• Nicole Bolar

Are Smoothie Bowls Healthy? The truth about the pretty bowls taking over Instagram!



As a breakfast, mid-day snack, or even a full meal, smoothie bowls are delicious and easy to make and often look as good as they taste. The colorful bowls seen all over social media right now are creating quite a buzz because of their endless possibilities and notable health benefits.

But many people wonder, are store bought smoothie bowls actually good for you? If the store consumers buy them from doesn’t make them fresh, right in front of you, do you really know all of the things they put in them? Or the nutritional information of the toppings, powders, and sweeteners added to the top?

I recently read an article by the Huffington post that argued smoothie bowls are NOT healthy for you, or at least as healthy as the companies that sell them usually boast about. However, their primary talking points in the article were:


– Sugar content

– Total calories

– A person’s satiety over time


What they did NOT account for or disclose in their article was:


– Comparisons between refined vs natural sugar to show how differently they impact the body.

– The vitamins and minerals in fruit

– Fiber

– The antioxidant and cancer fighting benefits


A huge misconception in the world of health and fitness is that whole natural fruit like bananas, apples, melons, berries, etc. have too much sugar and are dangerous to consume in high quantities. The truth is exactly opposite of this! And I’ll explain why.


Natural Sugar vs Refined

Natural sugars come from fruit and vegetables and whole grains found in nature and are completely unprocessed. All fruit contain a ratio of glucose and fructose which make them carbohydrates. Carbohydrates bring our cells the energy that they need in the form of glucose. Glucose is absolutely essential for our bodies because the energy it provides fuels our muscles and our brain, allowing us to function.


Refined and processed sugars, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, and dextrose, undergo a series of chemical processes and are often manipulated by high temperatures, acid treatments, and crystallization. They are made from sucrose, glucose, cornstarch and are highly processed, stripped of their original chemical makeup in order to create the refined, packaged sugars found in the grocery store.


To give a comparison, take one tablespoon of white, granulated sugar. One tablespoon:

weighs 13 grams, 4 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar



Now take 100 grams of blueberries, which is 2/3rd of a cup.

Weighs 100 grams, 57 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 10 grams of sugar, 54 IU, Vitamin A 7 mg, Vitamin C 3 µg, Vitamin K 6 mg, Calcium 6 mg, Magnesium 12 mg, Phosphorus 77 mg, Potassium Plus more!!!



Sure, both one tablespoon of white, granulated sugar and 2/3rd of a cup of blueberries have almost the same amount of sugar and calories, but look at how much more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you get from the blueberries! The white sugar in comparison is just empty calories, completely devoid of nutrients. Not to mention the fact that you get a lot more bang for your buck when you choose fruit over processed sugars! That was only 13 grams of white sugar (a tiny amount) compared to a whopping 100 grams of blueberries!


Also, think about the fiber! Fruits are excellent sources of fiber because of their high water content, low fat content, and their lack of added sugars. High fiber diets have numerous health benefit,s and I could write a whole separate post on this alone! But in short, diets rich in high fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes promote healthy digestion, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and help prevent diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.


So think about processed foods like sugary cereals or donuts vs whole fruit – the choice is easy! Processed with high chemicals vs non-processed and natural, right? Exactly.


This leads me to my next point. Whole fruit and vegetables with natural sugars are a lot less calorically dense than their refined counterparts. This means you can eat a lot more of them than you can cookies or store-bought sweets.


So when people say that smoothie bowls have too much sugar and calories, they’re slightly missing the mark. For instance, a single, medium size banana has 14 grams of sugar in it. Despite this, you don’t hear doctors and dietitians telling you to avoid bananas right? NO! Bananas are MORE than their natural sugar content! They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fiber.


So let me give another comparison. Imagine a whole watermelon. Cut that watermelon in half. Can you imagine eating the whole half? Probably not, because that is A LOT of watermelon.


But 1 cup of watermelon weighs about 156 grams and contains 46 calories. One glazed Krispy Kreme donut weighs 49 grams and has 190 calories. In order to eat 190 calories worth of watermelon, you would have to eat 636 grams of watermelon, which would probably be MORE than the half!That’s 13x more VOLUME than that one, single, lonely donut.


So, for the article by Huffpost to compare a donut, or multiple donuts, full of unhealthy hydrogenated oils (fat essentially) and empty innutritious calories to a smoothie bowl made with whole, natural fruit that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber is truly ridiculous and an injustice to their readers. Misleading the public into being scared of eating natural sugar is a dangerous thing.


The problem is that most of the general public do not follow a plant based diet, and are often eating much more processed food during the day after already eating an acai bowl from a restaurant.

This is why the article warned about the dangers of smoothie bowls!– They are strictly concerned with calories, and the amount of calories the general public is consuming on a daily basis.


Remember when I talked about 13 grams of sugar vs 100 grams of blueberries?? That is the problem with the standard American diet of fast meals and processed food. Many people consume so many empty calories from processed, added sugars in cereals, soda, bread, donuts, cookies, chips, store bought granola, etc. that they often exceed their recommended daily calorie intake by ridiculous numbers without getting nearly the adequate amount of the essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that they should. That excess amount of processed sugars then gets stored as fat.


This excess usually happens because the meals are smaller in volume and psychologically, our brain tells us that those small portions couldn’t possibly be enough food, when really, the calorie content is much larger than what meets the eye.


This is why many people are suddenly afraid of eating too much fruit. However, as shown by the previous comparisons, by choosing a smoothie bowl made from whole, natural ingredients you are receiving many more benefits than you would get if you chose a donut, or a bowl of cereal, or toast. The key is being AWARE of the calories you consume and making smart choices for your body and your goals.

Maintaining a constant calorie surplus can be very dangerous to your health, especially when those who are doing so live a sedentary lifestyle. By taking in more calories than they need, especially ones that don’t hold much nutritional value, men, women, and their children are increasing their risk of weight gain over time, which could lead to the development of diseases like cancer and diabetes.

This is where I want to talk about what to be WARY of when it comes to smoothie bowls –


THE TOPPINGS


Granola, coconut shreds, peanut butter, almond butter, nuts, chia and flax seeds, buckwheat, etc. are all toppings that many bloggers, restaurants, and cafés put on their smoothie and acai bowls in order to make them more aesthetically pleasing. (I’m guilty of this as well) While these aren’t necessarily unhealthy, they can hide a lot of extra calories, making a huge difference in a person’s diet if they’re not careful.

This is particularly true for granola and the nut butters. Granola, when store bought, usually contains a lot of added sugar and oil, making it not only higher in calories but higher in fats as well. I always recommend making your own (I have a link to my easy recipe HERE) or choosing not to add it when buying an acai bowl from a café. But my favorite store-bought granola is Engine 2 Brand! It is oil free and refined sugar free, making it a great alternative if you don’t have time to make your own.


Nut butters, while delicious, are very calorically dense, meaning that one or two tablespoons can add 100 calories or more to an already filling meal. The higher fat content of nut butters is also concerning if your diet already consists of a lot of saturated fat from fried foods, ready-made meals, fast food chains, etc.

* However, there are advantages to adding a healthy fat to smoothie bowls. Adding peanut butter, almond butter, chia, or flax, will help keep you fuller for longer because of fats, by chemical makeup, have more than twice as many kcalories per gram than carbohydrates or protein. So if you know that you have a really busy day and won’t have time to eat very much while you’re on the go, adding nut butters, avocado, or seeds to a smoothie bowl can be a great calorie increase to keep you energized longer.


Satiety is a huge factor as well when it comes to smoothie bowls, and this is where meal planning can really come in handy. Having fruit alone in the morning for breakfast could leave you hungry and wanting more because fruits are carbohydrates. In order to feel satisfied, you could balance it out by adding protein and a source of healthy fat.


Knowing exactly how to structure your meals so that you feel satisfied and energized is the key to staying on track and not feeling like you constantly need more food in order to stay awake during the day!

I’ll have a post up soon on how I structure my vegan meals every day!


But IN SUM


Smoothie bowls, when made with WHOLE FRUIT AND NOT SYRUPS OR PACKAGES can be VERY healthy for you! The key is being aware of the ingredients going IN them and ON TOP of them because these bowls can pack a punch when it comes to calories. By making smart, nutritious choices with the rest of your meals throughout the day, you can ensure that you aren’t drastically eating more calories than what your body actually needs.


Smoothie bowls are one of the most nutritious breakfasts you can have! Full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, these beautiful bowls can be a staple in your diet as a quick breakfast or snack and by adding protein powder, they can be a great post or pre-workout meal. It’s just all about making the right choices for YOUR body and YOUR goals.


I personally recommend creating them yourself instead of buying them from the store. But, if you can’t,  going and getting a smoothie bowl from a café instead of getting something like donuts, a breakfast burrito, or pancakes from some other breakfast place is certainly MUCH more beneficial to your health!

Don’t be afraid of eating fruit! It’s amazing!

I hope this article was helpful!


Happier, Healthier, Stronger

– Nicole

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