Anti-inflammatory, high-antioxidant foods keep you healthy and, if sick, can bring you back to good health. Berries certainly fit the bill, and the trendy berry of the moment with major anti-aging benefits is the acai berry.
You’ve probably noticed health food stores now pumping out more “acai bowls” than ever. Berries of all kinds are full of valuable anti-inflammatory nutrients: anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, protocatechuic acid, procyanidins and epicatechin – in addition to vitamin C, vitamin A and dietary fiber. The acai berry is no exception.
Perhaps more than any other type of fruit, acai berries have become synonymous with slowing down signs of aging and promoting good health.
Some studies show that acai is even richer in protective antioxidants than cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries or the goji berry. (1) On top of providing many antioxidants just like other varieties of berries do, acai berries are also believed to help control appetite hormones, increase energy, prevent heart disease and help with many metabolic functions.
It’s not every day that a superfood actually tastes great too, and that’s one of the reasons that acai’s popularity has taken off.
Acai Berry Nutrition Facts
These small, deeply purple-colored berries are native to Central and South America, especially Brazil where they grow in parts of the Amazonian rain forest. Acai berries have sustained traditional Brazilian and Amazonian populations, including the Caboclo tribe, with nutrients and calories for hundreds of years. (2)
In fact some records show that Caboclo people ate enough acai berries during certain parts of the year to make up more than 40 percent of the total calories they consumed! Supposedly they were able to hunt and gather food for many hours without becoming hungry, tired or weak, which many have attributed to all the phytonutrients and fiber they were obtaining from eating so many acai berries.
But acai berry has more to offer than just antioxidants — it also supplies many other electrolytes, trace minerals, amino acids and even small amounts of essential fatty acids. While there’s some talk about acai berries helping to prevent cancer, not much research has been done to show this is a proven benefit in humans just yet. However, we would expect the consumption of acai berry to help fight cancer just like other berries do (such as blackberries or cherries) since they target the underlying cause of cancer formation, aka high levels of free radical damage and inflammation.
Acai comes loaded with numerous nutrients including:
- Antioxidants (anthocyanins, polyphenols, vitamins A, C and E)
- Healthy fats including monounsaturated fats and omega fatty acids (including omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 and fatty acids like linoleic acid, palmitic acid and oleic acid)
- Dietary fiber
- Certain essential amino acids
- Electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and manganese)
- Plant sterols (B-sitosterol, campesterol and sigmasterol)
- Other trace minerals (iron, calcium, copper and zinc)
- B vitamins (B1, B2 and B3)
While we don’t often hear about the differences between various types of acai berries, did you know that there are actually believed to be seven distinct acai berry species?
All grow from the plant called Euterpe, which is a type of tropical, tall palm tree that produces clusters of small berries that are a bit smaller than most grapes. These tall trees (mature ones can grow up to 100 feet high) are now being harvested more than ever in tropical parts of the world in order for growers to pick, dry, preserve and ship their nutrient-packed berries all around the world.
Various acai products (powders, juices, teas, smoothies, etc.) will differ in terms of their exact calories, antioxidant value, fat ratio and mineral content depending on the quality and purity. That being said, estimates show that 100 grams of pure acai (which is about equal to one serving size of dried powder) has about: (3, 4)
- 70–80 calories
- 5–6 grams of fat (mostly monounsaturated)
- 2–3 grams sugar
- 3–4 grams fiber
- 1–2 grams protein
- 130 percent DV manganese
- 15 percent DV vitamin A
- 8 percent DV copper
- 4 percent DV of iron, thimaine, calcium and magnesium
6 Acai Berry Benefits
1. Very High in Antioxidants
No doubt about it, there’s quite a long list of health benefits that are attributed to acai berries. Most of the benefits you’ll get from eating acai berry is due to its extremely high antioxidant content, which is why it’s said to have a high “ORAC score.”
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity; it’s a scale that measures the antioxidant properties of foods. ORAC values are used to classify foods by how many antioxidants they contain based on weight, and acai berry is very close to the top of the list.
Purple acai berries actually get their distinct color due to high concentrations of certain pigmented nutrients they contain, especially anthocyanins, which are found in many reddish-purple berry species. The concentration of antioxidants in acai is believed to be 10 times higher those in red grapes, and acai is estimated to have 10 to 30 times the amount of anthocyanins than red wine! (5)
Antioxidants including anthocyanins contribute immensely to the anti-inflammatory, anti-aging benefits of acai berries. That’s because antioxidants are “free radical scavengers,” which means they help slow the process of free radical damage (also called oxidative stress) that causes the body to deteriorate and develop ailments over time. Acai seems to be especially effective at superoxide and peroxyl scavenging; in fact, it’s been shown to have the highest score of any food reported to date against the peroxyl radical as measured by oxygen radical absorbance tests. (6)
Free radicals are responsible for the “wear and tear” we attribute to aging, and they enter the body through things like a poor diet, chemical contaminants, environmental pollution and high amounts of UV light exposure. Not only does free radical damage make us look older faster by damaging our skin, but it also contributes to joint, skeletal and muscular pains.
By helping the body remain more resilient to the effects of free radicals, acai is beneficial for nearly every bodily system: cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, neurological, immune, etc. And when it comes to acai’s anti-aging effects, good things come in small packages: Studies show antioxidants in acai are able to enter human cells in a fully functional form and to perform oxygen quenching functions even at very low doses.
2. Boosts Skin Health
Acai berry is useful for preventing early signs of aging and helping with skin regeneration. For millennia people have used antioxidant-rich foods and herbal treatments, including acai, both topically and internally to prevent skin degradation and keep skin resilient and healthy looking. (07)
In people who develop high levels of oxidative stress, their skin is often one of the first things to show this. Dark spots, wrinkles, fine lines, sagginess and discoloration are all tied to free radical damage within the skin. Many people also use acai berry to get rid of scars, stretch marks, crow’s feet and dry skin. Consuming plenty of antioxidants helps the body repair damaged skin cells faster and, therefore, a more youthful appearance is maintained.
3. Helps With Cognitive Functioning
Eating plenty of foods with antioxidants is a natural way to improve your focus and memory. Inflammation and oxidative stress are two major underlying causes of cognitive problems, including loss of memory, dementia and other age-related mental disorders. Through a process of suppressing biological activity that degrades cellular integrity, acai pulp fractions seem to have protective effects over brain cells, which could have implications for improved cognitive and motor functions
Studies have found that fractions extracted from acai contain brain-saving nutrients, including anthocyanins such as cyanidin, delphinidin, malvidin, pelargonidin and peonidin, along with phenolics such as catechin, ferulic acid, quercetin, resveratrol, and synergic and vanillic acids. (8)
Because it turns off inflammatory pathways that damage nerve signals in the brain, acai berries are believed to help stimulate mental functions and help someone think more clearly, maintain high energy levels and deal with various effects of psychological stress better. Acai is protective against the damaging effects of stress, including disrupting hormonal balance and raising cortisol levels, which is why some consider acai berry to be an “adaptogen.”
4. Might Help Control Your Appetite & Boost Weight Loss
Some experts believe that acai berry has certain appetite-suppressing abilities thanks to how it effects various hormones that control blood sugar levels and feelings of hunger, fullness and satiety. It seems to help improve metabolic functions which helps the body work better absorbing nutrients, breaking down foods, eliminating waste and regulating the release of insulin.
Some research shows that that by helping boost proper digestion and controlling the amount of insulin in the blood, acai is beneficial for curbing cravings and might be helpful in a healthy weight loss plan. It’s possible that acai facilitates with the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates and also helps lower the desire to overeat, which is a direct way to help stay at a healthy body weight.
5. Stimulates Healthy Digestion
Acai berry has a good dose of fiber to offer, but it seems to improve digestion in other ways beyond how most high-fiber foods do. Acai berry is considered a natural digestive cleanser, helping the liver and kidneys to process and remove waste and toxins from the body.
On top of its ability to work as a kidney and liver cleanser, it’s also a natural colon cleanser, which means it prevents the accumulation of harmful substances and undigested matter from staying lodged in the colon where they can cause constipation and other digestive problems. By improving the metabolism in general, acai berries are capable of speeding up bowel transit time, preventing foods from fermenting in the intestines and causing bloating, gas and constipation.
6. Offers Protection Against Heart Disease & Diabetes
Although it’s known best for its antioxidants, acai is also considered an anti-inflammatory food because it contains some monounsaturated fatty acids, in addition to dietary fiber and phytosterols that all help promote cardiovascular health. Studies show that regularly drinking acai juice has positive effects on blood lipid levels and can protect the heart. (9) Consumption of acai berry helps lower inflammation too, which is one of the root causes of coronary heart disease and hormone-related problems, including type 2 diabetes.
Acai is surprisingly rich in monounsaturated fas like oleic acid, which is found in heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil and helps the body use omega-3 fish oils to lower inflammation and make cell membranes.
A small 2011 study done by the Mediscus Research Center in California investigated the effects of acai on metabolic syndrome, a term used to describe a condition that is defined by various risk factors for cardiovascular disease and/or type 2 diabetes. The study looked at changes in reactive oxygen species and metabolic pathways in a small group of overweight adults after taking 100 grams of acai twice daily for one month.
After measuring fasting plasma glucose, insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, exhaled (breath) nitric oxide metabolites (eNO) and plasma levels before and after the study, subjects on average experienced improvements in fasting glucose and insulin levels, a reduction in total choleseertol and borderline significant reduction in LDL-cholesterol levels. The researchers concluded that acai might help overweight adults lower their odds of experinecing heart disease and diabetes, although more studies on a larger scale are still needed. (10)
Acai Berry Vs. Goji Berry: What’s the Difference & Which Is Better?
Both acai and goji berry are superfoods jam packed with nutrients, all within small packages. Like acai berries, goji berries have been used for thousands of years and trace back to the origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
In TMC goji berry is praised for improving stamina, strength, libido, fertility, heart health and longevity. Just like acai, goji berry is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C, E, B6, plus a whopping 18 essential amino acids, linoleic acid, beta-carotene, 21 trace minerals, germanium and selenium. (11)
One of the advantages of goji berries is that they are free of saturated fats, sodium and cholesterol. While saturated fat is not a problem for most people and doesn’t usually pose a risk, some people can afford to consume less due to existing health conditions, although the amount in acai is still very small anyway. Goji also has higher levels of vitamin A, iron, vitamin C and calcium than acai does, but again they are neck and neck. However, in acai’s favor, goji is a bit higher in sugar and carbohydrates.
In terms of antioxidant concentrations, acai comes out on top. The ORAC score of acai berries is estimated at 102,000 versus a score of 30,000 for goji berries. Since both have a long history alongside many advantages, why not have both goji and acai berries together?
How to Buy & Use Acai Berries at Home
One of the biggest obstacles with growing, selling and using acai berries is that just like all other berries, they are very perishable and fragile when it comes to withstanding high heat. Acai berry is said to start spoiling within just 24 hours after being picked if it’s left out and not dried. This makes it hard for suppliers to grow and ship fresh acai berries, but also difficult for manufacturers to dry the berries into powder, or extract their nutrients to make supplements, without damaging the important phytochemicals they contain in the process.
Because the natural degradation process of acai berry can happen so quickly, which results in many of its most beneficial compounds being lost, assuming you live outside Brazil, then your best bet is to buy dry/powdered acai berry. Many sellers now offer acai berry in freeze-dried powders, dried pulps, frozen juices and supplements that preserve its valuable nutrients best. While it’s becoming easier to find pure acai berry powder, you might also find it added to concentrated antioxidant supplements or extracts that use other berries, cherries and grapes as well.
Look for acai berry powder in health food stores or online, you’re likely to find dozens of different brands. Already purchased some acai berry, and now you’re looking for some ideas to get started using it? There’s probably not a more convenient way to use acai than to blend it into a smoothie. You can also easily create your own “acai bowls” at home (a type of trendy breakfast made from blended fruits/superfood powers that are topped with muesli or granola) using both acai powder and other superfoods.
Another interesting way to use acai berry is how it was traditionally utilized in ancient Amazonian cuisines: combined with various vegetables and potatoes/squash to help sweeten them and bring out their natural flavors. For example, cuia is a type of traditional dish made using cooked gourds and acai berry. While you likely won’t be able to find fresh acai berries and use them in recipes, you can make a slightly sweet sauce or salad dressing using dried acai powder to add flavor to veggies and greens.
Are there any risks you should know about when it comes to using acai berry? Acai is safe to consume as long as you’re not allergic to the fruit and tend to have sensitivities to other berries. Look for high quality products that are pure to avoid consuming fillers and other ingredients, such as high amount of caffeine. (12)
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