Are Açaí Bowls Healthy?

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acai bowls Açaí Bowls are the rage these days. Take a walk down the streets of Manhattan and see girls in their lululemon outfits flocking to local acai bowl and smoothie joints.  These bowls are promoted as the new health food – gluten free, vegan, and anti-aging. So what the heck are they all about? As a nutritionist, I’m a bit skeptical that these bowls are as healthy as they are cracked up to be. I sent my Dietetic Intern Rachel Feldman out on a mission to find out – are açaí bowls healthy and what makes them so popular?  (pic credit: Coco Loco in NYC)

What are açaí bowls?

First off, in order to know what an açaí bowl is, we need to know what it is made of. Açaí (pronounced Ah Sigh E) is a berry! These powerful berries grow on Açaí palm trees in South America. The berries are a dark purple color and filled with various nutritional benefits. Reference.  

Now here is where is gets really tasty. Start with these berries and start add in the real “goodies” including: kale, spinach, mango, pineapple, coconut water, granola, berries, bananas, nuts, nut butter, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds,  coconut flakes, honey, go ji berries, cacao nibs to name a few. While these ingredients are all super healthy, the calories, carbs and sugar can really add up! Not the best idea if you are watching your weight or carbs (with diabetes, prediabetes, PCOS and/or personal preference).

Health benefits of açaí:

  1. Antioxidants: The açaí berry is full of antioxidants that help destroy free radicals. Free radicals form from everyday exposure to toxins in your food intake and environment. Some of these toxins can manifest from
    pollution, smoking, poor diet etc. Antioxidants “destroy” or oxidize these free radicals and neutralize them. This is beneficial for keeping your body in a low inflammatory state.
  2. Fiber: The acai berry is full of fiber that will fill you up and help promote a healthy gut microbiome.
  3. Vitamins and Minerals: There are many vitamins and minerals in the Açaí Specifically, these berries are rich in vitamin A and calcium.
  4. Anti-inflammatory: Anthocyanins in acai have been known to reduce inflammation in the body.

Where do you find Açaí berries?

You probably aren’t going to find them in your local produce market. In the US, these berries come not as a whole fruit, but as frozen puree. You may find them in the Whole Foods frozen food department, your local health food store or can buy them online.  (Martha’s note: I learned something here. I assumed you could buy a pint of acai berries in many produce departments!)

  • Frozen Açaí fruit packets- Great for smoothies and smoothie bowls
  • Powdered Açaí berry powder- Great for on the go and doesn’t have to be refrigerated

NYC Açaí bowl comparison:

We did a little research on the most popular açaí bowl spots in NYC and picked out a few to compare: 

  • Juice Press
    Serving Size:1 full container (236 g)
    Ingredients: Açaí, coconut flakes, date, blueberry, buckwheat, sunflower seeds, coconut oil, almond, coconut nectar, cacao, walnut, maca, vanilla, sea salt
    Nutrition: calories: 680, carbohydrates: 60g, sugar: 30g, fat: 42g, protein: 16g, fiber: 10g
  • Juice Generation
    Serving Size: 16 oz (Almond Butter Bliss)}
    Ingredients: Açaí, almond butter, banana, almond milk, strawberries, coconut shavings, hemp granola
    Nutrition: calories: 610, carbohydrates: 72g, sugar: 40g, fat: 16g, protein: 12g, fiber: 14g
  • Pure Green
    Serving Size:16 oz (Pure Health Açaí)
    Ingredients:Base: Açaí blended with bananas, almond milk, cold pressed apples. Toppings: Sliced bananas and dole acai bowlshemp granola
    Nutrition: calories: 305, carbohydrates: 8g (this is obviously a typo on their website … probably more like 41 gm), sugar: 29g, fat: 0g, protein: 8g, fiber: 12g
  • Dole Açaí
    Serving Size: 6 oz (Tropical)
    Ingredients: Base: Acai puree, banana, kiwi, mango. Toppings: oats, coconut, honey, canola oil, dragon fruit
    Nutrition: calories: 220, carbohydrates: 37g, sugar: 22g, fat: 6g, protein: 3g, fiber: 6g

 

Bottom line

So as you can see, açaí bowls contain healthy ingredients … and they taste delicious. However, depending on the ingredients you add in, the calories, carbs and sugar can really add up. We’d recommend that you check the nutritional content online if available – or at least order a small size and limit the add-ons. If you love these bowls and the nutritional info is not available, you may want to calculate the nutritional content using a nutrition calculator (i.e. like what you would see on myfitnesspal or Lose it)  just so you’ll be prepared. Enjoy these delicious bowls in moderation!

 

Have you tried açaí bowls? Tell us what you think!

 

 

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I‘d like to thank Rachel Feldman for writing this post. Rachel Feldman is a graduate of Syracuse University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. Rachel is currently a Dietetic Intern with Priority Nutrition Care Distance Dietetic Internship. She enjoys hiking, cooking, yoga and has been following a vegetarian diet for the past 3 years.  

 

 

Header photo source : Here

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