Build a Better Smoothie: Quick Nutrition That goes down easy for Cancer Patients

By Laurie Wertich updated 10/21

Smoothies are a popular choice among busy people looking for a quick, nutritious meal. They are also an easy, tasteful way to pack some nutrition for individuals with cancer and other illnesses where eating may be difficult. These drinks however can be loaded with sugar and actually end up being lower in nutritional value than we might imagine. Think about it: if you throw a bunch of fruit and some juice in the blender, you’re getting a hit of sugar without a lot of substance, and it’s not likely to take you all the way to lunch. But a few simple adjustments can help you build a better smoothie—one that’s satisfying, energizing, and nutrient dense.

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Choose a Better Base

Instead of making your smoothie with fruit juice or, worse, frozen yogurt, try some alternatives that are both delicious and nutritious.

  • *Almond milk (or any nut milk).*You can make your own nut milks or buy them at the grocery store. Nut milks offer protein and other nutrients and create a delicious, creamy base.
  • *Kefir.*This creamy, probiotic-rich drink is similar to yogurt. It is filled with healthy bacteria and typically contains far less sugar than yogurt. Many people who have difficulty digesting dairy products find that they can drink kefir.
  • Yogurt. Look for yogurts that are low in sugar. In fact, consider choosing plain, unflavored yogurt since you’ll be adding several delicious ingredients.
  • Water. This may sound boring, but depending on what you’ll add to your smoothie, you may just need a little water to reach the right consistency. This is a far healthier option than most juices, which are often loaded with sugar. Tossing in a little crushed ice serves as a thickener.


There is no limit to what you can add to the blender. A banana often helps lend a thicker, creamier consistency to a smoothie. Berries are another popular choice. Think outside the box. Any fruit you like fresh or frozen is fair game for a smoothie. Consider freezing your own fruit during the peak season; there is nothing like pulling out some delicious peaches or strawberries in midwinter! Here are some popular smoothie options:

  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and more)
  • Peaches
  • Mangoes
  • Papaya
  • Kiwi


A smoothie may not seem like the proper vehicle for vegetables, but you’d be surprised! If you find it hard to get your servings of greens, consider throwing them in the blender. A handful of spinach might change the color of your smoothie, but it really won’t alter the taste. This is an easy way to reap the benefits of dark, leafy greens without having to sit down and chew through a salad. Options include:

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  • Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Chard
  • Celery


There are many things you can add to a smoothie that won’t alter the taste but will increase the nutritional value. Consider one or more of the following.

  • Flaxseed. Flaxseed contains rich, healthy fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6, and omega?9) that are essential to the body. They also provide soluble fiber and are high in lignans, which are hormonelike substances that are known to balance hormone levels in the body. Add freshly ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil to your smoothie for a dash of healthy, essential fat.
  • Wheat germ. Wheat germ is a good source of fiber and a concentrated source of several essential nutrients, including vitamin E and folic acid. Just two tablespoons provide 20 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin E and folic acid.
  • Maca. Maca is a powdered supplement derived from the Peruvian maca root. It contains amino acids, B vitamins, and several minerals. It is considered an “adaptogen” and is excellent for balancing hormones. Maca does have a distinct taste, so it is best used in smoothies with plenty of banana or other strong flavors.
  • Hemp protein. Hemp protein powder is derived from hemp seeds and has a 45 percent protein content. Hemp protein is high in omega-3 fatty acids. It has no saturated fats or cholesterol and is safe for diabetics and hypoglycemics.
  • Raw cacao powder. Face it: sometimes you’re looking for something that tastes like a milkshake but still provides a dose of nutrients. Raw cacao powder is high in magnesium and antioxidants—and it’s delicious. You can find it in most health food stores. It is unsweetened, so if you use it in a smoothie, you may want to include a sweetener such as agave nectar or honey.

A smoothie can be a quick, simple, nutrient-dense meal if you add the right ingredients. Get creative and find the blend that works for you. Here are a few delicious recipes. Cheers!

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Green Dream

2 kiwis
1 stalk of celery
Handful of spinach

Ginger Warm-Up

Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Handful of chard (or spinach or romaine)
Fresh ginger

Almond-Chocolate Charge-Up

Almond milk
1 tablespoon hemp protein
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon maca
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

Preparation is as simple as adding all the ingredients to a blender and processing until smooth.

Select one of these delicious recipes from Daniella Chace’s More Smoothies for Life cookbook and put your healthy ingredients to work. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Preparation of all of these smoothies is as simple as adding all the ingredients to a blender and processing until smooth.

Banana Chocolate

Thick and creamy, this chocolate milkshake is powerful medicine.
1 cup milk
1 frozen banana, cut in thirds
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
In addition to protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, nutritional yeast contains functional and beneficial components such as beta-1,3 glucan, trehalose, mannan, and glutathione. Studies have shown that these components have such potential health benefits as improved immune response, reduction of cholesterol, and anticancer properties.
Yield: 1 serving

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Immune Charger

This combination is very light, fresh, and surprisingly sweet.
1 cup carrot juice
1 clove of fresh garlic, sliced
½ cup apple juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Clinical studies have found that ginger reduces the pain and the swelling caused by osteoarthritis and that ginger relieved pain and/or swelling in 75 percent of arthritis patients. Apples are also a good source of the following nutrients: polyphenols, which are known for their antimicrobial action and infection-prevention abilities; glutathione, a potent antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease and cancer; and malic acid, a fruit acid that is a powerful chelator, or binder of heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. Carrots are rich in the fat-soluble vitamins known as carotenoids that protect cells from environmental damage.
Yield: 1 serving

Strawberries and Cream

This creamy strawberry shake is full of energy-supporting nutrients and protein. It can be a snack or a meal replacement.
1 cup vanilla soymilk
½ cup plain yogurt
1 cup frozen strawberries
½ cup silken tofu
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, yogurt has probiotics, and soy is a protein source. A powerful cancer-prevention agent in berries is ellagic acid, present as ellagitannins in the tiny seeds of strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries, which has shown promising results in inhibiting tumor growth. Ellagic acid appears to work by acting as an antioxidant, deactivating specific carcinogens, and helping slow the reproduction of cancer cells.
Yield: 2 servings

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Recipes for Weight Gain

Maintaining a healthy body weight and making good food choices that give your body the right nutrients can sometimes be a challenge. But if you’re preparing for cancer treatment, now more than ever is the time to focus on your body’s nutritional needs. The fact is that maintaining a healthy body weight may contribute to your recovery and the success of your treatment plan.

Keep in mind that a thin, underweight body may not be able to tolerate the stress of cancer treatment. At the other end of the spectrum, there is evidence that being overweight may increase the chance of cancer recurrence. So whether your goal is weight loss or weight gain during treatment, you’ll want to be sure that you’re getting the nutrients your body needs to heal while carefully eliminating foods that no longer serve you.

The following recipes may be helpful if you’re trying to increase your weight or avoid weight loss. They are from More Smoothies for Life by Daniella Chace (Random House, 2007).

For best results, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Served chilled.


Peanut Butter Cup

1 cup organic milk

1 cup ice

¼ cup nonfat dry milk or protein powder

1 tablespoon organic flaxseed oil

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Via @:

2 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter

1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ

Use organic milk or a milk substitute such as rice milk, almond milk, oat milk, or soymilk; whey also works well in smoothies because it dissolves easily, making creamy drinks. It also contains detoxifying agents such as glutathione that help remove metals and environmental chemicals from our bodies. If you are allergic or sensitive to dairy products, however, try one of the alternatives such as soy, rice, or pea protein.

Chai Crème Frappe

1 cup chai tea

1 cup milk

½ cup ice

¼ cup nonfat dried milk

1 tablespoon honey

Nonfat dry milk adds creaminess to recipes and a substantial dose of protein. Each tablespoon adds more than a gram of easily metabolized protein.


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