By Karla Walsh
Yes, they’re pretty and popular. But what’s really hiding under that lovely layer of fruit? And how many calories are in an acai bowl? We’re dishing with Jenna A. Werner, RD, creator of Happy Slim Healthy for all of the acai intel.
What are acai bowls, exactly?
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is a violet-skinned, yellow-fleshed berry that’s grown in the Amazon forest. Due to their solid supplies of vitamin A, calcium, and fiber, acai is often deemed a “superfruit.” Its flavor is similar to a combination of dark chocolate and blackberries, making it ideal for blending into smoothies for a dessert-like flavor boost.
Acai bowls began as a specialty in Brazil. Due to its vibrant appearance and ice cream-like consistency, the food trend quickly spread to all corners of the globe. Served in a bowl or a cup, these smoothies are made with frozen, mashed fruit plus additional mix-ins and toppings.
How many calories are in an acai bowl?
As much as we wish we had a firm answer to, “how many calories are in an acai bowl?” The answer is: It depends.
“Acai bowls can pack a lot of calories, sugar, and even fat,” Werner says. “But the nutrition varies a lot based on where you get your acai bowl and how it’s made.”
Take a look at the differences between a few popular chains and store-bought acai bowl options:
10 grams of fat
45 milligrams of sodium
11 grams of fiber
65 grams of sugar
8 grams of protein
10 grams of fat
145 milligrams of sodium
45 grams of fiber
73 grams of sugar
4 grams of protein
259 to 564 calories
9 to 26 grams of fat
131.249 milligrams of sodium
6 to 12 grams of fiber
22 to 43 grams of sugar
4 to 38 grams of protein
210 to 230 calories
6 to 7 grams of fat
0 to 15 milligrams of sodium
6 to 7 grams of fiber
19 to 23 grams of sugar
3 to 5 grams of protein
The toppings and added sugar account for the 300+-calorie variance, and “can pretty quickly take the bowl from a meal to dessert, especially when chocolate and sweeter items join the ingredient list,” Werner says.
How can you make a low-calorie acai bowl?
Since many cafes and juice bars blend in sugar (or honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar) and pile on calorie-dense toppings to keep you coming back for bowl after tasty bowl, it’s often best to DIY.
“I encourage my clients to make their own versions of an acai bowl at home,” Werner says. “They can be a great way to add in fruits and even veggies, plus homemade acai bowls can be customized to include your favorite ingredients.”
How to make your own acai bowl: “Blend acai like a smoothie with milk or water, a banana, and ice to form a thick ice cream-like mix, then top with more fruit, nuts, seeds, granola, nut butters, or a combination of all of the above.”
For the most calorie-smart bowl, select a smaller-sized vessel (like 4.8-Inch AmazingWare Porcelain Bowls; $25 for 6, amazon.com), stick to two or three toppings max, and blend in a handful of greens to bulk up the portion size for just a few more calories.
Need a little inspiration? Start with a low-sugar smoothie such as this Chocolate-Cherry Smoothie or this Raspberry Oat Smoothie, then add a spoonful of concentrated acai powder. (Try Sari Foods Co. Organic Acai Powder; $25 for 7 ounces, amazon.com.) For just 10 extra calories, you’ll score a big calcium and antioxidant boost.
So, are acai bowls healthy?
Seek out acai options that are as low as possible in added sugars and high in fiber and protein, if possible, and take a peek at the nutrition label to determine if the acai bowl qualifies as a meal or a snack based on your daily calorie needs.
“Remember that restricting something you love is never the answer,” Werner says. “But it’s important to be aware of what may be in your food and how you feel when you are eating it.”