Category Archives: Featured Foods

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Featured Food: Acai

Acai, pronounced ah-sigh-ee, is a berry that grows on acai palm trees.  Acai is known for its high antioxidant content and has become popular in the U.S. as the essential ingredient in acai bowls (frozen blends that typically include acai, banana, and other fruits, and are topped with various toppings like fresh fruit, coconut flakes, and granola).

Acai Bowl

photo credit: Tori Kendrew, kitchen + kraft

History of the Acai Bowl

Acai grows in Central and South America, and has been eaten for centuries.  Historically, many in the Amazon ate acai daily, often alongside other foods, including as a part of savory meals.  It wasn’t until travelers brought Acai from Northern Brazil to the cities of Southern Brazil in the 1970’s that acai bowls came into existence.  Some say the bowls were first popularized by Carlos Grazie, founder of Brazilian Jiujitsu, as a way to fuel his trainees.  Others say the bowls first became popular among surfers, who would eat the cold bowls as a way to gain energy and cool down in the hot Brazilian sun.  Either way, the bowls began as a delicious way for athletes to fuel their workouts, or to recover from them.  Acai bowls later started appearing in other warm areas with surfing communities, like Hawaii and California; you can now find acai bowls at juice bars and health focused restaurants in many cities throughout the U.S.  We’re proud to have four different types of acai bowl on the Thirst Menu!

Health Benefits

Acai, which is often referred to as a “superfood” is high in antioxidants and contains fiber and healthful fats.  Some studies also suggest that consumption of acai may help boost immunity, help control blood sugar, and support heart health.

Coconut Acai Bowl 1

Coconut Acai Bowl

Questions You’ve Been Asking:

  • Are acai bowls vegan?
    • Great question! The answer is, it depends. Like everything at Thirst, our acai bowls are vegan (and gluten-free), and it’s easy to make a vegan acai bowl.  However, some restaurants and cafes (including traditional Brazilian ones) blend the acai with dairy (milk or yogurt), pour cream on top of the blend, or include honey as a sweetener. Keep in mind that even if the base is vegan, not all cafes use vegan granola. If you aren’t sure about the ingredients and follow a vegan diet, always be sure to ask!
  • Are acai bowls healthy?
    • Yes! Acai bowls are packed with beneficial nutrients, and make a great snack or meal. If you are concerned about limiting your calories, make sure your bowl is made with an unsweetened nut milk as a base, and that you don’t overdo it on the toppings.
  • What does acai look like?
    • Acai berries are small, blue berries that grow in clusters on acai palm trees. You won’t see fresh acai in the U.S.  It grows primarily subtropical regions of Central and South America and must be eaten or frozen within 24 hours of harvest.  If you are looking for acai in your grocery store, look in the frozen fruits section.  You’ll likely find acai in single-serve frozen packs.
  • Does powdered acai contain the same benefits as frozen acai? What about acai juice?
    • The most healthful form of acai that you’ll find in the U.S. is the frozen form. Powdered acai contains antioxidants, but lacks the fiber and healthful fats of frozen acai.  And any acai juice you’ll find here has been pasteurized (heated at extremely high temperatures); this process kills bacteria, but also destroys many of the healthful enzymes in the juice.

Make Your Own Acai Bowl!

Want to make your own acai bowl?  These bowls are easy and fun to make in your home blender.  A basic recipe follows, but feel free to experiment!

  • Blend:
    • ¾ Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
    • ½ Frozen Banana
    • 1 Frozen Pack Acai (you can purchase Sambazon brand at many Whole Food markets)
    • ½ Cup Blueberries
  • Top With:
    • Granola
    • Coconut Flakes
    • Cacao Nibs
    • Fresh Strawberries

Curious about acai?  Come try a Peanut Butter Acai Bowl at Thirst today or stay tuned for our next Smoothie Bowl Social!

Antioxidants

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We often hear that certain foods are good for us because they are “high in antioxidants.” But what are antioxidants? And how do they help us?

Antioxidants are natural (or man-made) substances that may slow and even prevent cell damage. The term “antioxidant” refers to a property – the ability to inhibit oxidation – not any particular compound. Vitamins A, C and E, for example, beta-carotene and other carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin, phenols and polyphenols (such as the resveratrol found in red wine and the catechins found in green tea and cacao) all are antioxidants. Our bodies manufacture some antioxidants, but we rely on fruits, vegetables, and other dietary sources for many others.

Free Radicals & Oxidative Stress

To understand how antioxidants help our bodies it is necessary to first understand free radicals and oxidative stress. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms (many of which contain oxygen and are called Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS) that have at least one unpaired electron in their outer orbits, making them generally unstable and highly reactive. They can be created as a result of normal bodily functions such as digestion, or as a result of exercise, or by exposure to pollutants or the sun. A free radical seeks to pair its lone electron by “stealing” one from a surrounding molecule, such as from a cell wall or DNA or protein, turning the molecule whose electron was stolen into another free radical and starting a chain reaction that can damage a cell.

Radicals are not all bad – some are generated by the body to aid the immune system in destroying pathogens and some trigger the body’s production of beneficial antioxidants. But when there are more radicals present than the body can effectively counteract through antioxidants, a state of imbalance called oxidative stress can result. Oxidative stress is believed to play a significant role in many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and eye disease such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Antioxidants help neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals. How they do so depends on the particular antioxidant and radical. Some prevent radical formation, others scavenge radicals, some donate an electron to the radical without themselves becoming dangerously unstable, others interact with radicals alone or in conjunction with other antioxidants to turn radicals into harmless compounds.

Eat Food, Not Pills

Laboratory and animal studies show that antioxidants can help prevent damage from free radicals, and many studies show that people who have antioxidant-rich diets have a lower risk of certain diseases. Yet results from clinical studies of single or several combined antioxidants in supplement form have been mixed, and generally have not substantiated a benefit in the studied diseases. Moreover, high doses of single supplements may even be harmful in certain populations – for example, several studies have linked high doses of beta-carotene with an increased risk of lung cancer among heavy smokers. There are many possible explanations for the lackluster results in clinical studies of antioxidant supplements apart from inefficacy, including study duration, dose, chemical composition of the studied supplement, the focus on only one or several supplements, or that the health benefits perceived in antioxidant-rich diets are due to the combination of antioxidants, minerals and other substances in foods acting together, something lacking in supplements. Whatever the reason, there’s presently little support for the notion that taking antioxidant supplements will make you healthier. Instead, choose a diverse diet of fruits, vegetables and other foods that are naturally good sources of vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants.

 

Featured Food: Goji Berries

Goji Berries
Antioxidant-Rich Superfood

The goji berry, also known as the wolfberry, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to promote skin health, support the liver and kidneys, boost the immune system, improve eye function, and for perceived anti-aging properties.  Chinese herbalist Li Ching-Yuen supposedly lived to age 197 (or 256, depending on the source) and attributed his longevity in part to his daily consumption of goji berries.  Such dramatic examples of the benefits of goji berries may appropriately be relegated to legend, but there is no doubt that the goji berry is a versatile, nutrient-packed superfood with lots to offer.

The Berry’s Benefits

Goji berries grow on thorny perennial bushes that can reach roughly nine feet in height and width.  The bush is very adaptable and grows in a variety of climates in China, Europe and North America.  The berry is small, bright organge-red when ripe and oblong in shape.
 
Goji berries are rich in vitamins A and C and a good source of vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B6.  They’re an excellent source of iron and antioxidants, including phenols, polysaccharides, beta carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A, promoting eye and skin health), lutein, and lycopene.  Goji berries are a complete protein; they contain eighteen amino acids, including all of the essential amino acids.  They contain 11 essential minerals and 21 trace minerals, including (in addition to iron) calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, and zinc.

Get Your Goji Mojo Going

Goji berries are most commonly available in the United States in their dried form, although the berry may be found in other forms, including as a fresh berry, as juice, and as a powder or tablet.
 
Goji berries are a versatile fruit and there are many ways to incorporate them into your diet.  They have a mild sweet-tart flavor that is often likened to the flavor of dried cranberries.  They work well in both sweet and savory preparations.  In China, for example, the berry is often added to soups or porridges, steeped in hot water alone or with other herbs and served as a tea, or soaked in wine.  They work well in cookies (try them in lieu of raisins in your favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe), breads and other baked dishes, and as an addition to salads.  Like any dried fruit, they can be snacked on alone or with other fruits and nuts as part of a tasty and healthful trail mix.  And, of course, they work well in smoothies.  At Thirst, for example, we used goji berries in our Goji Mojo smoothie–a delicious blend of goji berries, raspberries, banana, almond milk, filtered water, ice and cinnamon.