They’re trendy and colorful, but are acai and smoothie bowls actually good for you? Exactly how the nutrition stacks up isn’t an easy question to answer: certain ingredient combinations can ratchet up calories and carbs faster than you can say “Nutella drizzle.” Fortunately, with a little know-how, you can make smart choices and avoid creating a sugar bomb.
THE HEALTHY BENEFITS
Acai bowls (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) are based on a puree made of frozen acai berries that may be blended with banana or other ingredients to reach the consistency of a very thick smoothie. Spooned into a bowl and topped with fresh berries, sliced bananas and crunchy granola, it’s the vegan, dairy-free breakfast of champions (and the fodder for a million Instagram posts).
Roughly the size of a grape, the dark purple acai berry is packed with antioxidants (yes, more than blueberries). These compounds help neutralize free radicals in the body that can cause premature aging, heart disease and certain cancers. Acai, which comes from a type of palm plant, has been a staple food of the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin for thousands of years. Health-conscious consumers in the U.S. caught on to the berry in the early 2000s, and its reputation as a “superfood” spread quickly.
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Smoothie bowls are built on a yogurt base instead of acai puree. Notable health benefits include calcium, whopping doses of probiotics that may aid digestive health and muscle-building protein (particularly if they’re made with higher-protein Greek yogurt). Like acai bowls, they’re versatile. Options range from the classic breakfast combo of berries and crunchy granola to more adventurous territory of avocado, papaya and pumpkin seeds. Go green by blending spinach, kale or avocado into the yogurt base or opt for healthy but decadent additions like coconut, nut butter or cocoa nibs.
THE UNHEALTHY DRAWBACKS
Watch for bowls that supersize the carbs. The RDA for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day, a number based upon the amount of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) required to fuel an adult’s brain, red blood cells and central nervous system. Some smoothie bowls can clock in at 600 calories or more with over 100 grams of carbohydrates, which exceeds the the calorie and carb budget in just one sitting. Fortunately, if you watch what you order or consume smaller portions, you can avoid a calorie bomb. Work acai and smoothie bowls into your diet as a substantial meal no different than, say, an omelet or scramble — not a drink, small snack or “light” breakfast.
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HERE ARE FIVE TIPS FOR MAKING HEALTHY SMOOTHIE BOWLS
- For a non-dairy option, blend frozen acai with half a banana and coconut water or a splash of almond or soy milk.
- Mix unsweetened yogurt into smoothie bowls and puree it with whole frozen fruit instead of juice to avoid additional sugar.
- For an extra dose of filling protein, add a small amount of nut butter or Greek yogurt to the bowl.
- Go easy on crunchy toppings to avoid excess calories. A scattering of toasted coconut flakes or a few tablespoons of lightly sweetened granola should do the trick.
- Try a green version: spinach and kale are nutritious and bulk up the bowl without adding sugar.