Green Smoothies for Diabetes: Mistakes, Tips, and Recipes
The latest statistics on diabetes1, 2 from the American Diabetes Association are startling:
- 1 out of every 4 health care dollars is spent on people with diabetes.
- Diabetes is the most costly chronic illness, at a cost of $327 billion in 2017 alone, up 26% from 2012.
- 1.5 million Americans are newly diagnosed with diabetes every year, with nearly 10% of the population suffering from this condition.
- 25% of adults over 65 have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes
- Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.
The most disheartening thing of all about diabetes is that most of these cases can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes to whole foods, shifting away from the processed, sugary foods in the Standard American Diet — but too many people believe these changes are too difficult to make.
They may be addicted to the sugars and additives in the foods themselves, or dependent on the ease of prepackaged or drive-through convenience. Or they may think a high-protein diet is the answer, which has been proven false. Or that all carbs and sugars are the same, which is also not true.
One of the easiest ways to make the transition to whole foods is with green smoothies. They are simple to make, convenient to take on-the-go, and flood the body with disease-preventative fiber and nutrition.
In this article:
- Mistakes People Make with Smoothies for Diabetes
- What Nutrients Will Help Diabetes?
- 3 Smoothie Recipes for Diabetes
In my 450-city lecture tour over 6 years, one of the most-reported benefits attendees would tell me was that replacing one meal each day with a green smoothie, and making a shift to a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet reversed or even eliminated their need for diabetes meds, often within one month.
Interestingly, this diet is fairly high in carbohydrates (sugars and starches), but the fact that the sugars are in their whole-food form, including many nutrients, and lots of fiber, make them unlikely to be any kind of contributing force in the slow progression towards a diabetic condition.
Ready to give smoothies for diabetes a try? Here’s what you need to know:
Mistakes People Make With Smoothies for Diabetes
When people are new to smoothies, they tend to think about a “yogurt-plus-fruit” concoction. A green smoothie to avoid diabetes or improve blood sugar levels for someone already diagnosed will look very different! My own green smoothies have minimal fruit, low-sugar fruits, and no dairy products at all, including yogurt.
Here are some common mistakes people make when turning to smoothies to treat diabetes:
Too Much Fruit
Many people start off their foray into smoothies by going with fruit… and only fruit. While the advantage of smoothies is that you’ll also get the fiber from the whole fruit to slow down the natural sugars’ effect on your blood sugar, you’re better off keeping fruit to a minimum, or even eliminating fruit in your smoothies at first if you’re a full-blown diabetic. Maximize your greens instead.
Without much fruit, you may be wanting a bit of sweetness, but those with diabetes need to be mindful of any sources of sugar, even natural (healthier, more nutritious) ones like honey, maple syrup, and raw, organic agave.
Artificial sweeteners are far worse, though, because they are neurotoxins and also alter the gut bacteria, among other unacceptable side effects. Avoid these chemical sweeteners like Splenda, Truvia, and Nutrasweet (aspartame) completely!
I also don’t recommend the sugar alcohols like erithritol, sorbitol, and xylitol.
Instead, try a few drops of liquid stevia or monkfruit, which are natural sweeteners that won’t affect your blood sugar. These are still concentrated sweeteners, however, so start with just a drop or two and adjust.
One tip I like is for sweetness is to add in a high-quality protein powder that is sweetened with stevia or monkfruit–it has the added benefits of slowing down the sugar absorption and of helping you feel fuller longer.
[Related article: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Sugar Alternatives]
Not Including Fat or Fiber
If you’re making a smoothie for diabetes correctly, the fruits and vegetables you use will have plenty of fiber that will help slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Fat is another way to help slow down that process, and it’s an important component of making a smoothie into a meal that lasts till your next scheduled meal. You can incorporate good fats in the form of nuts and seeds, nut and seed butters and oils, coconut and avocado (or their oils, though the whole food is always best), etc.
Not Checking Blood Sugar
After checking with your health care professional to determine your proper blood sugar levels, it’s important to keep an eye on your levels before and after your smoothie. This monitoring will help you be more aware of how certain ingredients affect your glucose levels, and you can adjust the recipe accordingly.
What Nutrients Will Help Diabetes?
Make sure to include foods with these nutrients in your smoothie:
This micromineral is a critical part of glucose tolerance. Without enough chromium, glucose can’t get into your cells to be used or stored properly, and a deficiency can lead to both hypoglycemia and diabetes. Some smoothie-ready ingredients that contain chromium include romaine lettuce, apples, grapes, basil, oranges, and bananas.
Sulfur is an important nutrient for insulin synthesis, or how insulin is generated in the body. A sulfur deficiency can contribute to diabetic symptoms, but proper levels can be restored by supplementing your diet with foods like kale, cabbage, avocado, bok choy, sweet potatoes, peaches, apricots, watermelon, and many nuts.
Vanadium is another micromineral important for combating diabetes, which is why it’s key that we get a variety of mineral-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes, and more whole foods in our diets. Vanadium is a significant factor in blood sugar control, and can be found in oats, parsley, spinach, and more. Fulvic acid is also a great source of microminerals.
Diabetes has been associated with poor gut flora³, so to help balance the good bacteria in the gut, incorporate fermented foods that are rich in probiotics.
Rejuvelac is a great fermented base for a green smoothie, but I usually ferment coconut water because it’s so easy and I can do it overnight to be ready for my morning smoothie. All you have to do is put water kefir grains in coconut water, and let it ferment in a jar overnight. I drain the liquid off into my smoothie in the morning, and add more room-temperature coconut water to the jar, for tomorrow.
Other fermented foods that are good in smoothies include unsweetened yogurt, kefir, and homemade kombucha. (Dairy products are mucous forming and not helpful for diabetics, so you can make yogurt from nut or seed mylks as well.)
Be careful blending kombucha––depending on how fizzy yours is, it may bubble up a little too high! Start on a low speed in the blender then increase the speed slowly. Note: kombucha is my least-favorite fermented food, nutritionally, because of its high sugar content.
3 Smoothie Recipes for Diabetes
These smoothies contain all right ratio and quality of protein, fat, and fiber needed to maintain stable blood sugar and serve as a proper meal replacement. (Though individual needs vary, so please measure your blood glucose to test whether these recipes work for you, and modify as needed.)
The recipes make several servings, so make sure to have mason jars or other containers available to portion out each serving for later (or serve to a crowd!).
Jade Green Smoothie
- 1 apple
- 1 celery stalk
- 10-12 pieces of parsley
- 1 big handful spinach
- 1 large carrot
- 1 thumb ginger root
- ⅓ cucumber
- 1 avocado
- 1 cup water (or fermented coconut water)
Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender til smooth.
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stalk
- 1 banana
- 1 roma tomato
- 1 granny smith apple
- 3 handfuls spinach
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup ice cubes
- ½ cup berries (your favorite kind)
Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender til smooth.
Green Oats Smoothie
- ½ cup rolled oats, soaked overnight
- ½ avocado
- 1 handful mixed greens
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 tbsp flaxseed oil or sprouted flaxseed
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Water, as needed
Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender til smooth.
I’m also partial to the green smoothie recipe I almost always use, because it is infinitely versatile and easy to adjust the greens up and fruits down as needed. You can print out this free template that will give you good suggestions for switching out and combining ingredients in my basic green smoothie recipe.
Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.
- “American Diabetes Association® Releases ‘Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S.’ Report at Annual Call to Congress Event Urging Legislators to Make Diabetes a National Priority.” American Diabetes Association. March 22, 2018.
- “Statistics About Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association. March 22, 2018.
- Vrieze, Anne, et al. “Transfer of Intestinal Microbiota From Lean Donors Increases Insulin Sensitivity in Individuals With Metabolic Syndrome.” Gastroenterology. Volume 143, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 913-916.e7
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