Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Jan

5 Sweet and Savory Primal Shakes

Some days, a fork and spoon can feel like a bit of a hassle. Okay, not really, but the temptation to simply drink our food is one we give into now and then when convenience is a priority. A Primal shake is a good way to mix things up, treat yourself to a healthy snack in the afternoon or add a little extra something to an evening meal. Some shakes, even without the addition of dairy or added sugar, can even satisfy a hankering for dessert.

When you’re making a shake, it’s tempting to throw anything that looks good into the blender, stick a straw in it and suck it down. But be careful; what started as a healthy snack or meal-replacement can quickly turn into a huge glass of carbs and sugar.

In the following recipes we avoid this pitfall by limiting sweeteners and starting our shakes with a solid base of healthy fats, ideally, 50-70% of the total calories. Coconut milk, nut butters and avocado are a good starting point, and you don’t have to choose just one. Coconut milk and nut butters are practically decadent together and coconut milk with avocado is a soothing combination worth trying. The avocado loses all its savory inclinations and blends into a shake with a slightly sweet flavor and incredibly creamy texture.  An occasional spoonful of seeds will add fat too, as will a drizzle of coconut or olive oil, or an egg if you’re so inclined. Which leads us to the next layer in our shakes: protein.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to shoot for 10-30 grams or so of protein. Again, nut butters are great for this, and a scoop of whey protein can boost the protein content of any shake. Once you have your fat and protein in place, the last thing to consider is keeping the carbs in check.

Try not to total more than 25 g per shake; the lower the better. Though, of course the precise carb count will depend on your particular goals. Berries work well here. Their carb/antioxidant ratio is tough to beat and they’re high in flavor, so a mere 1/2 cup is usually plenty.

Even if you concoct the perfect ratio of fat, protein, and carbs, it’s all for naught if the shake doesn’t taste good. If you throw ingredients into a blender in clean-out-the-fridge mode you might end up with some questionable flavors and colors. Then again, you might stumble onto some combinations that are pure genius. We already mentioned the avocado/coconut combination we stumbled upon. We’re equally fond of the refreshing combination of blueberries and kale, and a savory shake made with tomato and cucumber. We’ve provided recipes for these shakes and a few more to get you started, but experimenting is the best way to come up with your own favorite. For example, the last two recipes are delicious as-is but are low in fat, so you might want to either add some fat or create them as a complement to a fatty Primal meal.

Tell us what you think in the comment board. Share your thoughts on your personal favorite Primal Shake concoctions. Grok on!

Coconut Avocado

  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 2-4 tablespoons water (optional, if needed for texture)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup ice

FitDay says:

Calories: 461
Fat: 36.2 g
Carbs: 17.2 g
Protein: 26.9 g


Chocolate Almond

  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 – 1 cup ice
  • 2-4 tablespoons water (or other liquid)

FitDay says:

Calories: 519
Fat: 43.7 g
Carbs: 16.5 g
Protein: 26.0 g

Spicy Tomato

  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato
  • 1/4 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/3 cup frozen spinach or a small handful raw spinach
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce or black pepper, or to taste
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 1/2 cup ice

FitDay says:

Calories: 148
Fat: 10.9 g
Carbs: 13.2 g
Protein: 3.1 g

Berry-based shakes tend to be higher in carbs and lower in fat, which is why we prefer drinking them right before or after a meal that is high in fat and protein, like eggs or steak. You can, however, up the fat content in either of these shakes by adding half an avocado, a spoonful of coconut milk or oil,  nut butter, or yogurt if you eat dairy.

Vanilla Berry

  • 1/3 cup frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup coconut water
  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • sprinkle of cinnamon or fresh mint

FitDay says:

Calories: 177
Fat: 0.9 g
Carbs: 26.5 g
Protein: 17.9 g

Blueberry Kale

  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup coconut water
  • 1 stalk kale, chopped (stem removed). Kale is easiest to blend if you either boil it for 1-2 minutes or put it in the freezer for 30 minutes or so.
  • 1 scoop whey protein

FitDay says:

Calories: 166
Fat: 1.8 g
Carbs: 22.8 g
Protein: 19.9 g

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Thanks for the super ideas!!! Yummy!! They all look great!

    iisierra wrote on January 14th, 2010
  2. Blended fruit smoothies are one of my favourite sweet treats I get from my girlfriend. I`m gonna definitely try these recipes out because now we mostly make them from frozen berries, bananas and pears. This is something new and interesting!

    TomGreenwald wrote on January 14th, 2010
  3. My favorite is a half cup of heavy cream, about a quarter cup of blackberries, a scoop of egg protein, a bit of ice and a little sweetener if the berries are a little tart.

    Heaven in a glass. :)

    Josh wrote on January 14th, 2010
  4. Chocolate whey protein and avocado mix well with water and make a pretty good shake for race day. I didn’t believe it until I tried it out.

    Dave wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • which whey protein do is best?

      rui wrote on May 18th, 2011
  5. We use fresh, young, Thai coconuts often in our smoothies. Alternatively, almond milk or hazelnut milk works well as a liquid base, too. If we want the coconut flavor, but don’t have coconut milk or fresh coconut, using a tablespoon of coconut oil works, too.

    Frozen bananas are also a great way to ‘thicken’ a sweet shake, but we’ve never tried avocado. Great idea!

    West wrote on January 14th, 2010
  6. We’ve found that our Vitamix blender makes short work of Kale if you put it in first with a little water, no need for boiling or freezing.
    Thanks for posting these recipes I’m looking forward to trying them out!

    Craig wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • Vita-Mix will make short work of anything 😉

      Grok wrote on January 14th, 2010
  7. Does kale work if you’re making your smoothies in an ordinary blender? (as opposed to a high-powered one/a Vitamix) Some of us aren’t yet so blessed!

    Have never tried it, for fear it wouldn’t blend sufficiently.

    lo wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • not really-you really need a Ktec or Vitamix to break down the fiber of the kale. But if you have hypothyroid be sure to cook yr kale first before blending (kale is goiterogenic)

      marci wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • I put kale in my $20 blender from Walmart. Blends just fine.

      Nicole wrote on January 25th, 2010
      • Once you get a vitamix your quality for “fine” will go up 5 notches.

        Edward wrote on January 14th, 2014
        • seriously $20 vs $389 (costco canada). an increase of just 5 notches but almost 20 times the price. my 25 year-old $20 also does just fine. it’s this offhanded arrogance that sometimes comes with paleo that is sooooo tedious. not everyone can drop hundreds of dollars to turn their veggies into a slurry–which seems oddly unpaleo

          bonita wrote on March 7th, 2014
    • Yes it does! But there are a few “tricks” that make the Kale blend up nice and smooth so it doesn’t come out all chunky. I wrote an article on this because I do not have a Vitamix or Blendtec but I wanted my Kale smoothies to be…well…smooth! Here’s how you do it:

      Tim wrote on June 9th, 2013
      • What a great idea! And I can’t tell you how much Kale I’ve wasted because it does go bad rather quickly. I can’t always eat Kale as fast as it goes bad. Also I’ve posted your article on my blog “Old Is The New Black” because more of *us* should be eating better and Kale is the best but not particularly good boiled or made into chips. Thanks!

        lettymontana wrote on October 29th, 2014
  8. I’m drooooooling!

    gilliebean wrote on January 14th, 2010
  9. Spicy tomato , sounds great.

    thania1 wrote on January 14th, 2010
  10. Mark, you have this incredible ability to write a post on whatever my mind has been thinking about lately…I’ve been thinking about trying to make more shakes as of late(possibly investing in a vitamix) and then you write an awesome post like this. I will have to try these out with my current blender..they look awesome.

    Joel wrote on January 14th, 2010
  11. Sorry for the double post…but where do you all suggest getting all these coconut products(water, milk)? I have some coconut oil but cannot find the other two that easily at my local grocery.

    Joel wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • If your supermarket has an international section (most do) you can find coconut milk with the Thai foods. Whole Foods has a house brand coconut milk which is the only one I’ve encountered that will turn into near-custard if you put it in the fridge–kind of primal pudding!

      Trish wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • you can find coconut milk in the ethnic aisle with the asian foods, and coconut water can generally be found in the baking aisle.

      Benjamin wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • Making coconut milk is easy!!!

        2 cups organic desiccated unsweetened coconut

        6 cups hot water

        Pour 3 cups hot water over coconut in blender and let sit for 20 minutes.
        Blend for 2-3 minutes and pour through fine sieve into container, pressing to remove most of the liquid. Add remaining 3 cups of hot water to blender, along with coconut pulp in sieve and let sit for another 20 minutes. Blend again and press through sieve. Discard pulp. Refrigerate or freeze milk in 1 cup portions (or whatever size you want/need)

        You will never need to buy canned coconut milk again!

        Earthmama wrote on January 20th, 2010
  12. 4 oz. Coconut milk kefir
    4 oz. water
    1 raw egg
    1 scoop chocolate whey protein
    1/2 banana
    spoonful almond butter
    spoonful coconut oil

    Filling and satisfying

    Dave wrote on January 14th, 2010
  13. If kale is too bitter for some – spinach is a great replacement (1-2 Cups). Avocado is definitely adds some creaminess to a shake! I throw in some wheatgrass as well.

    Tara wrote on January 14th, 2010
  14. Beautiful pictures, by the way.

    I liked to add raw, pastured or organic egg yolks and coconut oil to my smoothies. A friend adds coconut flour for added fiber and protein.

    Kimi wrote on January 14th, 2010
  15. 1/4 c coconut milk
    a little water
    1/4 c pumpkin
    1/2 banana
    1 egg
    1t. vanilla

    Jan wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • This sounds unbelievably good. Think you could add a bit of cinnamon? It might taste like a pumpkin pie.

      I’m having this tomorrow (I’d have it right now if I wasn’t going to bed).


      Lance wrote on August 22nd, 2011
  16. I’m sitting here at work eating my big salad, but now I wished I had a smoothie for lunch. I wonder if anyone would notice if I plugged a blender in underneath my desk? haha.

    Kate wrote on January 14th, 2010
  17. Great looking shakes…I like adding about 1/4 cup whole plain yogurt to my shakes. Really gives them a creamy texture.

    Mike Cheliak wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • I use greek yogurt too. I couldn’t figure out why none of these recipes were using it….. because it’s dairy I suppose, but I don’t have any trouble with dairy, so…. yum!

      Jenni39 wrote on January 15th, 2010
  18. Worker Bee; you rock!

    Daniel Merk wrote on January 14th, 2010
  19. Man, Those seem so Primal?

    Michael wrote on January 14th, 2010
  20. Spicy tomato looks amaaaaazing, but it set off a fierce Bloody Mary craving.

    Shine wrote on January 14th, 2010
  21. The chocolate almond looks pretty good but I wonder what brings out the sweet flavor of the cocoa powder, is it the milk?

    David Stillwagon wrote on January 14th, 2010
  22. And in case you don’t want all the yummy fat in an avocado, the stores now sell Lite avocados with 30% less fat… WHAT??? I can’t believe that some idiot scientist decided to screw with the avocado and take out the fat… next thing they’ll make coconut oil with 0% saturated fat.

    Ryan wrote on January 14th, 2010
  23. Here’s a recipe that I like a lot:
    2 scoops whey protein

    harden up.

    LDOG wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • you mean, harden the f up. a great youtube vid, btw.

      wd wrote on January 15th, 2010
  24. Doesn’t being primal somehow indicate that we should be using the chewing mechanism for food (which a shake is).

    Really? wrote on January 14th, 2010
    • And not puting deodorant on either =D

      Mary wrote on January 14th, 2010
      • well, I use botanical deoderants, etc. But point well taken. I just wonder whether the chewing mechanism is important in the digestive process.

        Really? wrote on January 14th, 2010
        • if you’re worried about digestion, i think the blender takes care of the “chewing” for you.

          FlyNavyWife wrote on January 15th, 2010
  25. There is a blog I follow “Oh She Glows” and she makes “Green Monsters”. It’s amazing how much spinach or kale can be thrown into a shake yet not tasted when fruit and coconut water is added. Very healthy and clean:)

    These are yummy recipes, thanks for sharing Mark!


    Barbara(Blood, Sweat and Heels) wrote on January 14th, 2010
  26. I love doing green smoothies. They really pack a bunch of nutrients into my breakfast. You’re right though, many smoothies end up being sugar traps. I hate that so many smoothie places load sugar into the blender. Fruit is naturally sweet on it’s own. No sugar needed!

    Anon wrote on January 14th, 2010
  27. My wife & I share a smoothy every morning. Half cup frozen berries, 2 scoops whey protein, a little fruit juice, a lotta water, liquid D3, and liquid fish oil. That holds us over for a while.

    bubba29 wrote on January 14th, 2010
  28. What about using raw eggs in smoothies? Much cheaper than whey protein. If you wash the shells, there’s a very low chance of getting salmonella. I’ve been making eggnog-y smoothies with egg, cream milk and cinnamon.

    Libby wrote on January 14th, 2010
  29. I am eager to try these shakes out. In the meantime I drank this for my postworkout tonight:
    1 cup almond milk
    1 cup raspberries (frozen)
    25 g whey protein

    What a great snack following a great kettlebell routine!

    Jeff P(P stands for Primal) wrote on January 14th, 2010
  30. Oh my god, that Avocado Coconut shake looks delicious. I love avocado. Some absolutely fantastic recipies here guys.

    Richard Shelmerdine wrote on January 15th, 2010
    • I agree. I want to try that avocado/coconut shake ASAP!

      TJ wrote on April 18th, 2011
  31. What a wonderful post, Mark! I have a smoothie for breakfast every day, but mine is pretty boring with just coconut milk, water, and whey. This will help me to shake things up a bit, so to speak!

    And thank you so much for including whey in your ingredients. People poo-poo whey a lot on the forums but it really is an efficient way for busy people like me to pack on the protein at 6am on a work/school day!!

    Jamie wrote on January 15th, 2010
  32. Absolutely delicious. Thanx for the great post

    Mukundan wrote on January 15th, 2010
  33. Great recipes. Looking forward to trying them out.

    dawnaurora wrote on January 15th, 2010
  34. Mark…

    What about the insulin spike all of these shakes are going to cause (yes even whey protein will spike insulin and cause an increase of IGF-1)?

    Why not just eat real food, with fiber?

    I believe these are about as un-primal as it can get when it comes to regulating hormone levels. Adding fat isn’t going to stop the insulin as much as people think here.

    Go eat a grass-fed steak. Its better all together.

    George wrote on January 16th, 2010
    • I have to say as a type 1 diabetic that it is true that whey protein powder raises blood sugar- a scoop of whey protein raises my blood sugar about as much and as quickly as a gala apple.

      That being said- I think that most of the readers at Mark’s Daily Apple are comfortable eating apples, so…

      Mady wrote on January 20th, 2010
  35. When I am too lazy to clean a blender, I make a morning “shake” in a saucepan. Melt 1 tbsp of cocoa powder in warm water (I shut off the flame when it reaches 110F), then mix in 2 tbsp of whey protein and plenty of heavy cream. This works great with coconut oil instead of the cream, but then you need the blender to make a nice emulsion (in which case I might throw in 1/8 tsp cinnamon and a bit of hazelnut butter).

    Libby, I love eggs, but the bulk whey protein isolate I’m using is cheaper for a given amount of protein (it’s about $7.50/lb). I can’t get decent eggs for less than $3.50 a dozen, and the good ones cost $6+ at the farm market.

    Greg wrote on January 16th, 2010
  36. If your goal is fat loss, is it ok to start using coconut milk in smoothies instead of water?

    HollyinAus wrote on January 17th, 2010
    • If you don’t get a kind filled with sugar.

      Unsweetened coconut milk is low-cal, has almost zero carbs, and good fats (MCTs).

      Grok wrote on January 17th, 2010
      • I was thinking…

        165ml of lite coconut milk (thats the size of the small can here in Aus)
        100grams of berries
        25grams of whey protein isolate

        its about 10grams of carbs, 30 grams protein and 15grams of fat…thats not to much fat to have in one meal?

        HollyinAus wrote on January 17th, 2010

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