Are acai bowls really healthy?

Are acai bowls really healthy?

click photo for more information
Are acai bowls really healthy?
An acai bowl is basically a smoothie in a bowl made from a packet of frozen acai berry puree, blended with other healthy ingredients like milk, frozen fruit, and nut butters. Then, it's decorated with those aforementioned toppings. If you're a sucker for Instagram-worthy food porn, chances are you've lusted over an acai bowl or […]
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An acai bowl is basically a smoothie in a bowl made from a packet of frozen acai berry puree, blended with other healthy ingredients like milk, frozen fruit, and nut butters. Then, it's decorated with those aforementioned toppings.

If you're a sucker for Instagram-worthy food porn, chances are you've lusted over an acai bowl or two during your scrolling.

After all, acai's vibrant purple hue is kind of hard to miss-well, that and the abundance of delicious-looking fruit, granola, and nuts that always seem to be perfectly sprinkled on top of it.

An acai bowl is basically a smoothie in a bowl made from a packet of frozen acai berry puree, blended with other healthy ingredients like milk, frozen fruit, and nut butters. Then, it's decorated with those aforementioned toppings.

The end result is a gorgeous bowl that leaves you amazed nature can create something so naturally bright and colorful. And surely because it is found in nature, it's bound to be healthy, right?

 

First, what exactly is acai?

The acai berry comes from the acai palm tree, which is commonly found in subtropic regions of Central and South America. In the United States, açaí is typically purchased frozen or in juices because its fragile exterior make it susceptible to bruising, says Sonya Angelone, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Acai berries are relatively low in sugar compared to some other fruits and have about 70 calories in a handful-sized serving, Angelone says. The berries also pack the same antioxidants and, therefore, disease-fighting potential, found in blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.

So are acai bowls healthy?

Let's start with the good news. Torey Armul, R.D.N., says the average acai bowl is packed with nutrients (like calcium and Vitamin A), healthy fats, plus lots of filling and good-for-you fiber. 

The downside is that acai bowls can also be high in calories and added sugars, Armul says, depending on how they're made. (BTW, the same goes for any smoothie.)

"The best ones are filled with vitamins and minerals and also have enough protein and fiber to fill you up," she says. "The worst ones are a glorified dessert."

Angelone explains the typical base for an acai bowl is frozen puree or acai powder blended with water or milk. Not so bad, right? But the fruit isn't naturally sweet, which means acai puree is often mixed with fruit juice or added sugars.

And, while some toppings can be healthy-like sliced fruit or berries, chia seeds, or other seeds and nuts-"the calories and sugar add up when options like coconut flakes, chocolate, or granola are loaded on top," she says.

How can I make a healthy acai bowl?

For starters, Armul says you can try making your bowl at home, where you can keep an eye on ingredients.

"Be sure to also include a source of protein for satiety, like Greek yogurt, milk, or peanut butter," she says, "and don't pile on extra sugar with juice, honey, syrup, and cane sugar." Angelone says you'll also want to opt for unsweetened frozen acai. 

If you're out and about, then she says your best bet is to customize your bowl, and keep it as simple as possible: Opt for fruit mix-ins and those protein options, if available. Then go for fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds for toppings.

"Don't be afraid to also ask for an ingredient list to see how much sugar is added, if any," Angelone says, adding that some bowls can pack anywhere from 20 to 60 grams (!!) of sugar, depending on the size. From there, keep your portion size in check (order the small and not the large.)

Healthy acai bowl checklist: 

  • Protein (Greek Yogurt, nut butter)

  • Healthy toppings (nuts, seeds, fruit)

  • Skip added sugar (granola, sweetened coconut)

  • Opt for a small serving

Is there a healthier alternative?

Armul and Angelone agree that it really is okay to have an acai bowl every now and then.

 

But if you're looking for an alternative, then Armul says her personal favorite is a smoothie with Greek yogurt, milk, frozen fruit, and flaxseeds. She maintains, however, that acai bowls are fine in moderation, as long as they are made with the right ingredients.

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