Playa bowls have become an increasingly popular healthy fast food option. With fresh acai berries, granola, and an array of nutritious toppings, playa bowls can be a satisfying meal or snack. But with so many combinations to choose from, how do you know which playa bowl is the healthiest option?
Acai Berry Base
All playa bowls start with a frozen acai berry puree base. Acai berries are small, deep purple berries that grow on acai palm trees in Central and South America. Often referred to as a “superfood”, acai berries are packed with antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, and nutrients.
Some key nutrients found in acai berries include:
- Antioxidants – Acai berries contain anthocyanins and polyphenols, two powerful antioxidants that can help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
- Fiber – A 100g serving of acai packs around 11g of fiber. The fiber in acai can promote digestive health.
- Healthy fats – Over half the calories in acai come from heart healthy fats, like oleic acid and palmitic acid. These fats support heart health.
- Vitamins and minerals – Acai is a good source of vitamin A, calcium, iron, and vitamin E.
So by starting with a base of antioxidant-rich acai puree, all playa bowls have a nutritional head start compared to other fast food options.
On top of the acai puree base, playa bowls feature a generous topping of granola. Granola is typically made by tossing rolled oats and nuts in oil and baking until crispy. The type of granola used can impact the nutrition profile of a playa bowl.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a granola for optimal nutrition:
- Oats – Look for granola made with 100% whole rolled oats, rather than quick oats. Whole oats are less processed and higher in fiber.
- Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds add protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Granola made with almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds can be particularly nutritious.
- Dried fruit – Dried cranberries, cherries, apples, mangoes, or bananas can provide antioxidants and natural sweetness. But portion size matters, as dried fruit is high in sugar.
- Sweeteners – Some granola contains added sugars or honey. Prioritize unsweetened granola or those sweetened with small amounts of maple syrup or coconut sugar.
- Oil – Granola is often tossed in oil, like coconut or olive oil, to get crispy. Avoid partially hydrogenated oils which can contain trans fats.
Choosing an unsweetened granola made with whole oats, nuts, seeds, and just a touch of coconut oil or olive oil can maximize the nutritional value of your playa bowl.
Fresh fruit toppings provide playa bowls with flavor, nutrients, and natural sweetness. Fruit options at most playa bowl shops include:
Fruits like berries, citrus, pineapple, and kiwi provide the most nutrients for minimal calories. Bananas and apples, while nutritious, do have more natural sugars. Still, fruit adds key vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber to boost the nutrition of a playa bowl.
Additional Superfood Toppings
Beyond fruit, playa bowl restaurants allow you to customize your bowl with a variety of “superfood” toppings. Some of the most nutritious options include:
- Coconut flakes – Coconut provides healthy fats and fiber.
- Chia seeds – A great source of omega-3s, protein, and fiber.
- Hemp seeds – Hemp seeds contain protein, omega-3s, magnesium, and iron.
- Cacao nibs – Packed with antioxidants and minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium.
- Goji berries – Contain antioxidants like vitamin A, zeaxanthin, and carotenoids.
- Bee pollen – Rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Opting for these antioxidant and nutrient-dense toppings can bring the nutritional value of your playa bowl to the next level.
Healthier Dressing Options
Playa bowls come dressed with a drizzle of sauce on top. While tasty, some dressings and sauces can be high in sugar, so pay attention to the nutrition facts. Healthier sauce choices include:
- Honey – Pure honey contains antioxidants and phytonutrients.
- Maple syrup – Has antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Coconut cream – Made from the fat of coconuts and provides healthy fats.
- Almond butter – Good source of protein, calcium, iron and magnesium.
- Peanut butter – Packed with protein, fiber, vitamin E, and magnesium.
On the flip side, dressings like chocolate sauce, Nutella, sweetened condensed milk, or fruit purees can spike the sugar content. If you want to keep your bowl on the healthier side, avoid the sugary sauces.
Low Sugar Playa Bowl Combinations
Keeping portions balanced and minimizing high sugar add-ons is key to building a nutritious playa bowl. Here are some of the healthiest playa bowl combinations:
|Acai puree||Unsweetened granola with nuts and seeds||Mixed berries||Chia seeds and coconut flakes||Honey|
|Acai puree||Low sugar granola with oats and almonds||Banana and strawberries||Goji berries||Almond butter|
|Acai puree||Homemade granola with oats, walnuts, cinnamon||Blueberries and kiwi||Bee pollen and cacao nibs||Maple syrup|
As you can see, the healthiest playa bowl formula includes:
- An antioxidant-rich acai base
- Nutrient-dense add-ins like nuts, seeds, and superfood toppings
- Low sugar fresh fruits as toppings
- Minimal added sweeteners
The Least Healthy Playa Bowl Options
While playa bowls can be a nutritious choice, unhealthy toppings and excess calories can tip the scales the other way. Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Granola with chocolate, candy, or coating – This spikes sugar and negates the benefits.
- Dried fruit as main topping – Large servings of dried mango, cranberries, etc. pack sugars.
- Sugary sauces – Chocolate sauce, sweetened condensed milk, and fruit purees add excess sugar.
- Sweetened yogurt – Flavored yogurts have added sugars without much nutritional benefit.
- Too many seeds or nuts – Healthy in moderation, but excess calories if overdone.
- Processed protein powders – Whey or plant proteins better obtained through whole foods.
By avoiding these calorie and sugar bombs, you can keep your playa bowl light and nutritious.
Portion Control Matters
With so many delicious toppings to choose from, it’s easy to overdo it on portion sizes when ordering a playa bowl. But remaining mindful of portions is key to keeping the calorie count reasonable.
Here are some tips for portion control:
- Start with a single serving of acai puree as your base.
- Stick to a 1⁄4 cup or less of granola.
- Add just 1⁄2 cup of fresh fruit.
- Limit nuts, seeds, and other toppings to 2 tablespoons.
- Ask for dressing and sauces on the side to control how much you use.
Using these guidelines can help prevent your playa bowl from turning into a 1000+ calorie treat.
DIY Your Playa Bowl
For complete control over nutrition and ingredients, making your own playa bowl at home can be the healthiest option.
Here’s a simple homemade playa bowl recipe:
- 1 packet frozen acai puree, thawed
- 1⁄2 cup low sugar granola
- 1⁄2 banana, sliced
- 1⁄2 cup mixed berries
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp coconut flakes
- 1 tsp honey or maple syrup
- Blend packet of acai puree until creamy and smooth.
- Pour acai puree into a bowl.
- Top with granola, banana, mixed berries, chia seeds and coconut flakes.
- Drizzle with honey or maple syrup.
With just 5 main ingredients, you can make a delicious and nutritious DIY playa bowl under 500 calories. And you can customize each element to suit your taste and dietary needs. Making your own allows you to skip any unwanted added sugars found in premade versions.
The Healthiest Playa Bowls Are All About Balance
While playa bowls seem indulgent, they can be a nutritious choice when thoughtfully balanced. Here are some key tips for building the healthiest playa bowl:
- Stick to an antioxidant-rich acai or fruit base.
- Choose unsweetened granola with nuts, seeds or oats.
- Add fresh fruits like berries and banana in moderation.
- Include fiber-rich superfood toppings like chia seeds, bee pollen, or cacao nibs.
- Drizzle with just a teaspoon of nut butter, honey, or maple syrup.
- Control portions to keep calories in check.
- Avoid sugary sauces, candied granolas, and dried fruit overload.
Finding the right balance of antioxidant-packed ingredients, healthy fats, and natural sweetness can make a playa bowl a nourishing part of your diet instead of a sugar bomb. With mindful ordering or DIY recipes, playa bowls can provide a deliciously healthy and satisfying meal or snack.