For a beautiful start to the day, nothing beats an acai bowl layered with fruit puree, fresh berries and granola, right? They’re great for your body because acai berries are packed with antioxidants — and the bowls look gorgeous! Plus, they are perfect Instagram proof you make smart, healthy choices.
(Cue wailing sound.) Why didn’t anyone tell me the truth?
If only I could return to those innocent times and my love affair with the cute shops that sell my favorite smoothie bowls. Instead, I’m here to share the sad truth: Acai bowls are indeed sugar bombs.
A massive and ooey-gooey Cinnabon classic roll has less sugar than a 28-ounce acai-puree-based Warrior Bowl from healthy-eating chain Vitality Bowls. That’s right, you’re reading correctly. The cinnamon roll has 58 grams of sugar. The large “warrior bowl” has 64 grams of sugar — and yes, its list of ingredients includes flax seed, broccoli and goji berries.
EMPTY CALORIES OR NUTRITIOUS
Clearly, acai bowls are far superior to cinnamon rolls when it comes to nutrition. Some of their sweetness comes from “naturally occurring” sugars found in fruit — which are also packed with good stuff like fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. However, the hidden truth is that many so-called healthy bowls also feature dietary enemy number 1: “added sugars.” Stuff like honey drizzle, agave nectar or sweetened granola all count in that category.
According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of “added sugar” women should eat is 25 grams per day (6 teaspoons or about 100 calories). To complicate things, acai bowls include a blend of many ingredients, so it’s not easy to decipher how much of the total sugar is added versus naturally occurring.
READ MORE > ASK THE DIETITIAN: IS IT OK TO EAT SUGARY FRUIT?
This begs the question: Exactly when did we step into a world of double speak where supposed health food actually dumps more sugar into your body than one of America’s most notorious diet busters? (Or is it just me who considers Cinnabon a notorious diet buster.)
To start, acai is most widely consumed in the form of frozen puree: It’s naturally tart and tastes best blended with bananas or other fruit, lightly sweetened nut milk (say, coconut or almond) and extras. All this fuels the bowl’s high sugar content. Here’s the most ironic part: The tiny acai berry is one of the only fruits on the planet that’s naturally sugar free. Yet when this happy, healthy little berry met the American market, it launched a thousand sugar bombs.
HOW TO COPE
Fans of the bowls might justifiably argue that not every acai bowl has that much sugar. True. Especially if you eat a thimble-sized portion. But who wants to do that? Instead, if you’re looking to decrease dietary sugar, the best choice is to avoid the bowls and go for a simple dish of blueberries and sliced banana. Sigh.
Another option is to make bowls at home using unsweetened acai puree and skipping extra sweeteners or decadent toppings. Yet that takes away the convenience of hanging out in the cute shops that sell the big, beautiful acai bowls (which is what got me hooked on these things to begin with). Or — and this is probably the best idea — stop seeing the bowls as a daily meal and more as an occasional and, very delightful, indulgence.