When you head to your favorite acai place in search of a healthy breakfast or snack, you may be walking into a veritable candy store, since the average 16-ounce acai bowl from a juice place has 630 calories, 80 grams of carbs, 41 grams of sugar, and 34 grams of fat. That's the equivalent of two and a half jelly donuts (which have 250 calories each). Making sure you get all the nutrients and less of the sugar in your bowl is all a matter of what goes into it.

To learn about ways to maximize the nutrients of these superfoods, we asked Registered Dietitian Kelli Morgan to help acai fans harness the power of these antioxidant-packed berries and keep each acai bowl to 400 calories or less. This means you'll stay full for hours, without the added calories or sugars in most bowls. “I've seen acai bowls with over 1,000 calories at my local shop," Morgan says. "Making your acai bowl at home is a great way to control the calorie content. so you can keep your acai bowl to around 350-400 calories.”

“Acai is a superfood from the Amazon rainforest that is high in antioxidants, omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9 and naturally low in sugar. When mixed with sweeter fruits it makes the most delicious smoothie bowls," Morgan adds.

For a healthier acai bowl you can make at home, here is Morgan's recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plant milk
  • 1 packet frozen acai
  • 1 frozen banana (frozen for an added creamy consistency of soft serve)
  • 1/2 cup blueberries or other fresh fruit

Instructions:

  1. Run your frozen acai packet under running water for 30 seconds to let it thaw.
  2. Place 3 tablespoons of water in blender. Break up acai as you add it. Add banana.
  3. Blend until smooth, press the banana pieces down into the blades. This cuts the blending time and helps keep mixture cold and thick.
  4. Empty contents into a bowl and add toppings of choice

Get creative with the toppings and if you have kids, add some toppings of their choice. Favorite toppings include granola or chia seeds, but watch out for the extra calories that can come with some of these toppings, and keep it to a minimum to add crunch and texture.

Healthy Acai Bowl Toppings:

1. Granola. “I make my own so I can control the ingredients. I love including oats in my diet for a boost of fiber, protein, and iron”, shared the RD. Recipes for both Coconut Granola and Three Seed Granola are available on Kelli’s website, but the oats-powered option granola is best for acai bowls. If you have to go the store-bought route, look for one with no added sugar, whole ingredients, and high fiber count per serving. “I like Purely Elizabeth and Safe and Fair because they use the same whole ingredients as you'd make at home,” Morgan said. Use sparingly so the granola doesn’t become a hidden calorie bomb on your bowl.

2. Chia Seeds. “Did you know 1 ounce of chia seeds contains 11g fiber, 4g protein, and 30 percent of our RDA for manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus? Talk about a superfood!” Morgan says. Chia seeds can be found at your local grocery store or health food store.

3. Berries. “A cup of berries contains 160 percent of our RDA for vitamin C and is packed with numerous other antioxidants and phytochemicals”, Morgan explains. Buy whatever berry is in season or mix and match for a bowl with even more colorful antioxidants! Add blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. Each is full of fiber and nutrients.

4. Goji berries. Goji berries add a chewy texture as well as 18 amino acids and a long list of powerful antioxidants, Morgan says. Buy dried goji berries online and keep them handy.

5. Sliced almonds. Almonds are another healthy addition, as “they add a layer of crunch in addition to fiber, phytonutrients, protein, and healthy fats,” says Morgan. Other nuts, like walnuts, have omega-3, fiber, and protein, but don't overdo it since these are highest in fat and calories, and always buy raw and unsalted. “Roasting nuts can damage their healthy fats” explained Morgan.

6. Coconut Flakes. Add a sprinkle of unsweetened coconut flakes for a tropical taste, in addition to fiber and iron. Buy unsweetened coconut flakes to avoid extra sugar.

7. Cacao nibs. If you want a sweet topper that's low in sugar and high in minerals including iron and magnesium, add cacao nibs to your acai bowl.

And 3 ingredients to avoid when making your acai bowls

1. Chocolate chips. “Avoid the temptation to add extra calories and sugar, and instead use cacao nibs for that same sweet crunchy kick.

2. Agave Nectar. Juice bars add agave nectar on top of their bowls to sweeten the naturally bitter acai taste but skip this step, Morgan suggests. Your bowl will still be delicious without it.

3. Honey. This is another popular topping for acai bowls from juice bars. Like agave, this is an unnecessary addition. The natural sugars from the berries will be enough sweet taste.