Where do Acai berries come from?
Acai berries are a kind of berry from a palm tree in the southern American rainforest. Acai palm trees have been cultivated more and more during the 21st century to answer the increasing demand for Acai berries, and all tree's parts can be used. The heart of the palm tree is a vegetable; leaves are used for mattresses, hats and brooms; the wood is insect resistant and often used in buildings construction.
Acai berries are small, round fruit with a dark purple colour and a seed that takes almost the whole fruit. Little is known about these berries, and a lot of research has been done in the past few years to understand better their health benefits. (1)
Acai Berries are a traditional food in many regions in Brazil. They have a very sweet taste and accompany very well many different ingredients. They have a short shelf life, so we hardly find them fresh in stores and usually buy them in puree or powder. The juice is also used in jelly, syrup or some energy drinks.
What are their benefits?
Nutrient-Dense, ideal for a healthy weight.
Acai berries are one of the most nutrient-dense food. It means that they contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, for very few calories.
They are especially rich in vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine. (2)
They are also one of the few fruits that are high in healthy fat and low in sugar, which help reduce cravings. (1)
Acai berries are also rich in fibres, and help reduce appetite when you are on a diet.
Acai berries are powerful antioxidants mainly thanks to their high content in polyphenols, including lignans and phenolic compounds like anthocyanins, which gives them their purple colour. (3, 4,5).
Antioxidant content is measured by the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score. (6) Acai are among the top 10 high ORAC foods, with an ORAC at 102700 for 100g. In comparison, apple’s ORAC is around 3000 for 100g.
The seed possesses the highest polyphenols concentration, followed by the whole fruit and the bark.
Metabolic syndrome prevention
Polyphenols from the Açaí's seeds are especially beneficial for lipid metabolism and help in various conditions such as hypertension, renal failure, and metabolic syndrome.
Acai berries are great against cholesterol. A study showed that their anthocyanin content significantly decreased total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol among subjects with high cholesterol. (7)
Their high content in fibres helps with weight loss, mainly by decreasing appetite and having a positive effect on the digestive system absorption. (8)
All these qualities make Acai perfect to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
A few studies on mice have shown how Acai can have a powerful anti-cancer effect. It seems that Acai berries would inhibit carcinogenesis, the multiplication of cancer cells. Some of Acai berries’ components are now tested, and researchers consider using them in chemotherapy. (5)
Boost the brain function
Age-related symptoms such as memory loss, lack of concentration, and decreased learning ability are often due to inflammation and oxidative stress. The pulp of acai berries fruit is especially rich in polyphenols. These compounds are anti-inflammatory with a protective effect on the brain cells. (9)
When cells are no longer working, they can become toxic and decrease the brain's ability to make new cells and nerves. A process of autophagy is cleaning these dying cells to allow the brain to regenerate better. When we are ageing, this process doesn’t work as well. Acai boosts this restorative response from the brain and keeps our brain younger, helping it regenerate better. (9,10)
How to eat Acai?
Acai berries are hardly found fresh and are available in purées, powders and juices.
Juices are used in various foods and energy drinks. While it still contains antioxidants, the juice is high in sugar and low in fibre, so it is not the best way to consume these berries.
The puree has the most flavour. Eat it in an acai bowl, mixed with other berries, coconuts flakes, and chia seeds.
The powder has a greater concentration in vitamins, nutrients, fibres and anti-oxidant. You can mix the powder in water or milk, turn it into smoothies, or mix in an Acai bowl.
1. Marcason W. What is the açaí berry and are there health benefits? J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Nov;109(11):1968. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.09.017. PMID: 19857637.
2. Editors of Pharmacist's Letter and Prescriber's Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Therapeutic Research Faculty,Stockton, CA2007
3. Chang SK, Alasalvar C, Shahidi F. Superfruits: Phytochemicals, antioxidant efficacies, and health effects - A comprehensive review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(10):1580-1604. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1422111. Epub 2018 Jan 23. PMID: 29360387.
4. de Moura RS, Resende ÂC. Cardiovascular and Metabolic Effects of Açaí, an Amazon Plant. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2016 Jul;68(1):19-26. doi: 10.1097/FJC.0000000000000347. PMID: 26657713.
5. Alessandra-Perini J, Rodrigues-Baptista KC, Machado DE, Nasciutti LE, Perini JA. Anticancer potential, molecular mechanisms and toxicity of Euterpe oleracea extract (açaí): A systematic review. PLoS One. 2018 Jul 2;13(7):e0200101. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200101. PMID: 29966007; PMCID: PMC6028114.
7. Qin Y, Xia M, Ma J, Hao Y, Liu J, Mou H, Cao L, Ling W. Anthocyanin supplementation improves serum LDL- and HDL-cholesterol concentrations associated with the inhibition of cholesteryl ester transfer protein in dyslipidemic subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Sep;90(3):485-92. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27814. Epub 2009 Jul 29. PMID: 19640950.
8. Udani JK, Singh BB, Singh VJ, Barrett ML. Effects of Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: a pilot study. Nutr J. 2011 May 12;10:45. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-45. PMID: 21569436; PMCID: PMC3118329.
10. Poulose SM, Fisher DR, Larson J, Bielinski DF, Rimando AM, Carey AN, Schauss AG, Shukitt-Hale B. Anthocyanin-rich açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) fruit pulp fractions attenuate inflammatory stress signaling in mouse brain BV-2 microglial cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Feb 1;60(4):1084-93. doi: 10.1021/jf203989k. Epub 2012 Jan 20. PMID: 22224493.
11. Carey AN, Miller MG, Fisher DR, Bielinski DF, Gilman CK, Poulose SM, Shukitt-Hale B. Dietary supplementation with the polyphenol-rich açaí pulps (Euterpe oleracea Mart. and Euterpe precatoria Mart.) improves cognition in aged rats and attenuates inflammatory signaling in BV-2 microglial cells. Nutr Neurosci. 2017 May;20(4):238-245. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2015.1115213. Epub 2015 Nov 30. PMID: 26618555.