Why? While green smoothies always have good-for-you ingredients (greens + frozen fruit + liquid of choice), new research suggests that combining coconut milk plus spinach in the form of a smoothie is a great idea for those hoping to dial up the antioxidants in the drink.
We spoke with Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, to learn why this simple combination is loaded with anti-inflammatory benefits (hint: it’s thanks to lutein, a powerful antioxidant found in spinach). Plus, we share three easy coconut milk green smoothie recipes to whirl up tomorrow morning… or immediately.
Why coconut milk and spinach boost antioxidant levels when making green smoothies
In a recent study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers in Sweden found that lutein, an antioxidant in spinach (and other dark leafy vegetables), is best “liberated” for nutrient absorption when combined with coconut milk.
“Lutein is a pigment that is found in many foods, including egg yolks, avocado, and spinach. Consumption of lutein is linked to eye-health benefits and brain-health benefits. Some data shows that adequate consumption of lutein is linked to a reduced risk of developing macular degeneration,” Manaker says.
One way to get more of this eye-health-boosting antioxidant? Pair it with the right—aka “synergistic”—ingredients. “Fat can help the body absorb lutein. That said, while it isn’t ‘bad’ to consume lutein sources without fat, your body may reap more benefits if you consume it paired with certain foods,” Manaker says. “Eating large quantities of lutein doesn’t guarantee that it will actually be released from the food matrix and be absorbed. Since lutein is referred to as lipophilic, meaning that it dissolves in fats, taking it with a fat source helps the body use this carotenoid.”
But this isn’t exactly new news. “Previous data by the same researchers showed that dairy fat can improve the lutein content in spinach smoothies,” saus Manaker. That said, what’s novel about this new study is that they delved deeper into the effects of alt-milk options, more specifically, which revealed that some kinds are equally as (if not more) effective than dairy-based milk. “This new data suggests that coconut milk is the best choice for those who are living a dairy-free lifestyle and want to maximize their lutein absorption when consuming spinach smoothies,” Manaker says.
To put this into perspective, the study showed that high-fat and medium-fat cow’s milk, as well as coconut milk with and without additives, were found to significantly improve lutein liberation by 36 percent, 30 percent, 25 percent, and 42 percent, respectively, compared to blending spinach with water alone. Meanwhile, soymilk with and without additives significantly reduced lutein liberation by 40 percent and 61 percent, respectively.
Although the research presented is promising, Manaker says any form of veggie intake is good in her book. So limiting oneself to only drinking green smoothies if, and only if, coconut milk is available isn’t the goal, either. “While this study is interesting, as a dietitian, I am thrilled when people consume spinach smoothies, regardless of which liquid they use. Spinach smoothies are typically packed with fruits, veggies, and other nutrient-packed foods,” she says. “And since most Americans are not eating enough produce daily, any method that people choose to include more fruits and veggies in their diet is a positive step on a health journey.”
TL;DR? If you’re an almond milk lover or an oat milk aficionado, Manaker says to have at it. “I wouldn’t let their milk preference deter them from continuing to enjoy their green smoothie any which way they like,” she says. But if you are in the market for coconut spinach green smoothies, here are three great options to sip on.
3 easy green smoothie recipes packed with antioxidants
1. Blueberry Spinach Smoothie
You’re only six ingredients away from making this delicious blueberry spinach smoothie by Choosing Chia that tastes like a tropical getaway. Made with coconut milk, blueberries, banana, spinach, and maple syrup, you’ll never want to make a “green” smoothie any other way again.
Get the recipe: Blueberry Spinach Smoothie
2. Tropical Green Smoothie
Why limit yourself to one type of alt milk when you can have ‘em all? This easy tropical green smoothie recipe by Eating Bird Food combines the best of both worlds—almond and coconut milk—for a delicious and refreshing beverage.
Get the recipe: Tropical Green Smoothie
3. Avocado green smoothie
Want even more anti-inflammatory benefits? Look no further. This avocado green smoothie recipe by Eats by April combines ingredients like ginger, avocado, mango, spinach, cilantro, lime, and of course, coconut milk for a one-two punch: Loads of flavor and antioxidants all in one.
Get the recipe: Tropical Green Smoothie with Avocado and Spinach
An RD explains the benefits of drinking green juice: