Acai

The acai berry is the fruit of the acai palm (Euterpe oleracea), growing mostly in Brazil and northern South America, in swamps and flood plains. The name “acai” comes from the Portuguese adaptation of the Tupian word iwaca’i that means “fruit that cries water”.

As is seemingly the case with most superfoods that have arrived in the marketplace since the 1990’s, the acai berry has been used by indigenous peoples in the Amazon for thousands of years to address a multitude of health concerns, including strengthening the immune system, fighting infection, protecting the heart and contributing to prostate health. It has also been discovered that acai can be an effective tool in fighting schistosomosis (a common disease caused by exposure to infected snails in fresh waters such as the Amazon River). Additionally, Acai has been used in producing an antibiotic that can help against Staphylococcus aureus, which is a common infection occurring mostly in hospitals.

AcaiAcai berries are too fragile to market internationally as a raw fruit, so those of us beyond the Amazon River basin see it mostly in juices (having been crushed and frozen close to the source), teas, and in powdered form. Very few clinical studies have been done so far, to confirm actual benefits to humans. However, Dr. Michael Gregor, in his 2013 article “The Science on Acai Berries” writes that an independent review in 2006 by the Natural Standards Research Collaboration found that for antioxidents, acai had “the highest measure of any food reported to date” . They also placed a concentration of acai berry phytonutrients, equivalent to what might be expected in the blood stream after consumption, into a petri dish which contained cancer cells from a female suffering from leukemia. They observed a “dramatic” rise in cancer cell mortality, which certainly suggests that more research should be done in this area.  The only other clinical study is one in which the effects of acai berries on metabolic parameters was studied. Ten overweight people took two portions of acai pulp every day for 30 days. At the end of the period, their fasting blood sugars dropped, as did their insulin levels and cholesterol.

Acai Tree

We also have the nutritional data from which we can draw our own simple conclusions. We know that acai berries are protein-rich, and contain powerful antioxidants, fiber, monosaturated fats, calcium, vitamin A and anthocyanins (a group of compounds belonging to the flavonoid family of polyphenol phytochemicals found in plant foods). Taken separately, we know that antioxidants help reduce cell damage associated with the aging process, we know fiber is good for us, and it has been clinically proven that anthocyanins help maintain healthy circulation and support proper nerve function.

Juices made from acai berries are delicious, and powdered acai can add marvelous new flavors to yogurts and smoothies. The nutritional information that we have, as well as the early studies about the benefits of acai lets us know we can enjoy these wonderful foods in good health.