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Unlike so many health food fads, the açai craze is still going strong years after it first started trending. It’s also taken us that long to figure out what on earth açai is and, um, how to pronounce it (FYI: it’s ah-sigh-ee). But are açai bowls healthy? We spoke to Dietician Amy Richter to get the full scoop on the mystery ingredient, and whether or not a bowl of the stuff belongs in our daily rotation.

What is açai?

You’ve heard of açai bowls before, and have probably even seen the ingredient featured in smoothies and the like...but what is açai, exactly? Well, the dietician tells us that açai refers to the small, dark purple berries produced by a type of palm tree (of the same name) that’s native to the rainforests of Central and South America. Açai berries actually look a lot like blueberries, but when it comes to how they taste, Richter says they’re quite tart, with a flavor that some describe as “a cross between dark chocolate and blackberries.” Yep, this exotic berry is pretty yummy—and that’s not all it has going for it, either. (But more on that below.)

Are açai bowls healthy?

Açai bowls are a big hit in the health and wellness world right now, which means you’re probably wondering whether or not these berries actually live up to the hype. Well, friends, you might want to consider incorporating this fruit into your diet because it just so happens that açai is indeed the real deal. Per Richter, “açai berries are very high in anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in red and purple fruits and vegetables that can help reduce inflammation in the body and prevent chronic diseases.” In fact, there’s ample research that supports the far-reaching health benefits of anthocyanins. What’s more, Richter tells us that açai berries “also provide a good amount of vitamin A and vitamin C, both of which are important for maintaining a strong immune system.”

How to make a healthy açai bowl

Now that you know you’re not just gulping down a mouthful of malarkey when you dig into an açai bowl, let’s talk about how to prepare one at home—you know, so you can reap all the aforementioned rewards of this antioxidant-rich fruit. For starters, it’s worth mentioning that fresh açai berries are pretty much impossible to find—namely because they turn rancid so quickly after being picked. Instead, look for açai as a frozen puree or freeze-dried powder. (The dietician says you can use either one of these popular forms of the fruit to whip up a healthy meal.)

Once you’ve scored some açai at your local supermarket or health food store, Richter suggests giving your pureed or powdered superfood a spin in the blender, along with “half a banana, some frozen fruit (strawberries or blueberries work well), yogurt and a splash of your favorite juice or milk.” The end result is a smoothie-like concoction that can be spooned into a bowl and, per the expert, “[topped] with nuts, seeds, or granola for some added fiber and healthy fats.” If you’re going dairy-free, Richter says that plant-based yogurts can be substituted for the regular stuff—but, she adds, you might want to consider a scoop of protein powder for good measure, since these types of yogurts are typically lower in protein. Finally, keep in mind that Richter’s recipe is just a basic template—so feel free to get creative when you’re whipping up your own açai smoothie bowl.

Açai bowl alternatives

Maybe it’s too hard to find açai or simply too expensive to purchase on the regular—whatever the case may be, you’ll be happy to know that there are alternatives that boast comparable health benefits. According to Richter, the best substitutes for açai are blackberries, which have the added benefit of a similar flavor profile, and blueberries. Ultimately, both these “purple foods” deliver a significant dose of anthocyanins and, as such, possess many of the same health benefits as açai.

3 Açai Recipes to Get You Started

Feed Me Pheobe

1. Brazilian açai bowl

This traditional Brazilian açai bowl, courtesy of Coterie member Phoebe Larsen, relies on all the basic ingredients, plus shredded coconut and a hint of maple syrup to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Get the recipe

Detoxinista

2. Açai smoothie


Swap the bowl for a straw and enjoy this sinfully delicious açai smoothie from the Detoxinista, which features the sweetness of Medjool dates and mango cubes, plus orange juice for an added zing that will wake you right up.

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Simple Veganista

3. Super berry açai bowl

This fruit-filled açai bowl is 100 percent vegan—but the addition of nut butter makes it so creamy, you’d never know it was dairy-free.

Get the recipe

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