low on vitamin B12 (found in meat and dairy products), and says it contributes to making red blood cells.
Wakame (“wah-kah-may”), is part of the sea-vegetable family along with arame (“ah-rah-may”) and dulse (“dull-s”). Don’t be grossed out if you see any of these on the smoothie menu – they provide a hit of super-concentrated minerals including calcium (promotes healthy bone development); zinc (supports the immune system); and iodine (helps make hormones). “You don’t need much to get the benefit,” says Thomson. “Just a quarter of a teaspoon in your smoothie is enough. Any more and you’d taste the seaweed flavour.”
One of the first on the superfood scene, acai (“ah-sigh-ee”) is a South American berry high in antioxidants, which is said to be good for your complexion, skin health and reducing inflammation.
Most of us are already familiar with matcha via ice-cream and those Japanese Kit Kats our friends keep bringing back from holidays.
The traditional Japanese powder, made from ground up green-tea leaves, is super high in antioxidants, and a good alternative to coffee. “The most exciting thing about matcha is how it promotes a state of relaxed alertness,” says Thompson. “It contains both caffeine and a compound specific to tea called L-theanine, which together gives you the benefits of coffee without the jitters.”
Still wondering what a mylk is? Mylks are alternatives to dairy milk, and include your commonly found almond, cashew, soy and coconut milks. They’re a godsend for people with lactose or casein allergies and intolerances, but also a source of protein and fibre.
And that “activated almond mylk”? In short, activating something means soaking it overnight, then rinsing and drying it out again. “The theory is that doing this makes nuts more digestible for people,” says Thompson.