What are Acai Berries?
Acai berries are arguably one of the most popular types of ‘superfood’ that can be found on the shelves of most supermarkets. This popularity was created by the media, turning the berry from a rare product to one that can be found in a number of different places. Famed for their incredible antioxidant properties, and the health benefits that they can offer to the people who consume them on a regular basis. The berries themselves come from Euterpe oleracea, an acai palm tree that grows as a native tree in the Amazon rainforest.
The berries themselves are completely edible, as they have been used as a source of nutrition for the people who are native to the region for an incredibly long time. They are actually considered to be one of the healthiest berries that mankind can consume. You will not be able to find them in the form of actual acai berries in your local shop, as the berries themselves are far too perishable to ever make it out of the Amazon intact. Due to this, most people purchase them in the form of either a juice, a tea, a powder, or a supplement.
Actual acai berries are a deep purple color, with an appearance that is similar to that of a grape. Most people consider them to taste like a fruity-type of red wine, with subtle chocolate overtones.
The Origin of Acai Berries
Euterpe oleracea, or the acai palm, has been an important part of the Amazon rainforest for centuries. A study was performed in 1999 that involved several different traditional Caboclo groups whose homes were the Brazilian Amazon. It found that acai berries were a vital part of their diet, making up to 42% of their overall daily intake of food(1). This means that acai berries were, and still are, absolutely integral to the diet of the native people that call the Amazon rainforest their home.
For centuries, it has been believed that the consumption of acai berries has the ability to heal a multitude of different ailments and stimulate the immune system, protecting the human body from a variety of illnesses. Up until the late 2000’s, the acai berry was almost unheard of by anyone who did not call their home the Amazon. The internet then gained knowledge of this wondrous ‘superfood’, and it seemed to gain an instant popularity almost overnight.
Traditionally, acai berries have been used to treat a range of different illnesses. These range from diarrhea and parasitic infections, to hemorrhages. In the Amazon rainforests, natives blend the acai berry with a type of root vegetable known as manioc and eat it the way that we would eat porridge.
Health Benefits of Acai Berries
Acai berries have been successfully linked to the treatment and management of a number of different ailments. Most people consume them due to the incredibly high concentration of antioxidants that can be found within them. They are actually recognized as one of the highest rated ORAC foods in the world. ORAC means Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, and it measures the way that antioxidants can neutralize free radicals(2).
Free radicals are produced as a standard byproduct of oxidation. This is because oxygen in the body ends up splitting into single atoms with single electrons. These electrons generally enjoy being in pairs, so they search our body seeking out another electron. This can damage our cells, the protein in our body, and even the structure of our DNA. Free radicals are often associated with cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease.
The ability that the antioxidants in acai berries have to neutralize free radicals makes them desirable, as they have nearly twice the amount of antioxidants that can be found in blueberries and nearly ten times the amount of antioxidants that can be found in grapes. These antioxidants are also good at keeping your cardiovascular system healthy.
The scientific research that has been done into acai berries and health has often focused on antioxidant activity, in a number of laboratory studies they even appear to protect certain cells from the type of damage that has the potential to lead to cancer. Unfortunately, the human body is much harder to assess.
The Downside of Acai Berries
Consuming products that are made of acai berries is generally thought of among the medical community to be perfectly safe, but there are a few things that you should make sure that you look out for before consuming them.
People who have had an allergic reaction to either fruits or pollen should be wary of consuming acai berries, as these types of sensitivities can cause an allergic reaction to acai berries. It is advisable that you perform a small allergy test before adding them straight to your diet if you have had an allergic reaction before. This allergy test can be done by simply consuming a relatively small amount.
You should always make sure that you check the ingredients of the product that you are buying. Since it is nigh on impossible to buy acai berries in their natural form, a lot of trust goes into the product that you are buying. A large number of these products also contain caffeine, which has the ability to cause headaches, stomach aches, and a number of other side effects. The use of caffeine is incredibly popular in acai berry products that promote weight loss, as the caffeine can suppress appetite and accelerate metabolism.
Note that the acai berry contains a lot of minerals, and it is potentially possible to overdose on these minerals if you eat too many acai berries. This means that toxicity is a real danger if you are not aware of the amount that has been added to the product that you are consuming, due to this you should always consume acai berry products in moderation.
Nutritional Value of Acai Berries
In approximately 100g of acai berries, you will find:
Remember, this is the nutritional value of raw, unsweetened acai berries. The products that you can purchase from supermarkets could have completely different nutritional values.
5 Best Health Benefits of Acai Berries
Acai berries can promote a healthy cardiovascular system.
As we have already talked about, acai berries contain an insane amount of antioxidants. One specific type of antioxidant is known as anthocyanins, and these can be used to support balanced levels of cholesterol(3). They are also capable of treating a number of factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease(4). This is because the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of acai berries have the ability to positively affect our metabolic activity, the amount of oxidative stress in our body, hypertension, and our blood pressure levels.
Acai berries can help people lose weight.
Nutritionists around the world are under the belief that acai berries are a type of superfood, and one scientific study published in 2015 even found that the pulp of the acai berry had the ability to reduce the fat deposits that were present in the clinical participants(5). Acai berries are known to be natural metabolic boosters with the ability to curb cravings, their use is also known to help people maintain a healthy weight.
Acai berries have the ability to boost your immune system.
It is completely natural for oxidative stress within our body to cause some major problems, as our immune system and the amount of oxidative stress in our body can either regulate or distress the overall mental and physical functioning of our body. One study was done into the polyphenolic compounds that are extracted from acai berries, and it found that they had the ability to reduce the proliferation of malfunctioning cells within our bodies by up to 86%(6). It is thought that the phytochemicals that can be found within acai berries have the ability to disrupt cell mutation at an incredible molecular level. This means that they can successfully kill cells that have been affected by a condition before the cells are multiplied. This doesn’t mean that acai berries can cure vicious illnesses, but it does mean that more research into the properties of acai berries should be done.
Acai berries have anti-aging properties.
A study that was done in 2013, found that acai berries do have the ability to slow or reverse natural aging processes(7). This is because the antioxidants that are found in the berries can reduce the amount of oxidative damage in the body, something that is directly linked to the appearance of aging. Remember that these berries have approximately twice the number of antioxidants than those that can be found in blueberries, so they are an excellent source of nourishment.
Acai berries can also help with cognitive impairment that is often associated with age, as the antioxidants naturally improve both focus and memory.
Acai berries can be used as part of a treatment plan to fight cancerous cells.
In 2008, it was found that acai berries can directly affect the growth of cancer(8). Studies have also shown that the daily consumption of acai berries can also dramatically reduce a person’s risk of cancer. It is believed that the antioxidants that are absorbed into the blood have an immediate antioxidant effect that has the ability to kill cancerous cells.
It should be noted that acai berries should never be used to completely treat or prevent cancer, but they should be used as part of a well-balanced diet during treatment.
How do you use acai berries?
The usage of acai berries depends entirely on the product that you purchase, as it is pretty much impossible to purchase whole acai berries, regardless of where you are in the world (unless you happen to live in the Amazon). This is because acai berries in their natural form are easily damaged, this makes them an incredibly perishable food type. Due to this, getting them out of the Amazon rainforest intact would be nigh on impossible.
Products that contain acai berries often include powders, teas, juices, and supplements. Most people find that acai powder is the easiest product to use, but it worth noting that some of the vital nutrients and natural plant chemicals are completely destroyed during the process of freeze-drying the acai berries. Remember that acai powder will still be notably rich in a number of different minerals, regardless of this process.
The powder can be added to shakes, smoothies, juices, and even protein drinks. A lot of people tend to sprinkle the powder over a fresh fruit salad to add another flavour to it. The powder can also be used to make famous acai bowls, which actually look like ice cream. It’s essentially a type of thick smoothie, topped off with oatmeal or fruit. Although other products can be added to it.
If you are lucky enough to be able to find frozen acai puree, then you will find that it is much easier to add the puree to acai bowls. These meals are usually eaten at breakfast time, and they provide a healthy and nutritious start to the day.
What should you think about when you buy acai berries?
As with any natural ‘superfood’, you should make sure that your product is 100% natural, and that it has been grown in an environment that is completely pesticide free. Acai berries are delicate, and if they are not handled correctly by the manufacturer then you will lose a lot of the nutritional value that would otherwise have been held in the berries.
Most manufacturers will use real-time process control technology, allowing them to monitor everything to do with their acai berries. This enables them to produce high-quality acai products, that are always up to standard. Each batch of acai berries should also be tested, with some companies allowing third-party testing.
Contrary to popular belief, the purchase of acai berry products doesn’t actually harm the Amazon rainforest. In fact, it offers a form of livelihood and sustenance for the harvesters that live there. Products like wheat, rice and barley that are traditionally grown across the world, simply cannot grow in the Amazon rainforest. Years ago, harvesters would cut out the ‘hearts’ of palm from the trees, a process that actually killed them. Now, a viable alternative has been found, one that keeps the trees safe.
Are Acai Berries Really a Superfood?
A ‘superfood’ can generally be defined as a type of food that can offer a high nutritional value, tucked up in a tiny number of calories. Acai berries are generally considered to be one of the top superfoods in the world, due to the amount of antioxidant properties that they contain, and we would happily agree with that.
The consumption of antioxidants has been linked to a variety of healthcare concerns, some of which have been scientifically proven to be viable. Superfood lists around the world rave about acai berries, they are an amazing source of fibre and antioxidants. You always have to remember that there is no miracle cure for certain ailments, but there are things that can help those illnesses.
Acai berries can be used to promote healthy weight loss, or they can be used to provide protection against the oxidative activity that causes to much damage to our mental and physical health. Laboratory studies have also seen them demonstrate anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activity in both in-vitro and vivo models.
Berries have always been thought to be the champions of the superfood world, and the acai berry is a wonderful addition to that. Further research into the benefits of acai berry consumption should happen soon, so time will tell just how much of a superfood this superfood really is.