The acai bowl craze is full on sweeping the world, and as a nutritionist, one of the most frequently asked questions I hear is, “are they actually healthy?”. With so much circulating misinformation and sneaky marketing out there, it can be super confusing to navigate what’s healthy and what’s not. It’s in times like these that having your own nutritionist (oh hey guys) comes in handy.
If you aren't already in the know, acai berries are a fruit grown in South America, where they are harvested fresh and, if traveling to us in the States, are pureed and frozen. The berries themselves are actually extremely low in natural sugars - if you don’t believe me, try a bit of pure, unsweetened acai (hint: it's not good, like at all). But this is great news for your bod! You’re looking at excellent sources of iron, calcium, vitamin A, health fats, and fiber.
Finding quality plant based sources of iron is super key for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike - this vital nutrient stabilizes energy levels, keeps fatigue at bay, metabolizes protein, and aids in the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells. Most famously, acai is renowned for it’s crazy high antioxidant count, which benefits everything from your skin to your immune system to your heart and cardiovascular system. So acai is pretty much the healthiest food ever, right?
While the acai berries themselves are totally health-boosting and body-loving, acai bowls are often times a very different story. And it all comes down to sugar.
Traditionally, acai bowls are a blend of acai berries with other tropical fruits - like a smoothie, but thicker and creamier, so it’s enjoyed in a bowl with a spoon. Sadly, the majority of smoothie joints serving up acai bowls here in the States are using a pre-blended version sweetened with cane sugar. Yes, the sugar is organic but sugar is sugar, and sugar makes us fat, tired, and sick. Essentially, you’re eating a bowl of ice cream for breakfast. No bueno!
It definitely bums me out when I see well-intentioned people eating these bowls as a ‘healthy’ breakfast or snack, thinking that they’re making a positive choice for their health, when in reality they are unknowingly sabotaging their weight-loss and health goals. This goes far beyond just gaining a few extra pounds - sugar is a leading contributor in almost all mental and physical health disorders. It’s scary stuff. My number one recommendation when people ask me what to eliminate for better health is always sugar.
But before you get super depressed about not being able to eat acai bowls, rest assured that there are wholesome and delicious options! Don’t be afraid to ask your go-to smoothie shop how their acai is prepared. How is the acai bowl sweetened? Don’t believe anyone that tells you it’s not sweetened at all, because I promise you it is sweetened in some shape or form. If it’s naturally sweetened with fresh fruit, awesome! Don’t be afraid of natural sugars.
But if the blend contains any amount of cane sugar (‘natural’ and organic or not), steer clear. Some restaurants sweeten their bowls with fruit juices - it’s not ideal, but if the juice is fresh pressed (i.e. full of live vitamins and enzymes and free of added sugar) then you’re good. Get curious about your food, educate yourself, and ask lots questions.
The best way to ensure that you’re eating only the freshest and most wholesome ingredients in your bowl? To make it yourself, of course! Not only is this the most nutritious way to enjoy your acai, it’s also the most delicious. Seriously. Since perfecting this homemade acai bowl recipe, I rarely ever order them when out. It’s just that good.
The combination of sweet tropical fruits with the not-so-sweet acai pairs perfectly, providing you with lots of fiber and a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. The fruit can be fresh or frozen, with the exception of the banana. Pre-freezing the banana is key to ensuring you get the right consistency - when blended, frozen bananas yield the dreamiest ice cream-like consistency, which is exactly what you want for this recipe.