Acai (aka Açaí aka “ah-sah-EE”)

There are two types of people in this world: people who love acai and people who haven’t tried acai. If you don’t like acai, you need to reevaluate your life!

Acai is my favorite fruit. Hailing from the Amazon, where it grows on palm trees, acai is a unique combination of delicious and nutritious. It tastes like a hybrid between blueberries and cacao – in its unsweetened form, it is subtly sweet and a tad bitter. When it is mixed with sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and stevia, the flavor really comes out and the 10,000 taste buds that lie on your tongue can’t get enough.

You have all heard by now that acai is absolutely packed with antioxidants, which are known for fighting aging. This is not an urban myth – acai has 10x the antioxidants of grapes and double that of blueberries. Furthermore, when compared to other fruit, acai in its pure form is mostly composed of healthy fats such as omegas and has a negligible amount of net carbohydrates (carbohydrates – fiber, the true way to calculate the number of carbs you are consuming). In addition to this, acai has been linked to helping digestion, aiding in weight loss and promoting better skin, which may be why you find it as an ingredient in many creams and lotions.

Acai is rarely served in its raw berry form. This is because, in addition to going bad quickly, the seed makes up the majority of the berry so it is tough to eat. Thus, it is often sold as a juice, a freeze dried powder or as a frozen puree (what I buy!) that can be blended to make a smoothie or acai na tigela (“acai bowl” in English). The acai bowl, as it is served in Brazil, has a base of acai puree or powder, a juice or a milk and a sweetener such as guarana syrup or honey. This base is then topped with bananas, granola and / or other fruits.

acai na tigela1.jpg

The World Famous Rio Acai Bowl

Although this traditional Brazilian recipe is packed with nutrition, it is also packed with A LOT of sugar. I’ll admit the standard Brazilian acai bowl is absurdly delicious, but I don’t eat it unless I’m on vacation in Brazil. Rather, I’ve developed my own practical Acai smoothie / bowl recipes for everyday use.

The recipe I follow depends on whether I am preparing acai for myself post-workout or under normal conditions.

If I make an acai smoothie for myself post-workout, I mix a high amount of protein with a reasonable amount of carbs (namely sugar) to replenish the glycogen burned in my workout and to repair my muscles. The ingredients I throw in the blender (I use a Vitamix) in this scenario are:

  • 1 Sambazon Original Blend acai puree packet
  • 1 banana
  • 2 scoops of whey protein (or however much to get 25 g of whey)
  • 1 tbsp of non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp of coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp of flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp of maple syrup (or honey)
  • ¾ cup of cold water
  • 2-3 ice cubes

This adds up to roughly 450 calories with roughly 35g of protein and 55 g of net carbohydrates – at least for me, this macronutrient profile + the minerals and antioxidants (too many to list!) + the good fats (such as omega-3’s and MCTs) make this smoothie a potent and delicious breakfast that refuels me after my morning cardio and holds me over until lunch.

On mornings which I haven’t trained, I prepare the following acai bowl:

  • 2 Sambazon Unsweetened Blend acai puree packets
  • 1 banana
  • 2 scoops of whey protein (or however much to get 25 g of whey)
  • 1 tbsp of non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp of flaxseed
  • 1 tsp of coconut oil
  • 1 packet of stevia
  • < 1 cup of water (the less, the thicker the texture will be)
  • 2-3 ice cubes

This recipe is about 450 calories as well but low on carbs – the banana is your only true source of carbs – and high on protein and good fats. Every now and then, I may top my bowl with a little bit of granola but I don’t see the need to add extra bananas or fruit. I love this recipe, not because it is my own (!), but because it tastes great and keeps me full for hours.

A quick note is that if you are not a fan of protein powders, you could substitute another form of protein such as a larger dose of Greek yogurt or nuts and seeds – almonds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are solid options. You could also choose not to include more protein-driven food sources.

Like most food preparation projects, the hard part is getting a hold of the ingredients, in this case acai. There are a few brands that sell the puree packs, such as Sambazon, Nativo and Amafruits. Sambazon is the most mainstream of these brands and can be found at Whole Foods and Wegmans. All three sell online as well, using dry ice to keep the puree packs frozen when they ship to you. You can find Sambazon and Amafruits packs on Amazon:

Amafruits Acai Traditional Mix with Guarana Smoothie Packs

Pure Acai Berry Puree Smoothie Packs

Sambazon does also sell a freeze dried powder, which you can buy on Amazon as well (I’ve never tried the powder but it does have a 4 star rating).

Sambazon Organic Freeze-Dried Acai Powder, 3.17 Ounce

Zola is a popular acai juice brand, which can be found on Amazon as well.

Zola Acai Juice Original, 12 Ounce (Pack of 12)

If you guys are already making yourselves acai shakes and/or acai bowls, I would love to hear your recipes!

 

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