Protein shake gets a sweetness and nutritional makeover

As a food columnist, signing on to the Fittest Loser contest 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.

Looking over the Push Fitness carbohydrate food list, these luscious fruits don't offer enough nutritional bang for the elevated sugar they bring to the shake, especially bananas.

To accomplish my goal of lowering blood sugar to normal levels, I needed a breakfast and morning snack shake packing a protein punch, in partner with a background carbohydrate balance of low-sugar and savory ingredients. Blueberries step in for the ultra sweet combo of bananas/pineapple and fresh baby spinach infuses savory depth into the remixed recipe. Unsweetened cocoa powder imparts chocolate essence while holding the line on carbs and toning down green hues upon blending.

I learned an important lesson while testing breakfast protein shakes. All that ninja blending liquefies the fibrous structure of fruits and vegetables added to the mixture. Fiber plays an important role of signaling to our bodies we are full. That sense of culinary satisfaction is designed to keep our hands out of the cookie jar. I knew the secret to success was in choosing healthy fats that bring structure, along with great nutritional value.

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 and background tropical flavor.

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!

Protein Shake Remixed

6 ounces Plain Greek yogurt, 2% fat (¾ cup)

1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves

2 tablespoons dried egg white powder * (see alternative ingredients below)

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1½ tablespoons chia seeds

2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds

2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes

¼ cup fresh or frozen blueberries

½ cup unsweetened Silk Coconut Milk (dairy section)

1 cup ice, crushed or cubed

1 cup water

In large blender combine all ingredients, adding ice and water last. Pulse 3-4 quick bursts to initially blend. Increase speed to puree and blend 15-20 seconds until smooth. Scrape blender if needed and add more water if mixture feels too thick.

Divide shake into 2 portions. Refrigerate 1 portion for later use. Can be frozen in heavy-duty freeze-proof plastic cup with tight lid. Allow 1 to 2 hours at room temperature to thaw before drinking. If partially frozen, mixture can be re-blended.

Yield: 2 servings

* Alternative ingredients: Can substitute whey protein for the dried egg whites.

Nutritional values for both servings: 518 calories, 24 g fat (12 g saturated fat), 40 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 12 g fiber, 15 mg cholesterol, 278 mg sodium.

- Annie Overboe

Nutrition lesson Fittest Loser contestants learn at grocery store

Members of the Westin Refreshers Fittest Loser at Work team sip healthy smoothies. Replacing bananas and pineapple with blueberries can give your morning smoothie an extra nutritional punch without as much sugar. Courtesy of Team Westin Refreshers
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