Acai (pronounced Ah-sa-EEE) fruit showed up in the health food stores a few years ago. I figured it was just another trendy ‘superfood’ that would burn itself out, so I basically ignored it.
Recently I’ve noticed “Acai bowls” showing up at local coffee and smoothie shops. It wasn’t until my son’s girlfriend pointed out how delicious they were, that I finally decided to try them. Now, I’m hooked on my Acai bowl that I get from my local coffee shop. It’s absolutely delicious!
Acai comes from a type of palm tree that grows in the rain forests of South and Central America. They are small, about an inch in diameter and have just one pit, which makes them classified as a drupe, not a berry, as they are often called.
Acai fruit has sustained many primitive Brazilian and Amazonian populations, including the Caboclo tribe, with its massive nutrients and health benefits for hundreds of years.
Their dark purplish-red color may give you a clue as to their health benefits. Yes, they are very high in antioxidants, low in calories and sugar, and high in fiber. The dark purple color of the fruit means it contains lots of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant similar to blueberries, cranberries, and dark grapes.
Most of the health benefits of benefits of acai are due to its very high antioxidant content. Acai has one of the highest ORAC scores of all fruits. ORAC, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, is a scale that measures the number of antioxidants in foods. It’s no surprise that the acai berry is almost at the top of the ORAC list. Acai even scores far higher than goji berries or blueberries.
Some of the powerful antioxidants acai contains includes anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, protocatechuic acid, procyanidins and epicatechin, polyphenols, as well as vitamins A, C and E. They also contain healthy fatty acids including monounsaturated fatty acids and omega 3 fats, and plant sterols. Anthocyanins contain many benefits including skin health, anti-aging, fighting cancer, heart health, weight loss and more.
All good things!
Let’s take a more in-depth view of these benefits:
The concentration of antioxidants in acai about 10 times higher than for red grapes, and acai is estimated to have 10 to 30 times the number of anthocyanins than red wine. So, if you are drinking red wine for its antioxidants, it may be time to switch to something better.
Anthocyanins are known for their skin-protective benefits. Oxidation can come from sun exposure, excessive stress, pollutants in the atmosphere, alcohol, smoking, poor dietary choices, etc. Antioxidants help fight the aging effects of oxidation. Antioxidants in acai also help protect the cells’ DNA, so that damaged cells or mutated cells that can lead to cancer are minimized. Antioxidants in acai also help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while improving skin cell turnover.
The antioxidants in the acai berry also help to increase the efficiency of the cells’ absorption of nutrients, while the vitamins A and C in acai help skin cell turnover and production of collagen to fight wrinkles. Acai’s anti-inflammatory benefits help to reduce redness and inflammation in the skin, and fight acne.
Antioxidants help fight cancer because they protect the cells from damage and aid in reproducing healthy cells. Since acai is so high in antioxidants, it’s safe to assume they protect against cancer as well. According to Medical News Today, some of the things the acai berry antioxidants do that are beneficial to health include:
- Prevent cancer cell growth
- Induce cancer cell death
- Have anti-inflammatory effects
- Protect healthy cell reproduction to prevent cancer
- Inhibit the beginning of new tumors
There have been a few in-vitro and animal studies the evaluate the anticancer effects of the acai berry, but as of now, no large human studies have been conducted.
One study looked at mice eating acai and rates of bladder cancer. Those mice eating acai showed significantly reduced rates of cancer cells, and cancer tumor growth. Extracts of acai showed promise against breast cancer cells, and colon cancer cells as well. Studies of acai benefits on malignant melanoma demonstrated an 82% decrease in tumor volume compared to the control group.
These promising studies prove that we should be further studying the beneficial effects of acai berries fighting cancer in humans.
Helps Control Hunger, Aids in Weight Loss
Some health experts believe that acai berry may be able to suppress the appetite, by helping to control blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels go up in response to eating sweet foods or starchy foods, insulin is released. Insulin signals for fat storage, and insulin also causes feelings of hunger.
Acai can help balance blood sugar levels, slowing the release of insulin and helping you feel fuller and more satisfied. Like most fruit, acai also contains lots of fiber, which is good for digestion and moving things along—preventing bloating and gas. Beware, however, most acai bowls and smoothies contain other fruits, juices and sweet ingredients that raise blood sugar, defeating acai’s appetite suppressing abilities.
Helps Detox the Body
Acai berries contain lots of fiber. The fiber not only helps with digestion, but it improves gut health and encourages the growth of healthy probiotics. Acai berry cleanses have become popular because it is thought that the Acai berries do a better job of helping to detox the liver and the kidneys.
The fiber from acai berries cleanses the colon, removing harmful residue left behind from processed foods and undigested matter. These toxic substances can leak out of the gut into the body, creating more inflammation. This type of cleanse also helps to reduce constipation and help keep you regular, preventing foods from remaining in the intestines too long and being the cause of bloating, gas, food sensitivities, and slowed metabolism.
There are many advertisements for products including, “acai berry detox,” “acai burn,” “acai pure” and “acai berry edge,” promising quicker than normal weight loss. Some of the ads claim you can lose up to 20 pounds in one week. These claims are not science backed and other than a laxative effect it may have on your system, losing 20 pounds in one week is not a healthy way to detox or diet.
My opinion about detoxing or cleansing is that your body will naturally clean itself out if you are consuming whole, natural foods, including lots of high fiber fruits and vegetables. However, cleanses, in general, can have some merit, especially if you’ve been through a period of eating unhealthy foods and are having any digestive difficulties, brain fog or other negative reactions. Cleanses also work well to help mentally—as well as physically–and as a way for you to start fresh and get back on track with a healthy diet.
Slows Mental Decline
Age-related brain disease including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and other types of dementia seem to be increasing. One of the theories on this is an increase in inflammation and inflammatory foods, especially vegetable oils, sugar and processed starchy foods.
Scientists are now looking at the value of anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds in the diet and how they can lower the risk of age-related mental decline. Several studies suggest that oxidative stress may be one of the biggest factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidant anthocyanin, which is found in high amounts in acai berries may help lower oxidative damage and lower inflammation, promoting better brain health.
This recent study also shows similar results in elderly people. Increasing polyphenol antioxidants significantly lowered the risk of dementia. The study compared participants with a lower intake of antioxidants to those with a higher reported intake. Those in the those in the higher intake group had a 50% lower risk of dementia.
Anthocyanins also have been shown to enhance and improve memory. They are thought to work in a similar way–by inhibiting neuroinflammation, activating signaling activity in the brain, and improving overall blood flow to the brain.
As with many other high-antioxidant foods, acai berries have also been associated with helping prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases related to inflammation and oxidation.
How to Consume Acai Berries
Acai berries tend to go bad and spoil within hours of being picked, so it’s extremely difficult to find them fresh or whole, unless you live close to the tropical jungles of South America.
Acai is often available in three forms: frozen, freeze-dried or powdered, or in juice. Frozen acai works great in smoothies or bowls. Just be careful if you happen to purchase acai bowls at a restaurant; they may have a lot of added sugars in the form of other fruit, juices, and add-ons. Acai is also available in capsules that can be taken as a supplement. My favorite form of acai is the frozen pulp that can be added to smoothies or bowls. Acai has a delicious, fruity, not—too—sweet flavor that is worth enjoying while getting all those antioxidants!