Acai bowls are one of my all-time favorite foods, hands down. They're the perfect frosty breakfast treat, packed with refreshing tropical flavors and nutrients and topped with the sweetness of fresh fruit. Every bite reminds me of sitting on a breezy beach, drenched in the summertime sun of my coastal hometown in Southern California. But there's a caveat to these island-inspired treats: if you don't make them the right way, they can get a little out of hand in terms of caloric and sugar content!
A quick refresher: acai (pronounced: ahh-sigh-ee) is a berry from the Amazon packed with the antioxidants anthocyanidin, proanthocyanidin, and flavonoid. It's nutrient-dense, flavorful, and super tasty . . . like a berry-cocoa flavor. You can find it in health food stores, Whole Foods, and even Costco in frozen packs, juice, or powder form.
Most commonly, acai is made into smoothie bowls that are layered with granola, fresh sliced fruit, nuts and seeds, and honey or bee pollen. Sounds delicious, right? And it IS! But to ensure you're creating a healthier meal with your acai bowl, you've gotta follow some guidelines.
I consulted nutrition coach Carrie McMahon and registered dietitian Lori Zanini, who had very similar feedback — an acai bowl is an awesome all-natural treat, but the way you make it determines how healthy it actually is. "They're a healthier alternative to most treats," said McMahon. "It's just all about balance." Here are their tips for ensuring that your smoothie bowl is actually good for you.
- Portion Control! "Watch portion sizes," said Zanini. "A four-ounce serving would be ideal, but realize that many places serve 16 ounces and up."
- Keep It Pure and Simple. What's in your frozen pack of acai? "Confirm there isn't any additional sweetener added to the acai — it literally should be only one ingredient . . . just acai," said Zanini.
- Balance Your Macros. McMahon — a macro nutrient expert — was adamant about adding healthy, satiating fats and proteins to your bowl, which is for the most part all carbohydrates from the fruit. Zanini echoed this: "Add nuts, nut butter, and fat sources to balance out the sugar you get from the acai blend," she said.
- Be Selective With Toppings. Don't go overboard with the granola (and make sure it's a good, low-sugar granola) or with the mix-ins added to your smoothie blend. Try to use unsweetened almond milk or a splash of juice and coconut water. Although natural sugar is better than processed sugar, it still counts toward your daily intake of carbohydrates. "Go light on any sugary toppings," said McMahon. Swap sweetened coconut shreds for unsweetened, and go easy on the honey. Zanini suggests using toppings to get protein and healthy fats, with "almonds, peanut butter, etc., so that it keeps you full for longer." That way, you're getting the most out of your breakfast.