Smoothie bowls burst onto the scene a few years ago as a nutrient-filled and highly-Instagrammable option for restaurants and cafés to capitalise upon. The uptake has been immense, with dedicated smoothie bowl establishments such as Bowl & Arrow popping up in their wake. But how good are they for customers, really?
“The aspects of the smoothie bowls that have us all fooled are the fancy health buzzwords and elitist prices,” explained Ilana Muhlstein, an LA-based nutritionist. “When the marketing touts itself as containing maca, spirulina, reishi, and other exotic ingredients that most people don’t understand the value to, for a premium price, people feel like it absolutely must be great for them.”
While it is true that the sugars found in smoothie bowls are all natural, they often don’t contain the necessary fibre and protein to help the body digest it effectively – some dieticians have described smoothie bowls as an “atomic bomb of sugar”. The toppings themselves can add up to 500 calories, 45 grams of sugar and 20 grams of fat.
Another problem lies in the attitude of consumers towards smoothies. While a smoothie may appear as a drink, there is no need to supplement a bowl of liquid with a bowl of solid food. However, many diners will consume the smoothie bowl in a matter of minutes, meaning they feel less satisfied and will need to eat something else in order to feel full – the calories can pile on quickly without anyone noticing, flying in the face of the logic that smoothies are meant to be healthy alternatives.
“Even though it’s natural sugar, if there’s no protein or fat to balance it out, it hits your bloodstream all at once,” said dietician Jessica Cording. “It’s also a lot of calories in one bowl. If you’re having it for breakfast, you might not realise that, since it’s mostly carbs, you’ll end up hungry again, sooner than later.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that smoothie bowls are all bad. There is any number of fresh or frozen fruit and vegetable combinations that add a good amount of fibre while being low in sugar. Yoghurt, seeds, nuts or even protein powder will add a much-needed dash of protein which is helpful for balancing blood sugar, developing muscles and, perhaps most importantly, making customers feel full.
“Social media plays a big role in this,” Cording said. “We see people posting these huge, elaborate bowls with all kinds of ingredients piled on top, and you’ve got to wonder if that’s what they’re really eating. When it comes to things like smoothie and açai bowls, I recommend people ask themselves, ‘would I eat this much fruit in one sitting if it was a full piece of fruit?’”