This article is part of The Volume Issue, The WALK’s Fall 2017 theme, which seeks to explore every aspect of the concept of “volume,” one of which is interrogating the real volume of nutrients in trendy, “fit” foods.
othing can make your life feel more put together than waking up one weekend morning, grabbing your books, and heading down to you nearest vegan restaurant for a quiet study session accompanied by a big purple açai bowl. I mean you might as well be #health, am I right? Wrong. Picture this: you wake up one weekend morning, grab your books and a pint of ice cream as you head out to a cafe, where you sit, cramming last minute lessons in your memory and spooning sugar-laden ice cream into your mouth. Much less picturesque, right? What if I told you there was no substantial difference between the two scenarios?
Açai bowls are just over-glorified purple bowls of ice cream. While media may be bombarding you with pictures and articles of society’s new health craze, the reality of açai bowls is that their effect on your body is not much different than that of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, with a few exceptions.
Firstly, the average açai bowl is generally comprised of some dairy-alternative milk, frozen açai berry (usually prepackaged), other frozen fruits, and, if they’re really going for it, a couple tablespoons of ground nuts, maca powder, or other vitamin-enriched additions. While on the surface this ingredient list sounds impeccable, on the molecular level your body breaks this down similarly to how it would break down ice cream, and thus it has similar physiological effects.
To represent the average, the Jamba Juice Acai Primo BowlTM has 490 calories, 10 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, and 99 grams of carbs–67 of which are sugar. By contrast, Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey® non-dairy ice cream, which is banana ice cream with fudge chunks and walnuts, has 260 calories, 14 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, and 31 grams of carb–only 26 of which are sugar. This means you could down half a pint of ice cream for less sugar than an acai bowl. In the body simple sugars are digested and metabolized faster than other things, therefore when your body breaks it down quickly and has a sudden surplus of energy with no way to use it all, it gets quickly stored as fat.
Sure, sugars aren’t the only deciding factor. Açai bowls are packed with more vitamins and nutrients than ice cream, but the processed, fast food versions’ high-carbohydrate content can sometimes do more harm than good. So does this mean we should eat ice cream all the time because it’s ‘healthier’ than some açai bowls? Not exactly. It just means you should treat açai bowls more as a treat than a healthy, everyday food because the reality is that they can be potent sugar-bombs. So, if you really want to get the most of of açai berries’ nutrional offerings—or you want it for the #eatclean ‘gram—best to DIY. Trader Joe’s sells frozen “Unsweetened Organic Açaí Purée Packets” so you can be sure of exactly what it is that’s going in your smoothie bowl and in your body.
And if you ever do find yourself cramming for your next exam with a pint of ice cream sitting by someone who looks like their life is fully put together while they eat an açai bowl, you can reassure yourself that you’re not that different. And, hey, it’s college, no one’s life is put together.