As students search for a nutrient-dense snack or meal, they often turn to acai bowls, whether it’s from dipnmix in Westwood, SAMBAZON in Ackerman Union or elsewhere.
According to Heathline, acai bowls are smoothie bowls made with a base of puréed acai berries and served with different toppings such as fruits and granola. Julie Lopez, a culinary nutrition consultant, said acai berries are superfoods, meaning they are high in antioxidants that are said to protect cells against damage, and provide an opportunity to intake more fiber.
“All of our fruits and vegetables really have these different antioxidants. It’s just a little bit more condensed in such a small berry,” Lopez said. “Acai bowls are pretty much like a smoothie bowl.”
Acai bowls did not originate in the United States, rather, they came from South America. Acai berries grow in the Amazon rainforest and have been a staple in many native Brazilians’ diets, according to Save the Amazon Rainforest. According to different acai bowl stores, such as Tambor Acai, the bowl was likely made popular by the founder of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and then became popular with surfers in the U.S in the 2000s.
Now, they have become popular across the country, especially because of their advertised health benefits. Generally, superfoods, which are defined as foods that are low in calories while being full of nutrients, are associated with improved immune system and heart health, reduced risk of cancer and inflammation and lower cholesterol, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Additional superfoods include other berries, such as blueberries and goji berries, and dark leafy greens such as spinach.
Lopez said acai bowls are an easy way to incorporate more fruits into one’s diet, and that some people also blend spinach into their base. However, she added that it is important to remember that acai berries are not the only way to get antioxidants and to include them into a holistic diet.
“Sometimes we hear the term superfoods, like with acai berries, and we think that’s the best thing to incorporate into our diet,” Lopez said. “It’s not just one superfood that’s going to give you all the benefits. We need a well-balanced diet.”
Julie Harrington, a registered dietitian, said in an article in EatingWell that people started eating acai bowls more when they started being advertised as a superfood. Acai berries are often marketed with claims that they increase digestion and energy levels, increase quality of sleep and lower cholesterol, according to Save the Amazon Rainforest.
Because of its associations to superfoods, some Bruins may opt for acai bowls for their nutritional benefits. Sydney Douglas, a second-year psychology student, said she has heard that acai berries are superfoods, and considers them a nutritional breakfast, lunch or dessert.
Students have the opportunity to take advantage of the nutrient benefits in the bowls with the introduction of SAMBAZON in Ackerman Union. While students have the choice of many toppings, including Nutella and honey, Douglas said she prefers certain toppings such as peanut butter.
Some Bruins have incorporated acai bowls more frequently into their diet in replacement of other drinks. Douglas, for instance, said she prefers acai bowls over smoothies.
“For me, it is more filling than an actual smoothie,” Douglas said. “It’s very fruity, but it’s also healthy.”
Nathan Lim, a third-year economics student, said he used to drink smoothies more often, but has noticed he has been eating more acai bowls since trying them. He added that he does not eat them for health reasons, but rather because he thinks they taste good.
Douglas said she thinks acai bowls are popular among college students in part because of their aesthetic appeal and health benefits. Lim said they are also popular because they are trendy.
Lopez said the convenience of acai bowls, especially for people living in dorms, is another reason why they might be especially popular among college students. Their aesthetics add to the pleasure of eating, she added.
However, acai bowls may not live up to their marketed health benefits.
There is no evidence that acai by itself can improve health, despite marketing claims that it reduces aging and promotes weight loss, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Some advertising says that acai berries help with a host of different bodily functions, but the NCCIH emphasized that no research has been done into the actual health-related qualities of acai, such as weight loss and anti-aging.
Regardless of whether or not acai bowls can enhance one’s health, these sweet and easy bowls still hold a special place in Bruins’ hearts.
“I just love acai,” Douglas said. “You’re getting all the benefits in a smoothie, but you get to chew it.”