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Are Açaí Bowls Really Healthy?

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Seemingly overnight, everyone started eating up the "nutritional perks" of açaí bowls. (Glowing skin! Super immunity! Superfood stud of social media!) But there might just be a hot purple health halo radiating from the trendy dish.

"You should really look at açaí bowls as more of an occasional treat, not something you'd have as a meal," says Ilana Muhlstein, R.D., a registered dietitian in Beverly Hills, CA, who heads up the Bruin Health Improvement Program at UCLA. "Think of them as a replacement for ice cream."

So what's the health hang-up? The açaí bowl is basically a "sugar bomb," Muhlstein says. "Açaí bowls can have 50g of sugar [the equivalent of 12 teaspoons], or double what the American Heart Association recommends for women for an entire day," she says. To put it into perspective: That's four times more sugar than most doughnuts. And if you go heavy on the toppings, that number gets even higher. Jamba Juice has an acai blend with a whopping 91g of sugar!

Here's the thing: Alone, the açaí berry is legit. It's loaded with antioxidants (10 times more than blueberries!) and fiber—things that do help with heart health, digestion, and aging. And it's a fruit that's relatively low in sugar. But since the berry comes from the Amazon, and is highly perishable, it won't be popping up at your farmers' market anytime soon. Instead, it's often sold in powder or purée form, which most people prefer to consume mixed with something—nut milk and frozen fruit are popular options. And thus: The sugary açaí bowl was born.

There are ways to blend with benefits, though. Here's how to eat your açaí without getting bowled over by the sweet stuff.

Always BYOB (bring your own bowl).
Instead of ordering one from the trendy juice place in your neighborhood, make it at home. This allows you to control exactly what is going into your bowl and the size of your serving. (Here's how to make your own smoothie bowl.)

Cut it down.
Speaking of sizes, to help decrease the sky-high sugar levels, make only what can fit in a mug, Muhlstein says. You'll eat a fraction of the sugar and won't even notice. Sweet!

Mix it up!
Use unsweetened açaí packs to make your bowl ($60 for a 24-pack, amazon.com), and then combine it with water instead of juice. If you prefer to use a nut milk, opt for an unsweetened version. And think about blending in savory additions, like steamed beets, leafy greens or sweet carrots, not just fructose-filled fruit.

Think over the toppings.
What you add to the açaí bowl is where things can get excessive in a hurry, so limit yourself to one or two items. Always opt for fresh fruit over dried, and skip any sweetened drizzles, like honey. Try a scoop of plain Greek yogurt or peanut butter instead to help steady out your blood sugar.

Now go ahead and post that on Instagram.

 

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