Are Açaí Bowls Really Healthy?
The pretty bowls are splattered all over Instagram. But what are açaí bowls, really, and how can you make ‘em at home? We're digging in to the popular food trend.
Seemingly overnight, everyone started eating up the "nutritional perks" of açaí bowls. (Glowing skin! Super immunity! Superfood stud of social media!) But are açaí bowls even healthy? Turns out, 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," says Muhlstein. "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. For example, Jamba Juice's acai bowl has a whopping 67g of sugar and 490 calories! (Here are other so-called healthy breakfasts with more sugar than dessert.)
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.
That begs the question: If açaí berries aren't available, what's in your açaí bowl anyways? The berries are 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 açaí bowl and the size of your serving. (Related: 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 (and the calories high), 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. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About the Latest Alternative Sweeteners)
Now that we've answered "what is an açaí bowl?" we're ready to dig into these five colorful and healthy recipes. Blend one up with us and Instagram away.
Pumpkin Papaya Superfood Acai Bowl
Break out of the berry rut with this pumpkin and papaya recipe (left) from Breakfast Criminals, a blog entirely composed of superfood breakfasts, with an emphasis on vegan, gluten-free and raw recipes. (If you're loving the fall flavor, also try this autumn acai bowl recipe.)
"When I think of pumpkin, the first thing that comes to mind is pumpkin pie-not the healthiest food out there, is it," says New York City-based blogger Ksenia Avdulova. "This Pumpkin Papaya Açaí Bowl creates a delicious pumpkin breakfast or dessert alternative for those who're looking to eat healthier. It's a nutrition powerhouse that will nourish your body with antioxidants, potassium, healthy fats, vitamins and a boost of clean energy."
- 1/2 can organic pumpkin
- 1/2 cup papaya
- 1 frozen unsweetened açaí smoothie pack
- 2/3 ripe banana
- 1 tablespoon maca
- 1 tablespoon each cinnamon and pumpkin spice
- 1 cup almond milk
- Combine in blender and blend.
- Top with granola, remaining banana, papaya, cashews, goji berries, and pomegranate seeds.
Super Mango Pineapple Açaí Bowl
Los Angeles-based blogger Kristy Turner and her husband, dedicated food photographer Chris Miller run the show at Keepin' It Kind, which chronicles their adventures in deliciously healthy vegan eating-of which their Super Mango Pineapple Açaí Bowl is a prime example.
"Açaí bowls are my favorite way to start the day. They're light, flavorful, and filling," says Turner. "This one in particular is packed with nutrient-dense superfoods from the acai itself to the hormone-balancing maca powder and the goji berries, cacao nibs, and hemp seeds it's topped with. There's even some kale hiding in there!" (Related: 10 Green Smoothies EVERYONE Will Love)
- 1/4 cup coconut milk (from the carton, not the can) or other vegan milk
- 1/2 banana
- 3/4 cup loosely packed kale, chopped
- 1/2 heaping cup frozen mango
- 1/2 heaping cup frozen pineapple
- 1 açaí packet
- 1 heaping teaspoon maca powder
- 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup granola, separated
- 1/2 banana, thinly sliced
- 3-4 strawberries, thinly sliced (optional)
- 1/4 cup fresh mango, chopped (or other fresh fruit of your choice)
- 1 tablespoon goji berries
- 2 teaspoons cacao nibs
- 1 teaspoon hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds)
- Choose the bowl that you are going to serve the açaí bowl in, and place it in the freezer (optional, but this will keep the finished product colder longer).
- Prepare your toppings, such as the slicing the strawberries and the half banana. Set aside.
- Combine the first 7 ingredients in your high-speed blender, and puree until smooth. You may need to scrape the sides a few times or stir it to break up clumps. This will be a thick smoothie.
- Remove the bowl from the freezer and pour 1/4-cup granola into the bottom of the bowl. Gently pour the smoothie on top of the granola (If the smoothie has started to liquefy, you may want to place the blender canister in the freezer for about five minutes before pouring into the bowl). Top with the 1/2 cup of granola and sliced fruit. Sprinkle the goji berries, cacao nibs, and hemp seeds on top of the fruit and serve immediately.
Shop Smart: The Best Blenders for Any Budget
Açaí Banana Peanut Butter Bowl
This Açaí Banana Peanut Butter Bowl (right) from Hearts in My Oven is packed with extra protein, for those times you need a little extra boost in the morning.
"I love this recipe because it's incredibly simple and easy to make. Plus, it's healthy and tastes awesome," says Southern California-based blogger Lynna Huynh.
- 3.5-ounce package frozen pure açaí
- 1/2 cups frozen berries
- 1 1/2 banana, sliced, divided into one and half
- 1/4 cup yogurt
- Drizzle of agave nectar
- 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 cup granola
- In a blender, mix together the açaí, berries, 1 banana, yogurt, agave nectar, and peanut butter until smooth and combined. Scoop half into a bowl.
- Layer with half the granola.
- Top with the rest of the açaí mixture.
- Top with granola and 1/2 of banana slices.
Berry-Licious Açaí Bowl
While many açaí bowl recipes launch from frozen açaí, there are also some that can be made from açaí powder-like this berry-packed one (center) from Los Angeles blogger Jordan Younger, author of The Balanced Blonde.
"I come from a background of a tumultuous relationship with food, mainly due to severe stomach problems and food intolerances, and going plant-based has greatly enriched my quality of life," she explains. "Many açaí bowl recipes contain an overload of sugar and toppings to the point where they contain more calories than a Big Mac. I like to keep my recipes simple and tasty with all whole, plant-based ingredients."
- 1 banana
- 4 strawberries
- 3 blackberries
- 1/2 tablespoon açaí powder
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 2 pieces of ice
- 3 blackberries
- 1/4 cup blueberries
- 1/2 cup granola
- 1 spoonful almond butter
- 1 spoonful coconut yogurt
- 1 drizzle honey or agave
- Blend the banana, strawberries, blackberries, açaí powder, almond milk and ice. Once blended, pour into a bowl.
- Top with blackberries, blueberries, granola, almond butter, coconut yogurt, and drizzle with honey or agave.
- If you are choosing the more simple form of this breakfast, top it with whatever fruits or nuts you have around.
Raw Chocolate Açaí Bowl
This Raw Chocolate Açaí Bowl recipe from A Little Insanity is the best kind of "dessert" to start the day.
"I have always been passionate about eating healthy, but hated when people automatically assumed that meant I only consumed large amounts of tofu and wheatgrass. So, I started putting my whole food recipes online in 2009 to show the world that eating healthy could be fun and delicious," says Erika Meredith, who runs the blog from Maui, Hawaii. "I love my Acai Bowl recipe because it's a fun way to eat healthy, and a tasty way to store and replenish energy using superfoods and essential minerals, especially from the maca powder, which is fantastic for post workout."
This recipe makes enough for two, so your roommate won't have food envy first thing in the morning.
- 1 frozen açaí berry packet or your own açaí blend
- 1 ripe banana (fresh or frozen)
- 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tablespoon maca powder
- 1/4 cup sprouted almonds (or any nut or seed)
- Stevia to taste
- 1 cup of milk alternative (coconut, almond, soy, rice, hemp, etc.)
- 2 cups of ice
- Flax oil/meal
- Coconut oil
- Fresh fruit
- Raw superfood cereal
- Raw honey
- Coconut flakes
- Nuts or seeds
- Place the frozen açaí, banana, chocolate, maca, stevia, almonds, and milk into a blender.
- Starting at the lowest speed and working your way to the highest blend the ingredients until smooth.
- Add in ice and turn the blender back up to highest speed. Use your tamper or spoon to push the ingredients into the blades until the mixture is smooth.
- When it's finished, you should see 4 lumps form at the top of the container. Turn your blender off and serve with optional toppings.
- Store leftovers in airtight container or ice-pop molds in the freezer. The mixture can easily be re-blended to your desired consistency (just add an extra splash of milk, if needed).