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Posted on Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 4:49 a.m.

Great Lakes Cherry & Sweet Potato Smoothie - creative combinations reduce sugar, pump up nutrition

By Peggy Lampman


Great Lakes Smoothie

Peggy Lampman | Contributor

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Smoothies are the perfect complement to a hot summer day, when you’re craving hydration (if I pull one more weed, I’ll perish), slow-burning nutrition (I need energy to swim that extra lap), and something fast (why waste a moment of glorious sun when our season’s short-lived).

As kayaking across a glistening Michigan lake, the word smoothie, in and of itself, is calm and restorative, but you may want to educate yourself; commercial smoothies can be muttons in sheep’s clothing. If you’re looking for nutrition on the run, be knowledgeable as to what’s packed into that cup.

To be profitable, most fast food chains and coffee shops are crowd-pleasers, appealing to a generic market’s sweet tooth, so many smoothies are health-busting, hidden sugar bombs. And, as most of us are aware, excessive sugar intake contributes to a host of diseases. 

According to a Mayo Clinic Website article, “The habitual sipping of sugary drinks has been linked to poor diet, weight gain, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.” National Geographic's August, 2013, issue's cover feature is about sugar and "Why We Can't Resist It". Richard Johnson, a nephrologist at University of Colorado Denver, is quoted: "It seems like every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar". 

In 2003 the World Health Organization recommended keeping added sugar intake to 10 percent of total calories. For the average 2,000 calorie-diet that's a maximum of 50 grams. Recommendations of the amount of sugar safe for daily intake, however, are always being updated and modified, based on the organization or study quoted.

You can find the nutritional content of smoothie’s on most chain’s websites. Starbuck’s Strawberry Smoothie appears to be the healthiest of the sites I checked at random, weighing in at 300 calories and 41 grams of sugar, about 1/3 of the sugar resulting from the banana used. (I personally feel that the healthy benefits resulting from eating a banana outweigh the relatively high sugar content.)

Even some up-scale eateries selling “real fruit” smoothies begin their life as sugary pureed concentrates from a factory. Unless you see them packing processors with actual fruits (&/or vegetables), and other nutritious products, be aware. I’m not here to yank comforting bliss from your hands; Lord knows if I need a little treat I’m going for it. My mantra: Everything in moderation, including moderation.

I have total control of nutrition when I make my own smoothies, and it only takes five minutes. As long as I have fruit and/or vegetables (unsweetened frozen fruits and vegetables can also serve as the ice); thickeners, such as bananas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, plain yogurt, silken tofu, cottage cheese — and thinners, such as almond and soy milk, teas, coconut water &/or plain water, I’m in business. I also add other nutritious tidbits such as chia seeds, wheat germ, herbs and ginger. Of course the ingredients I use have sugar in them, but the ingredients provide fiber, vitamins and minerals essential for healthy bodies. These nutritional powerhouses have all of the natural sweetness my palate desires.

I rarely add more than a dash of unsweetened pomegranate juice to smoothies. Smoothies are essentially an icy, thickened-up juice, so don’t feel the need. But if you do, make sure the juices have no additional sugar. As well, check the nutrition label on unsweetened yogurts; sugar content varies considerably. My limited research has shown that the Whole Foods brand of unsweetened yogurt has the least amount of sugar in its peer group.

The Huffington Post wrote an article last year about healthy flavoring agents for smoothies. Cinnamon topped the list because it adds a layer of sweetness without the calories; the author also recommend adding beans... an unusual smoothie ingredient, to be sure, but beans are arguably one of the most nutritious foods out there. They'll add fiber, protein, iron, and potassium to your smoothie. White beans are easiest to 'hide' in a light-colored smoothie, while darker beans work best in dark drinks.”

Think out of the box when making scratch-made smoothies. In Brazil, avocado (which is botanically a fruit) is often the primary component of smoothies, referred to as vitaminas in Brazil. My close friend, Mara, first discovered avocado-based vitaminas living in Brazil, when she was a foreign-exchange studying anthropology at the University of Michigan. She says they’re a refreshing breakfast drink. 

Other components to all-green smoothies could include broccoli, kale, lettuces, cucumber and spinach sweetened up with kiwi, green grapes and pears.

The great thing about smoothie concoction is there’s no need to follow a recipe; as long as it’s smooth, thick, icy and appeals to your palate. What I’ve listed below was based on the fact that I had a cold sweet potato left over from last night’s supper — as sweet as sweet can be.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 5 minutes


1 1/2 cups cooked, peeled & cubed sweet potato
4 cups pitted cherries or berries (hulled, if using strawberries)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 tablespoon chia seeds
Pinch of cinnamon
2 cups ice or unsweetened frozen fruit


Place ingredients in any blender that can process pulpy fruits, vegetables and ice with ease, such as a Blendtec, Ninja or Vitamix, and blend until desired consistency is reached. Work in batches if your processor is not large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients at the same time.

Peggy Lampman is a real-time food writer and photographer posting daily feeds on her website and in the Food & Grocery section of You may also e-mail her at


Ann English

Thu, Jul 25, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

I'm taking for granted that the wheat germ called for doesn't have to be toasted. I was glad to see chia seeds called for; the best bargain for them I've found so far is Bob's Red Mill chia seeds, sold at Meijer. Trader Joe's doesn't have as good a deal per ounce.

Peggy Lampman

Thu, Aug 1, 2013 : 1:38 p.m.

Hi Ann. I've always used the Kretschmer Toasted Wheat Germ for years, but I'll bet the untoasted would be fine to use as well. Thanks for the comments on where to get chia seeds, which are quite costly! Peggy