In the past several years, acai bowls have taken the limelight as one of the highly hyped-up health foods you can add to your diet.
But, what is an acai bowl? Are acai bowls healthy, and are there acai bowl benefits? Is acai good for you?
In this article, we will discuss what an acai bowl is, the nutrition and calories in an acai bowl, and then take on a critical investigation to answer the question, “Are acai bowls healthy for you?”
More specifically, we will cover the following:
- What Is An Acai Bowl?
- Acai Bowls Nutrition
- Are Acia Bowls Healthy?
- How to Make a Healthy Acai Bowl
Let’s dive in!
What Is An Acai Bowl?
An acai bowl, which is technically written açaí bowl, is a meal or snack made from puréed acai berries to have a smoothie texture and consistency, which is then served in a bowl or glass.
The acai purée is usually topped with various add-ins, much like you would serve Greek yogurt, with toppings such as sliced fruit or berries, nuts, seeds, and/or granola.
There are sometimes additional “superfoods“ or ingredients added for nutrition, taste, or texture, such as shredded coconut, nut butter, raw cacao, chia seeds, or moringa powder.
The result is a “textural playground“ with the smooth, creamy consistency of the puréed acai berries with the crunchy nuts, seeds, granola, and various textures of added fruits.
Acai berries are known for their vibrant color, and acai bowls are typically artfully arranged, particularly when purchased at a smoothie shop or health food establishment rather than made at home.
However, plenty of people who prepare homemade acai bowls also take care to add the toppings in a precise way to make a grid, stripes, or other patterns with different sections for each chosen topping along the top layer of the puréed acai berries.In this way, an acai bowl usually has an attractive, artful, eye-popping visual appeal as much as it is varied in texture, taste, and nutrients.
In terms of temperature, acai bowls are usually served chilled or cold, if not close to frozen, though some people prefer eating them at room temperature.
Acai bowls are popular in the United States, Canada, and several European countries at this point, but they have infiltrated these areas from Brazil, which is where acai bowls originated.
Acai Bowls Nutrition
Analyzing the nutrition of an acai bowl is challenging because there is no single recipe or definitive list of ingredients that are always used to make an acai bowl.
Therefore, the number of calories in an acai bowl, the number of grams of sugar, the fat and protein content, as well as the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, will depend on how the acai bowl is prepared and the serving size.
With that said, we will try to analyze the general nutrition facts of an acai bowl, beginning with the question: Is acai good for you?
Acai berries serve as the base or primary ingredient in an acai bowl. The acai berry is a type of fruit native to Central and South America. Even though it is called a “berry,” acai is technically classified as a drupe because they contain pits (like apricots, cherries, and olives).
One of the acai bowl benefits is that acai is often considered a “superfruit” due to the high concentration of antioxidants, such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins, carotenoids, and anthocyanins.
According to the USDA, 100 grams of pure acai berry puree (slightly less than a ½-cup serving) provides the following nutrition:
- Calories: 60
- Fat: 5g
- Sodium: 7mg
- Carbohydrates: 6g
- Sugars: 0g
- Fiber: 3g
- Protein: 2g
- Potassium: 105mg
- Iron: 0.6mg
- Calcium: 40mg
- Vitamin A: 1000IU
As can be seen, the acai nutrition facts differ significantly from most fruits in that they are much higher in fat and contain no sugar.
Are Acai Bowls Healthy?
Commercial acai bowls that you can buy at a smoothie shop tend to be less healthy and higher in sugar and calories than homemade acai bowl recipes.
For example, the Acai Primo Bowl at Jamba Juice contains 510 calories.
Although it provides 11 g of fiber, which is over one-third (and close to one-half) of your daily fiber needs, this acai bowl is packed with sugar—a whopping 65 grams, to be precise.
There are also 10 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein in the acai bowl.
You can add a wide range of additional toppings, which will further increase the number of calories and will alter the nutritional profile depending on the toppings you select.
The basic acai bowl ingredients in this recipe are strawberries, the acai blend, blueberries, soymilk, bananas, granola, honey, and shredded coconut.
Therefore, although the majority of the 65 g of sugar in this acai bowl recipe comes from fruits and granola, there is added honey, and it is not clear how much is added.
Additionally, the Jamba Juice acai bowl is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
For example, the basic acai bowl recipe provides a whopping 680% of the DV of vitamin C, 24% of the DV of potassium, 25% of the DV of vitamin K (a nutrient that can be hard to get in your diet), 25% of the DV of iron, 230% of the DV of vitamin E, and at least 15 to 20% of the DV of many other essential vitamins and minerals.
Some of the other topping options you can choose to add will further boost vitamin and mineral contact.
Acai berries, as well as the other berries that are commonly added to an acai bowl, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are also packed with antioxidants such as anthocyanins.
Antioxidants are potent natural compounds that act as free radical scavengers in the body.
The oxidative damage caused by free radicals can accelerate aging and cause deleterious changes to your cells and their constituent components.
Ultimately, while the body has a tolerance for a certain level of free radicals, an excess of free radicals can increase the risk of cancer and cause other changes to your cells, nucleic acids, proteins, and physiological functions.
Therefore, diets high in natural antioxidants can potentially help improve overall health, prevent premature aging, improve immune function, and protect against diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
In sum, acai bowls can be really high in sugar, though they do provide antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and a little bit of protein.
How to Make a Healthy Acai Bowl
Acai berries are inherently healthy, so it is possible to make a healthy acai bowl by being deliberate about the toppings that you choose.
Many commercial or prepared acai bowls have higher-sugar fruits, added sweeteners like honey or agave, and granola that is packed with added sugar and oil.
When you make your own acai bowl, you can control the amount of sugar by not adding any additional sweeteners and opting for lower-sugar foods such as berries and melon rather than bananas and mango if you are trying to limit your sugar intake.
It is helpful to add a protein source to your acai bowl to increase satiety and slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Nuts, seeds, or nut butter are all excellent options because they provide protein, healthy fats, and a little bit of fiber.
Consider almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, Chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, a tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter, or other similar ingredients.
You can also add unsweetened shredded coconut, which will provide some healthy fats.
Another good option for increasing the acai bowl protein content is to purée the acai berries with Greek yogurt or even unsalted cottage cheese. This will also provide more volume.
Depending on your caloric needs and dietary preferences, and whether you are having an acai bowl for breakfast, lunch, or as a lighter snack, you can also consider adding a healthy protein powder into the acai smoothie portion to provide more protein and increase satiety.
Because acai berries have a fairly mild taste, you should use unflavored or vanilla protein powder.
Chocolate protein powder will likely overwhelm the flavor profile and clash with the zinginess and fruitiness of the acai berries.
Instead of adding prepared granola as an acai bowl topping (which is usually high in added honey or sugar), consider unsweetened muesli, which is a blend of oats, seeds, whole grains, and dried fruits.
Muesli has a chewier texture than granola because it is not coated in honey and oil.
If you are looking for a crunch, you can add Grape Nuts cereal or rely more on seeds and chopped nuts.
Pomegranate seeds also have a pleasant crunch along with juiciness, and they are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.
For another helpful guide about healthy breakfast choices, check out our guide that seeks to examine whether oatmeal is a healthy breakfast.