They’ve got anti-aging properties and help in weight loss. They also help lower cholesterol levels and have anti-cancer effects. We’re talking about acai berries, a Brazilian superfood that has caught the attention of health enthusiasts all over the world. Acai berries are richer in antioxidants than blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and cranberries, which makes them the ideal addition to a healthy diet. Read on to learn more about acai berries and their numerous health benefits.
What are acai berries?
Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berries are a fruit that grows on the acai palm trees in the rainforests of South and Central America. They are about one to two cm in diameter and have dark-purple skin with yellow flesh that surrounds a large seed. Though they look similar to blueberries, acai berries are actually drupes.
The taste of these berries is similar to a blend of chocolate and blackberries. They have a slightly metallic aftertaste. Acai berries grow only in the Amazon. Since they have a short shelf life, these berries are usually converted into freeze-dried powders, pressed juices and purees after harvesting.
Nutritional value of acai berries
A 100 gram serving of pure unsweetened acai berry contains (1):
- Calories: 70
- Carbohydrates: 4 grams
- Dietary fiber: 2 grams
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Fats: 5 grams
- Proteins: 1 gram
- Vitamin A: 750 UI (15% DV)
- Calcium: 20 mg (2% DV)
Acai berries are rich in fatty acids like oleic acid, palmitic acid, and linoleic acid. They also contain some trace minerals like zinc, iron, chromium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Though these berries are low in protein content, they contain 19 amino acids and sterols like campesterol, stigmasterol, and beta-sitosterol. Acai berries also contain several beneficial plant compounds like anthocyanins and proanthocyanins.
Health benefits of acai berries
1. Rich in antioxidants
Acai berries contain exceptionally high levels of antioxidants. Some studies show that the acai fruit pulp contains higher levels of antioxidants as compared to other berries like strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, and raspberries (2).
Antioxidants play a vital role in inhibiting the growth of harmful organisms and eliminating free radicals from the body that may lead to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Several plant compounds, including anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, provide the antioxidant properties to acai berries (3).
During a 2008 study, researchers tested the effect of acai pulp, acai juice, and applesauce on healthy volunteers. The results showed that both acai pulp and applesauce raise antioxidant levels in the body (4).
2. Improve cognitive function
The polyphenols in acai berries help protect against neurological diseases (5). According to a study from The University of Adelaide, Australia, acai berry extracts have a protective effect against the build-up of beta-amyloid (6). In the Alzheimer’s brain, the beta-amyloid protein clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function.
According to a 2012 study, acai berry pulp has protective effects on brain cells and helps counteract the damaging effect of inflammation and oxidation (7). Another study suggests that acai berry may be beneficial for the treatment of the bipolar disorder (8).
3. Protects against heart disease
Acai berries are rich in antioxidants which have protective effects against heart disease. During a 2010 study, when hypercholesterolemic rats were given acai pulp for six weeks, it resulted in an improvement in antioxidant status and lowered total and LDL cholesterol levels (9). During another study, ten overweight adults took 100 grams of acai pulp twice a day for one month. The results showed a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels (10).
Acid berry contains polyphenols that boost nitric oxide production in endothelial cells, which helps to relax the arteries. This helps to lower the blood pressure and hence benefits the heart. Acai berry also contains plant sterols which prevent cholesterol from being absorbed by our body.
4. Helps lower cancer risk
Acai berries contain anthocyanins, which help lower the risk of cancer. They prevent cancer cell proliferation, induce cancer cell death, prevent cancer cell invasion, and inhibit the formation of tumors. A 2017 study from Korea showed that acai berry could prevent colon cancer (11). Another study showed that acai fruit could inhibit urinary bladder cancer in mice (12).
During another study, researchers suggested that the anti-cancer abilities of acai can help in the development of chemopreventive drugs for the treatment of breast cancer (13).
5. Protects against diabetes
Acai berries can improve insulin resistance in the blood and normalize the amount of sugar present in it. During a 2011 study, ten overweight adults took 100 grams of acai berry pulp, twice a day, for one month. The results showed an improvement in fasting glucose and insulin levels (14). Acai berry also has a low glycemic index, which is suitable for people with diabetes. It also has low lipid levels.
Acai berries are rich sources of dietary fiber, which helps you keep fuller for longer and hence suppresses appetite. Acai berries also contain fatty acids that improve metabolism and aid in weight loss. Though there is no scientific study that endorses the ability of acai berries to reduce weight, it can be beneficial when taken along with a healthy diet.
7. Boosts digestive health
The high fiber and antioxidant content in acai berries are right for your gut health. A 2017 study looked into the effects of acai berry on the digestive tract. The researchers found that 49.8% of the acai polyphenols survive as far as the colon, which means that acai berries act as a prebiotic in the colon. These berries feed the healthy gut bacteria and improve overall health (15).
8. Improve skin health
The high antioxidant content of acai berries helps in fighting free radicals and delaying the signs of aging. A 2017 study from Korea studied the wound healing effects of acai berry water extracts. The results showed that these extracts might have potential as a wound-healing agent (16). Another study found acai berries to be beneficial in treating hyperpigmentation (17).
Drawbacks of acai berries
Acai berry is considered safe when taken by mouth for up to three months. However, it does have some drawbacks.
- It is expensive. One eight-ounce bag of freeze-dried acai berries can cost up to twenty dollars. Though acai berries are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients and provide several benefits, you can enjoy similar benefits from other less expensive foods.
- Drinking raw acai juice is linked to outbreaks of American trypanosomiasis or Chagas disease. It can cause fever, headaches, and digestive and heart issues. Always buy pasteurized acai juice.
- Though the initial research on acai berries has been highly promising, human studies have not shown similar effects. Do not overestimate its health claims.
- Since acai berries are available in pre-packaged pulp and powder form, make sure you check the label to ensure that there are no added ingredients.
How to buy and use acai berries
It is impossible to find acai berries in the produce aisle as they have a short shelf life and tend to lose their nutritional value in transit. It is better to consume them in dried powdered form or frozen form. They are also available in the form of purees and juices. While the powder is the most nutritionally dense form, the puree is the most flavourful.
- You can drink acai juice or acai smoothies.
- You can have an acai bowl with frozen acai pulp in it.
- You can make acai sorbet with acai pulp.
- You can add acai powder to oats and other breakfast cereals.
- You can make granola bars with acai powder.
- Frozen acai berry puree: 100 grams
- Apple juice: 1 cup
- Banana: 1 (sliced)
- Frozen berries: 1 ½ cup
- Vanilla Greek yogurt: ½ cup
- Honey: 1 tablespoon
Blend all these ingredients in a blender till they form a smooth paste. Pour the mixture into a bowl and garnish with sliced almonds and chia seeds.
- Acai powder: 4 tablespoons
- Frozen bananas: 2
- Frozen strawberries: ½ cup
- Frozen raspberries ½ cup
- Hemp seeds: 1 tablespoon
- Almond milk: 1cup
Blend all these ingredients in a blender till they form a smooth mixture and pour it into glasses. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy.
Acai berries are small grape-like fruits that are native to Central and South America. They are considered a superfood as they are one of the richest sources of antioxidants. Acai berries offer health benefits ranging from improved heart health, improved cognitive function to lower risk for cancer, and better skin health. Acai berries are not available in the fresh form, so you must check the label of the frozen variety available to ensure that they do not have any added ingredients. You can have these berries in the form of juice, smoothies, acai bowls, sorbet, and granola bars.