Are Acai Bowls Actually Healthy?
This superfood-packed dish might not be a super snack.
Who doesn’t love an acai bowl? Made from frozen acai berries pureed with other fruit (think of them as smoothies in a bowl), they’re usually finished off with all sorts of Instagram-worthy toppings like sliced bananas, granola, and berries. And since the bowls are made from such healthy ingredients, they have to be good for you…right? Well, yes and no. The answer to that question depends on a number of factors, including what exactly you’ve put in it and how big of a bowl you’re talking about.
“Acai bowls have the potential to be healthy, but you need to be cautious when ordering one from a store,” Beth Warren, RDN, author of Secrets of a Kosher Girl, says. Here’s the skinny on just how wholesome those beautiful bowls are—and how to make sure yours is just as good for your body as it is for your likes.
In general, an acai bowl can be an option that provides a lot of vitamins and nutrients you need, thanks to all that fruit. But like any dish, going overboard on even healthy ingredients can make an acai bowl be not-so-healthy overall. “The calories can quickly add up without you realizing it,” Warren says. The same goes for carbohydrate and sugar levels, which can skyrocket thanks to the bananas, juices, and fruit pureed together as the base of the bowl. Think about it this way: Half a cup of fresh or frozen fruit (that’s about four strawberries) is a single serving of fruit, as is ¼ cup of juice. A single acai bowl could have more than your entire day’s worth of fruit in it, but not be as filling as if you just snacked on the pieces that make it up. “Acai bowls are liquid based, so you might not feel as satisfied after eating it than you do after eating food,” Warren says.
And that’s just the fruit; chances are, you’re topping your bowl with more than bananas and berries. “There is always something on top of the puree, like coconut, peanut butter, granola, or chocolate chips,” Warren says. “Those things are high-calorie foods in and of themselves.” To put it in perspective, two tablespoons of even unsweetened shredded coconut has about 187 calories, and granola can have nearly 300 calories in half a cup. While all these things are fine in moderation, you could quickly add up an entire meal’s worth of calories just in toppings.
This doesn’t mean you need to give up your bowl; just make a few tweaks when it comes to what you put in it. “Acai bowls are a great chance to get in greens,” Warren says. Look for ones with spinach or kale pureed in the base along with the fruit. She also suggests skipping the granola, sweetened coconut, and chocolate chip toppings. Instead, top your bowl with a tablespoon of almond butter or a sprinkle of chia seeds to add in protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Because acai bowls tend to be higher in calories than you think, particularly ones made in a store or café, remember that they should be considered a meal as opposed to a snack. And even then, “It’s a healthy splurge, because it does have benefits, but it’s not something you should eat every day,” Warren says. Another good idea: Split one with a friend. You’ll both get a good Instagram out of it!
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