Three years ago I set out to craft a morning protein shake that would easily carry the weight of a substantial meal.
That's important, as I learned our bodies don't keep that full feeling throughout the morning on watery beverages alone. Just as vital, solid breakfast nutrition sets the stage for a good day.
Early trials of my new shake began with packaged protein powder mixes. Those waves of ultra sweetness from various sugar substitutes shocked the taste buds. I'm a pastry chef who appreciates the balance savory flavors impart to sweet ingredients. It was back to the test kitchen and drawing board for me.
I settled on dried egg whites and low fat Greek yogurt to provide protein and substance. Unsweetened cocoa powder infused a dark chocolate blast, with fresh pineapple and bananas injecting mild sweetness. The occasional spoonful of flaxseed or Chia rounded out the nutrition lineup.
Now, as a Fittest Loser participant following a dietary plan devised by Push Fitness, that meant revisiting the nutritional profile of my favorite breakfast shake. The original recipe relies upon ripe bananas and pineapple chunks to whirl silky sweetness into a protein enhanced base.
The enhanced recipe would now cover two meals: breakfast at 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. morning snack. This approach allowed me to keep some of my favorite ingredients, while easily providing that second meal at work.
On the nutritional side of the Push Fitness program, I am allowed 2 servings each of protein, fats and carbohydrates for this 2-meal shake. Here are the ingredients selected by category, and why they qualified for my enhanced breakfast shake. Some are old favorites and others offer an infusion of nutrition with diverse taste experiences.
Proteins: Plain 2 percent Greek yogurt and dried egg whites set the powerhouse structure. Fat-free Greek yogurt didn't bring substance and the full fat version meant less fat diversity from other ingredients. The 100 percent dried egg whites, available on Amazon or specialty markets, provides pure protein with just a trace of sodium. For me, they were easily digestible. No added artificial sweeteners or sugars included!
Carbohydrates: The Push Fitness Carb list includes fruits, vegetables and starches but fresh bananas and pineapple are sent packing. Not enough nutritional bang for the elevated sugar, especially bananas. Blueberries met all the criteria and froze nicely for an easy-to-grab ingredient. Its companion carbohydrate is now fresh baby spinach. A great way to include more vegetables into your diet and cocoa powder tones down the green hue upon blending.
Fats: Less fat in the protein category meant more diversity with the fats! My original shake contained ½ cup milk and now dairy is limited to 1 serving per day. Unsweetened Silk Coconut milk, located in the dairy section, adds fat and flavor. Dried coconut flakes, also unsweetened and available at Pete's Markets and other specialty stores, boosts that tropical background flavor without breaking the fat bank.
I learned an important lesson while testing breakfast protein shakes. All that ninja blending liquefies the fibrous structure of fruits and/or vegetables added to the mixture. Reduced fat plain Greek yogurt builds structure while allowing room for partner fats. Chia and flaxseeds add body to the shake and serious nutritional game. Unsweetened coconut flakes and coconut milk contribute texture.
With flavor and body restored to this new shake, my taste buds don't miss the sweetness.
I'm thrilled that the ingredient swaps allowed me, the pastry chef, to keep cocoa on the menu. As a member of the Fittest Loser team, that keeps me blending every morning. Enjoy!
• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Oakbrook Terrace. Write to her at email@example.com. For the duration of the Fittest Loser contest, Annie's columns in Food will take on a more nutritional approach.