They are often beautiful in colour, filled with organic and fresh ingredients and served with an expensive price tag. While smoothie bowls and chia puddings are better for you than the average muffin, experts say they can also be unhealthy.
According to gut health expert and dietitian Kara Landau, açai bowls, in particular, can be extremely nutrient dense and should not be considered a balanced meal, Coach Nine reports.
And while the social media hype around smoothie bowls is nothing new, registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen of Vancouver, says even though these bowls and puddings are full of produce, you should always be mindful of sugar and protein.
“Some smoothie bowls might not have any protein at all, meaning that you will feel hungry as your blood sugars crash mid-morning,” she tells Global News. “Chia has a bit more protein (1/4 cup of chia seeds offer the same protein as an egg). No matter how healthy the ingredients, you still want a well-balanced meal that contains protein and healthy fats.”
When do they become unhealthy?
She adds sometimes bowls are topped with maple syrup — which is still sugar.
“If a smoothie bowl or chia pudding uses two tablespoons of maple syrup, that’s the equivalent of six teaspoons of added sugar on top of any natural sugars from the fruit.”
Anar Allidina, a registered dietitian based in Richmond Hill, Ont., says there are plenty of smoothie bowl toppings to cut back on.
“Smoothie bowls include ingredients such as banana, honey, granola, cacao nibs, chocolate shavings and coconut cream toppings. Even though these toppings are naturally occurring sugars and provide vitamins and minerals, the end result is a high intake of carbohydrates,” she tells Global News. “Too many carbs can cause large spikes in blood sugar which are linked to negative health outcomes. Smoothie bowls are not adequately balanced in protein, fat and carbs and will likely not keep you full or satisfied until your next meal.”
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Allidina says while these bowls or puddings don’t have to be a regular breakfast staple, you should still enjoy them from time to time or share a bowl with a friend.
Ingredients to consider
Nielsen says when you’re ordering a chia pudding (or making one at home) look for ones made with unsweetened milk substitutes or canned coconut milk to help keep the sugar down.
For smoothie bowls that don’t have ingredients on their menu, ask how they are made. “You may not realize that you are taking down the equivalent of two bananas, a mango and a cup of papaya if you order a large bowl. That’s a ton of fruit.” Instead, look for bowls that include healthy fats like avocado or nut butters for better balance.
And to cut down on sugar, avoid toppings like granola. “There are some truly healthy granolas out there but others are like eating the grain-equivalent of Haagen Dazs .”
Making a healthy meal
Dr. Susan Mitchell told HuffPost Greek yogurt works as a healthy base for a smoothie bowl, and almonds and other nuts make healthy toppings.
Size also matters, Allidina says.
“To keep sugar intake in check, opt for the smallest size you can,” she continues. “Also try to choose your own ingredients so you know what is going into your bowl. This way you can choose lower sugar containing fruits such as berries, in place of higher sugar containing fruits such as bananas and mangoes.”
And when it comes to chia pudding, Nielsen says chia, in general, is the healthy way to go. “Chia is one of those foods that can seem harder to incorporate into your diet chia puddings make it easy,” she explains. “Chia seeds are rich in soluble fibre which benefits blood sugar control, cholesterol levels and gut health. Their omega 3 fatty acids help to fight inflammation, as part of a healthy diet. With fruit and maybe a bit of extra protein, it’s a complete meal that is so easy to grab and go.”
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