As we enter the umpteenth week of this pandemic, things, at least for me, are starting to shift. While I am a serious—I’m talking serious—introvert, I’m really starting to miss people. I know. I can’t believe I’m saying it either. Now, I don’t necessarily need to chat with coworkers in the kitchen or throw some back with a local bartender, but I do wish I could squeeze my friends and family. What I’ve found to be really helpful in moments like this is to remember what I can control and focus on ways to make me feel connected to my “normal” self or, as I like to think of it, how I lived in the “before time.
2020 B.Q. if you will.
It sounds silly, but whipping up fun cocktails for Cinco de Mayo, as opposed to pouring myself another glass of my standard sauvignon blanc, made me realize that we have more power to “do it ourselves” at home than we give ourselves credit for. Look, obviously nothing trumps the experience of going to your favorite restaurant, coffee shop, or local market, and I do truly believe there is a some truth to the old adage that food made by someone else tastes better…BUT…we don’t have that luxury right now. So what we can do is buck up and make the best of our situation by learning how to master our favorites at home.
One such thing I’m sure we all miss? Acai bowls from our favorite juice bar or health(ier) food joint. And while I totally get that these places are cool and trendy and very ‘grammable, I’m here to convince you that choosing to make your own bowls at home is a practice you should continue long after all the stay-at-home orders have lifted. Hear me out…
Acai bowls are one of those “healthy” foods that, despite their good intentions, may not be as good for you as you might think. Just like any smoothie concoction, if you’re not directly controlling the ingredients being added—and more importantly, the portion sizes of those ingredients—the caloric and not-so-great nutritional percentages are going to be shockingly high.
The biggest culprit? Sugar. While the acai berry itself is extremely low in sugar (I’m talking, like, 3 grams per serving), it also means that to make it appeal to the general public, restaurants often add foods that do have higher sugar percentages…think additional fruit, honey, sweetened almond milk, etc. And while naturally derived sugars from fruit and honey are certainly better for you then processed, refined sugars—sucrose is still sucrose and too much of it is problematic.
The second issue? All. those. toppings. I get it. Adding topics is basically like accessorizing your food—so as someone who tends to add one item to an outfit before she leaves the house as opposed to taking one off (Coco Chanel is rolling in her grave), I totally understand the appeal. However, that ish adds up and it adds up fast, and when you order those bowls out, you surrender all control over your portion sizes.
Imagine you order a bowl that it is topped with granola, almond butter, blueberries, and chia seeds. Honestly, that’s pretty standard, if not a bit barren. Now, using approximate portions that equates to the following:
(a) 1/4 cup of granola: 100 calories
(b) 2 tbsp. of almond butter: 180 calories
(c) 1/2 cup blueberries: 40 calories
(d) 1 tbsp chia seeds: 120 calories
That’s almost 450 calories in toppings alone.
Look, I’m not trying to tell you that fruit is bad for you just because it contains sugar or shove the idea that calories are the enemy down your throat; I just think its important that we keep it real about what is actually in our food. The numbers don’t lie, and even healthy foods are no longer healthy when consumed in high quantities. The great thing though? We can avoid this excess simply by making these delicious bowls ourselves! Read on for my quick tips for getting a healthier, great-tasting bowl at home!
Tip #1: Use a Half-Veggie/Half-Fruit Base
While veggies may not be what first comes to mind when you think “acai bowl,” this is hands-down the best way to cut back on sugar, avoid excess calories, and boost the overall nutritional value of your bowl. I highly recommend (a) making frozen veggies (spinach, kale, and frozen cauliflower are great options!) comprise at least one half of your base and (b) limiting all (toppings included!) to no more than 2 cups. Personally, I go 2–3 cups of frozen spinach, one half of a banana (the other half goes on top), and 1 cup of frozen berries. A word of warning, if you go heavy on the spinach or kale route, your bowl may not necessarily be the color you’re used to—that is, it will probably pull more brown or burgundy than purple. Don’t let your eyes deceive you, the taste will remain authentic. If you really can’t deal, supplement frozen cauliflower for some or all of the veggie component instead.
Tip #2: Use Almost Exclusively Frozen Ingredients…But Not Frozen Acai!
While I make zero promises about the color of your bowl, I can guarantee you the perfect slushy consistency. The key? Ice, ice, baby. I recommend using almost exclusively frozen ingredients—I’m talking frozen veggies, frozen fruit, and if necessary, plain old ice cubes (I usually add about 1 cup for texture and volume). One thing I’m not a huge advocate for: prefrozen packets of acai puree. While the packets may seem “easier,” they’re usually loaded with added fruit juices and artificial sweeteners. For example, one packet of the Original Frozen Acai Blend from Sambazon (sold at Costco and BJs) contains 12 grams of sugar and 100 calories. Compare that to 1 tablespoon of Whole Foods Market Organic Acai Powder, which has 0 grams of sugar and only 20 calories. Plus, having used both, I find the powder packs a better flavor punch. Regardless of what you decide to use, just make sure the product is unsweetened and contains only one ingredient: 100% pure acai berry.
Tip #3: Boost Flavor (Not Sugar) By Adding Pure Cacao/Cocoa Powder
One way I like to boost the flavor of my bowls is to actually play to the acai berry’s natural chocolaty taste. Instead of piling in more and more fruit to make it sweet, I add about 1/2 scoop of chocolate protein powder and a teaspoon of pure cocoa powder. I found that this leads to a bowl that tastes way more indulgent and authentic, while actually being better for you than one loaded with fruit.
Tip #4: Limit Toppings and (Actually) Measure Them Out
Finally, when in doubt, PST—that is, Practice Sensible Topping. Focus on adding toppings composed of healthy fats and protein as opposed to more sugar. Lean into nut butters, chia seeds, and flax seeds and limit or avoid more fruit, honey, chocolate nibs, coconut flakes, and granola. Honestly, I like me some granola on my bowls for texture, but instead of dumping blindly, I make sure to measure it out and keep it to 1/4 cup or less. When in doubt: pick 2 or 3 toppings; ensure they are whole, raw foods; and keep portions to recommended serving sizes or less.
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Long story short, acai bowls are an amazing, antioxidant-packed breakfast, with a few considerations. Skip the crazy price tag and avoid eating what could turn out to be a glorified dessert by taking matters into your own hands and whipping up one of these bad boys yourself. What do you think, are you up for the challenge??