What’s the Buzz?
Açai is a deep-purple wonder food that’s the coolest new food trend (literally).
What Does the Science Say?
Açai (ah-sigh-ee) is a dark purple tropical fruit native to South American rainforests that is most known for its use in smoothie bowls, one of the latest healthy (and often spend-y!) breakfast trends. (What’s a smoothie bowl? A smoothie thick enough to eat with a spoon that’s served in a bowl with additional toppings, like coconut, sliced fruit, or granola. So, you know, a smoothie — amplified.) Full of fiber, vitamin A, and antioxidants, açai gets its reputation as a health-promoting fruit for good reason. While the antioxidant content can vary, açai does appear to have a high concentration of anthocyanins, which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties similar to blueberries, blackberries, and red wine.
What makes açai different from other berries? It is about 70 percent fat (a mix of saturated and unsaturated), which, combined with the fiber, can help promote satiety, that feeling of fullness. Enthusiasts tout its ability to boost metabolism and promote weight loss, which has not been substantiated by research; although, the fiber and fat can help keep you full longer, possibly leading you to eat less later on.
Açai is extremely perishable, so it can only be purchased frozen or as a freeze-dried powder in the United States. Some açai connoisseurs insist on using the frozen pulp, while others swear by the powdered form. Either way, you’ll want to read the ingredients and look for options that don’t include added sugar or other fillers. When buying the pulp, look for higher concentrations of açai (versus water) to get the most nutritional benefits.
The beauty of the açai bowl is you can really get creative in your kitchen. Blend açai with your choice of other fruits, vegetables, and liquid (go for your favorite milk or coconut water over juice) to form the smoothie bowl and then top with fruit, nuts, seeds, granola, or even cacao nibs (chocolate for breakfast!). Similar to when making any type of smoothie (or bowl), the key to keeping it healthy is to be mindful about the type and quantity of add-ins and toppings, because even those with the healthiest of ingredients can turn into calorie and sugar-bombs. For example, some juice bars use juice as a liquid and top with honey, granola, and other sugar-filled toppings, which can add up to more than your daily allotment of 6-9 tsp of added sugar and create bowls with over 600 calories. For added staying power, include a source of protein such as milk (dairy or soy have more protein than most nut milks), Greek yogurt, nuts, or seeds, either blended with the açai or as a topping.
What’s the Takeaway?
Açai is a nutrient-rich fruit that may offer health benefits. Açai bowls can be a delicious and refreshing way to beat the summertime heat and boost your nutrient intake, but eating one is not a guaranteed ticket to health. As with any delicious, nutrient-dense food, remember to keep toppings and add-ins balanced to reap the deepest (purple) benefits of this tropical fruit.