The smoothie bowl trend is as delicious as it is beautiful, but is the superfood-packed concoction setting you back with your dietary goals or, even worse, endangering your health?
Smoothie bowls are often full of sugar (albeit natural), calories, and fat. Here’s what you need to know about smoothie bowls and how to enjoy them without the potential side effects.
The Problem with Smoothie Bowls
Categorizing smoothie bowls as “healthy” is partially misleading. Sure, you can hide all of your eh-tasting superfood powders, greens, and other potions and elixirs in there, but this comes at a cost. Smoothie bowls are thicker than your traditional smoothie and require a higher volume of fruit – usually banana – to accomplish this sought-after texture. Some smoothie bowls can clock in at more than 1,000 calories and 130 grams of sugar (more than three cans of soda) due to the fruit juices, purees, and added sugar (even healthy sources thereof). Then come the aesthetically appetizing, Insta-ready toppings, which include dense nuts, nut butters, and dried fruits as well as even more fresh fruits. These add-ons simply compound the high-glycemic, high-calorie, and high-fat effects of the smoothie bowl base itself.
Nutritionist and lifestyle expert Alexandra Catalano explains, “There is no doubt that fruit has tremendous health benefits such as antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but fruit is also a form of sugar. Fruit is made up of simple sugars (fructose) and water, and therefore should be eaten in moderation. Most smoothie bowls are made primarily with fruit and far less greens (if any at all) which can cause a blood sugar roller coaster. Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver and unfortunately can’t be used for energy. Thus, proceed with caution, or make your own at home!”
Naturopathic doctor and certified nutrition consultant, Luisa Szakacs of Marpe Nutrition says that candida (yeast overgrowth) feasts on smoothie bowls, “High glycemic fruits, including dried fruits, will cause a sudden spike in the your blood sugar. If you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or have a family history of diabetes, I would avoid these smoothie bowls at all costs. Not only can these sweet fruits create a potential disaster for your blood sugar in the short term and create serious long term health concerns, these sugars will also contribute to any candida overgrowth you may be experiencing. Candida feasts on sugars, and even when people choose fruit as a better option, sadly, they are misinformed.”
Catalano points to studies that show fructose consumption may lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and liver damage. With this grim prognosis in mind, the question emerges: how much fruit can we have? “There is no doubt high fructose corn syrup or refined sugar is significantly worse than having a piece of fruit; however, fruit consumption should be limited to two to four servings a day which roughly come out to the measurement of a cup. Here’s a tip: think ‘Eat your vegetables and fruit’ and not the other way around.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to nix smoothie bowls from your diet altogether. In fact, you can have your bowl and eat it too! The trick is to swap out some of the fruit and replace it with a low-glycemic alternative that also happens to maintain the consistency.
If you do want to enjoy the smoothie bowl experience, Szakac suggests, “Keep the pineapple, mango, grapes and banana to a minimum, and instead use apple, oranges, lime, lemon, grapefruit, and make sure you add plenty of veggies, such as spinach, kale, avocado or even ginger and turmeric to balance out what could be too much fructose for you to handle.”
Catalano offers her own recipe, which features frozen steamed cauliflower, as opposed to frozen banana.