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a smoothie bowl topped with banana, granola and shredded coconut

They’re trendy and colorful, but are açaí and smoothie bowls actually good for you? Exactly how the nutrition stacks up isn’t an easy question to answer: Certain ingredient combinations can ratchet up carbs faster than you can say “Nutella drizzle.” Fortunately, with a little know-how, you can make smart choices and avoid creating a sugar bomb.

The Healthy Benefits

Açaí bowls (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) are based on a purée made of frozen açaí berries that may be blended with banana or other ingredients to reach the consistency of a very thick smoothie. Spooned into a bowl and topped with fresh berries, sliced bananas, and crunchy granola, it’s the vegan, dairy-free breakfast of champions (and the fodder for a million Instagram posts).

Roughly the size of a grape, the dark purple açaí berry is packed with antioxidants (yes, more than blueberries). These compounds help neutralize free radicals in the body that can cause premature aging, heart disease, and certain cancers. Açaí, which comes from a type of palm plant, has been a staple food of the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin for thousands of years. Health-conscious consumers in the United States caught on to the berry in the early 2000s, and its reputation as a “superfood” spread quickly.

Smoothie bowls are built on a yogurt base instead of açaí purée. Notable health benefits include calcium, whopping doses of probiotics that may aid digestive health, and muscle-building protein (particularly if they’re made with higher-protein Greek yogurt). Like açaí bowls, they’re versatile. Options range from the classic breakfast combo of berries and crunchy granola to more adventurous territory of avocado, papaya, and pumpkin seeds. Go green by blending spinach, kale, or avocado into the yogurt base, or opt for healthy but decadent additions like coconut, nut butter, or cocoa nibs.

The Unhealthy Drawbacks

Watch for bowls that supersize the carbs. Some smoothie bowls can clock in at over 100 grams of carbohydrates. Fortunately, if you watch what you order or consume smaller portions, you can avoid a sugar bomb. Work açaí and smoothie bowls into your diet as a substantial meal no different than, say, an omelet or scramble — not a drink, small snack, or “light” breakfast.

smoothie-bowl-2

Here are five tips for making healthy smoothie bowls:

  • For a nondairy option, blend frozen açaí with half a banana and coconut water or a splash of nondairy milk.
  • Mix unsweetened yogurt into smoothie bowls and purée it with whole frozen fruit instead of juice to avoid additional sugar and to up the fiber quotient.
  • For an extra dose of filling protein, add some nut butter or Greek yogurt to the bowl.
  • Go easy on the granola. A few tablespoons of lightly sweetened granola should do the trick.
  • Try a green version: Spinach and kale are nutritious and bulk up the bowl without adding sugar.

This article is reprinted with permission from MyFitnessPal.

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