Acai bowls have been blowing up Instagram feeds for years now, and with good reason. Not only do they look good, they taste amazing—all while giving you a serious dose of produce, plus whatever healthy add-ons you put on top. Right? Actually, while acai bowls are good for you in theory, experts point out that there are a lot of potential pitfalls with the dish, especially if you'd like to lose weight .
Before we get to that, it's important to keep in mind that health and weight loss look different for every person. If you want to lose weight, what works for you might not work for others, and vice versa. And before making any changes, consider whether they're helping or harming your health and happiness. For example, if you have a history of disordered eating , you should talk to your doctor before starting a new eating plan, especially one geared for weight loss. Even if you don't have that history, setting healthy, realistic goals and expectations is essential. Weight loss is about a lot more than how you prep meals like acai bowls. You've also got to think about whether you’re getting good rest and trying to keep your stress levels down, along with factors outside of your control, like health conditions and hormones. It's most important to stay in tune with your body and treat yourself with as much kindness as possible.
Now, when it comes to acai bowls, there are a few key things to know. “Acai is great, but I find that acai bowls have a health halo among my clients,” Jessica Cording , a New York-based R.D., tells SELF. “They eat a bowl in the morning and feel like they’re set for the day, healthy eating-wise.”
The acai puree packets that are used to make the bowls aren’t really an issue—a 100 gram packet of Sambazon puree contains just 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, and no sugar. But the things that are added to make a bowl (often almond milk, berries, and bananas) add up calorie-wise, mostly from sugar, Cording says.
The sugar load is an issue for another reason, too. “Even though it's the naturally present sugar in the fruit, it's still a lot for the body to handle in one sitting, especially if there's minimal protein or fat to buffer the breakdown of that sugar,” Cording says. As a result, your blood sugar can spike and then plummet, leaving you feeling hungry not long after you have a bowl.
That said, you don’t need to swear off acai bowls—experts say you should just be smart about how you have them. Try these tricks for a healthier bowl:
1. First of all, make them yourself.
It’s easier than you think to make an acai bowl at home. And, when you do, you can control what—and how much of each ingredient—goes into it, Cording says. (You can buy frozen acai puree packets online or at your local health food store.)
2. Watch your bowl size.
Most of the recipes you'll find make a massive bowl, so you can often halve the ingredients list for a better serving size. “Acai bowls can be such a great whole-food choice for a meal or snack, but the typical portion size is way over the recommended 1 cup serving for most fruits, especially since it's mostly blended, contributing too much sugar at one time inside your body,” Beth Warren, R.D.N., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food , tells SELF.
3. Curb your toppings and sweeteners.
Treats like granola, nuts, and coconut are delicious, but they’re also high in calories . That’s why Cording recommends you limit yourself to one or two toppings and keep tabs on how much you add of each. Warren also says it's a good idea to take a pass on added sweeteners, like honey, since you already get so much natural sugar from the fruits.
4. Load up on protein.
A protein source, like natural peanut butter or chia seeds, can help lower the glycemic load of the bowl and help stabilize your blood sugar, Warren says. With a little extra protein, you’ll likely feel fuller longer and won’t experience a blood-sugar crash afterwards that can leave you feeling irritable and hungry.
5. Throw some greens into the mix.
To balance out some of the sugar, try blending greens like spinach and kale with the acai puree. Then you can put fruit you'd otherwise blend on top so you can better gauge your portions, Warren says.
Overall, experts are pro-acai bowls when they’re done right. “Acai bowls are a great whole food choice for meal or snack as long as you are mindful about portion sizes and added ingredients,” says Warren.
Watch: How To Make 6 Healthy Breakfast Toasts For Weight Loss