A little protein can turn a smoothie from a snack to a more substantial meal, but the choices of protein powders available in my grocery aisle and online feel overwhelming and expensive, which is maybe why I've never found one that I love.
But I started experimenting with other protein additions to my morning smoothie and stumbled upon a combinations of nuts and seeds that blended up easily and gave the smoothies a protein boost — not to mention numerous other benefits in the form of vitamins, fiber, and fatty acids. The ingredients are readily available in the grocery store and can be easily mixed up in a jar for an on-hand smoothie booster at all times.
A Seed Protein Mix for Smoothies
Culinary seeds, like sesame, flax, and chia, are small but mighty, packing a nutritional punch despite their tiny size. Seeds are high in fats, complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber and combining their nutritional power makes for a more filling smoothie.
You can use any combination of seeds you like or have on hand, but over the last year of trying different combinations I've landed on a mixture that is equal parts flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and raw hulled pumpkin seeds.
How much extra protein does my seed mix add?
Two tablespoons of this mixture is about five grams of protein, so if you add a quarter-cup, that's 10 extra grams of protein in your smoothie — and all from the power of plants!
How to Store the Homemade Protein Mix
You could go the extra mile and grind these together into a powder for adding to smoothies, but it shortens their shelf life considerably. Instead combine these seeds in an airtight container and stash it in the fridge. Add a few tablespoons to each smoothie and grind away.
Why These Seeds?
Here's the why and how each of these ended up in my protein mix.
Flax seeds are noted for their high omega-3 fatty-acid content, but they are also high in fiber and vitamin B. Flax seeds are often used in vegan baking as a replacement for eggs, so they are worth keeping around for more than just smoothies. Ground flax seeds will spoil more quickly than whole, but the ground seeds are easier to digest, and they release more of their nutrients.
I tend to buy ground flax seeds or grind them myself (a coffee grinder works well for this) before adding them to the protein mixture, because they seem to purée more smoothly this way, but it also means I mix smaller batches of my protein mix at a time.
Read more: The Original Superfood: Flax Seeds
Just to be clear — while edible hemp seeds are part of the cannabis family, they don't have the same elevating effects as their more notorious cousins. These tiny but mighty seeds are packed with all the essential amino acids, which makes them a complete protein source on their own. They also provide essential fatty acids, fiber, and iron. These seeds should be stored in the fridge for prolonged shelf life.
Read more: Hemp Seeds: Rich, Nutty & Nutritious
Once synonymous with a shaggy terra cotta pet, chia seeds are now best known for their nutritional superpowers in everything from pudding to smoothies. These tiny seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and dietary fiber. Buy these in the bulk bin of your grocery store, as they have a relatively long shelf life and you'll use them often outside of this smoothie mix too.
Read more: Inside the Spice Cabinet: Chia Seeds
Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Now this seed might seem a little out of place among these tiny seeds, purely based on its size, but after trying this protein mix with sesame and sunflower seeds, I gave raw hulled pumpkin seeds a try last summer and haven't looked back since. They purée up surprisingly well among the large seeds, while giving plenty of healthy fats, protein, and even more flavor. They have a more neutral flavor than the other large seeds I've tried and make my morning smoothie more filling.
How to Use This Smoothie Protein Mix
Since smoothie recipes vary widely on their existing protein content depending on the ingredients, you can use this mix as a protein booster for smoothies that are already rich in protein, using as little as two tablespoons, or up to a quarter-cup to really enhance fruit- and vegetable-heavy smoothies.
If your smoothie recipe calls for one or more of the following seeds (chia seeds are frequently used in smoothie recipes), omit it from the smoothie and use this mix instead.
Homemade Vegan Protein Mix
1/2 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
Combine the seeds in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to two weeks. Add 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup into your smoothies and blend until thoroughly combined.
- Chia seeds: It's best to consume smoothies made with chia seeds right away, as they will continue to absorb water and thicken over time.