The Beauty of Smoothie Bowls (Yes, They're Smoothies—in Bowls)

It's the new smoothie dilemma: Straw or spoon?  Just when you thought the world of liquid meals was complete, along comes something new. The latest trend in purified food: Smoothie bowls. That's right, these are smoothies, but you eat them out of a bowl. Before you write off this craze as just as change of scenery for your smoothie, there are, apparently, a few key distinctions between an old-style smoothie you drink and the newer, smoothie-in-a-bowl versions.

Besides the obvious difference in how you consume it, smoothie bowls provide the opportunity to get even more creative with liquefied creations. Because smoothie bowls don't have to be slurped through a straw, cooks have the option to make the concoction as thick as they want -- blending in ingredients like seeds, frozen bananas, nut butters or even avocado for added heft and texture.

"Smoothie bowls are essentially more nutrient-dense smoothies, thick enough to eat with a spoon and often topped with fruits, nuts, seeds, muesli or granola," explains McKel Hill, MS, RD, and creator of the plant-based, whole foods blog Nutrition Stripped.  "Think of smoothie bowls as the new cereal -- like cereal 2.0."

These bowls are showing up all over the food blogosphere, popular in part because of how photogenic they are. Adorned with colorful slices of fruit and strategically positioned nuts and seeds, these bowls can look like edible works of art.

But while basking in the glow of your smoothie bowl's health halo, don't forget to be conscious of calories. "Smoothie bowls can be deceiving calorically," says Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition at Penn State University. "Once you start adding yogurt, peanut butter, nuts and granola, you can easily end up with several hundred more calories than you might suspect."

If your goal is just a quick, healthy snack, follow Clark's advice and keep portions in check. "But you can also make a smoothie bowl into a filling and nutritious meal," says Tess Masters, author of The Blender Girl Cookbook, who likes to make a gazpacho-style smoothie bowl topped with fresh chopped vegetables. "I also love sweet, dessert smoothie bowls -- which people have been doing for many, many years under another name. It's called a pudding!"

Acai Berry Bowl 

Makes 1

Recipe courtesy of McKel Hill, Nutrition Stripped
1 packet of frozen organic acai berry pulp
2 heaping handfuls of organic spinach
1 frozen banana
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons of chia seeds (soaked for at least 20 minutes in some of the coconut milk)

Dash of cinnamon
Ice as needed, to thicken

Add all ingredients to Vitamix or other high-speed blender and process until thick and creamy. The texture should be very thick; if too thick, then add more almond or coconut milk.  If you stick a spoon into the mixture, the mixture should be able to be thick enough to stay on the spoon; if not, add ice or more frozen bananas.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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