Acai (ah-sigh-EE) berries are a grape-like fruit native to the rainforests of South America. They are harvested from acai palm trees.
The fruits are about 1-2 cm in diameter and a deep purple color. The seed constitutes about 80% of the fruit. The taste of acai berries has been described as a blend of chocolate and berries, with a slight metallic aftertaste.
Nutritional breakdown of acai berries
Acai berries are rich in fatty acids and contain more antioxidants than other popular berries.
According to a study analyzing acai composition in 2006, 100 grams of freeze-dried acai (fruit and skin) powder contains 534 calories, 52 grams of carbohydrate, 33 grams of total fat (74% of which is unsaturated fat) and 8 grams of protein.
Acai berries are rich in fatty acids, especially oleic, palmitic and linoleic acids. Acai berries contain 19 amino acids, as well as several sterols, including campesterol, stigmasterol, and beta-sitosterol. The phytochemicals in acai berries include mainly anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins.
Acai berries contain more antioxidants than other commonly eaten berries. They also are high in fiber and heart-healthy fats. The antioxidant effects of acai berries have largely been attributed to phenolic compounds.
Possible benefits of consuming acai berries
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like acai berries decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy and an overall lower weight.
Although age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease have no cure, research suggests that diets rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds may lower the risk of these diseases.
Specifically, the antioxidant anthocyanin, abundant in acai berries, may lower oxidative stress and inflammation, promoting brain health.
Anthocyanins also have been shown to enhance and improve memory. Anthocyanins are thought to work by inhibiting neuroinflammation, activating synaptic signaling and improving blood flow to the brain.
Acai berries are available in several forms, including frozen, juice and powder.
Anthocyanin consumption has strongly been linked to oxidative stress protection. One study found that regular consumption of anthocyanins can reduce the risk of heart attack by 32% in young and middle-aged women.
The fiber and heart-healthy fats in acai also support heart health. Heart-healthy fats increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol and decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Several longitudinal studies have reported a significantly lower cardiovascular disease risk and all-cause mortality with high consumption of fiber. Fiber intake also reduces LDL cholesterol.
Fiber intake is not only associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, but also a slower progression of the disease in high-risk individuals.
Anthocyanins have been observed to engage in anticarcinogenic activities, although the exact mechanisms are unknown. Laboratory studies using a variety of cancer cells have indicated that anthocyanins:
- Act as antioxidants
- Activate detoxifying enzymes
- Prevent cancer cell proliferation
- Induce cancer cell death
- Have anti-inflammatory effects
- Inhibit some of the beginning of the formation of tumors
- Prevent cancer cell invasion.
These functions have been observed in multiple animal and culture studies.
A study of 25 colorectal cancer patients given 0.5-2.0 g/day of anthocyanins for 7 days found improvement in several changes consistent with colorectal cancer chemoprevention. However, this study is limited due to the small sample size.
How to incorporate more acai berries into your diet
One way of incorporating more acai berries into your diet is to make a smoothie bowl.
Acai can be purchased dried, frozen, as juice, as powder, in food products, and in tablet form.
- Purchase juices and smoothies with acai as an ingredient
- Use frozen acai puree to make acai bowls
- Add acai powder to oats, cereal or homemade granola bars.
Or, try these healthy and delicious recipes developed by registered dietitians:
Potential health risks of consuming acai berries
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Experiments have been done using acai pulp as an oral contrast for gastrointestinal MRIs. Very large doses of acai might affect the results of MRI scans, so it is important to let your doctor know that you have been eating acai berries if you are scheduled for an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) test.
Some supplement companies have made claims that acai berry supplements will help with weight loss. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:
“No independent studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals that substantiate claims that acai supplements alone promote rapid weight loss. Researchers who investigated the safety profile of an acai-fortified juice in animals observed that there were no body weight changes in rats given the juice compared with controls.”
Acai berries have not yet been studied extensively. The health claims surrounding acai are relatively new and more research is need to solidify these claims. As with any new or fad food, there could be risks that have not yet been reported.