They’re trendy and colorful, but are acai and smoothie bowls actually good for you? On the plus side, these bowls make it easier to get fruits and even veggies. The downside is that certain ingredients are high in sugar and total calories, so you can often eat more than you intend. Fortunately, with a little know-how you can maximize the benefits while avoiding the potential pitfalls.
THE HEALTHY BENEFITS OF SMOOTHIE BOWLS
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. You can also get a protein boost by adding in some of your favorite protein powder.
THE LIMITATIONS OF SMOOTHIE BOWLS
Without being mindful of the ingredients, it’s easy to make acai and smoothie bowls very unbalanced in macros. They can be high in sugar and carbohydrates — to the tune of over 100 grams of carbs sometimes. And, without realizing it, the calories can creep up substantially.
Luckily, with a little planning, you can avoid these potential pitfalls. First, consider whether you’re intending this to be a substantial meal, a light meal, or a snack; and plan the portion size accordingly. You can even consider splitting a larger bowl with a friend. Second, look for a bowl that is more balanced with a variety of foods that aren’t just blended fruit. Look for yogurt, nut butter, vegetables, protein powders, and ask to swap juices for other liquids like milk, coconut water, or even just plain water.
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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.
Originally published July 2017, updated July 2023
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