For centuries, the acai berry has been an important ingredient for indigenous people in South America. This dark purple fruit has been marketed for its anti-obesity and anti-aging properties— and the best part is that it actually tastes pretty good. Since it was introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s, some have even gone so far as to call the acai berry a “superfruit.”
Is the acai craze just a passing fad, or does this tiny berry contain nutrients that could ramp up your nutrition? Let’s take a look at some of the real benefits of acai, whether you’re consuming it as a fruit or in a supplement.
Oh, and before we dive in, let’s clear the air on its pronunciation: Ah-sigh-ee.
The benefits of acai and acai supplements
Acai has long been a favorite of surfers, who might have been one of the first groups to popularize the acai bowl you’re seeing everywhere now. Acai’s mix of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins and minerals could make it an idea post-workout supplement to bring your fitness to the next level.
But even if you’re not hitting the waves or the gym any time soon, acai brings a number of benefits worth exploring. This is one supplement that we can definitely get behind.
A serious serving of antioxidants
The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score measures the levels of antioxidants in foods. The acai berry is said to contain 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes and 10 to 30 times more anthocyanins than your favorite red wine. When compared to the ORAC score of blueberries, acai (fruit/pulp/skin/powder/blends) is way ahead, at 102,700.
Anthocyanins are antioxidants that reduce inflammation and slow down the process of free-radical damage. Your skin also reaps the benefits of high antioxidant levels. A small group study found that people who were given acai pulp and juice recorded higher absorption of antioxidants in the gut—key to fighting off cell damage that can otherwise lead to a number of diseases and other issues that keep you from being your best.
Better cholesterol levels
Plant sterols are also found in acai. What does that mean for you? These steroids help your body lower its cholesterol absorption. In one small study, people who consumed an acai smoothie twice daily for 30 days experienced lower LDL and total cholesterol. But keep in mind that the study was funded by an acai provider.
While acai research still hasn’t caught up to the berry’s popularity, acai berry in a test-tube study was found to inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells. There isn’t any magic food out there that can stop cancer—despite what some supplement and nutrition brands might claim—but the study could open the door for more research on acai for protecting against the spreading of cancer cells.
At the end of the day, acai is loaded with nutrients beneficial for the body. Acai that grows in the Venezuelan Amazon region has been shown to contain trace amounts of essential minerals like zinc, copper, chromium and magnesium, among others. A 100 grams serving of acai fruit pulp contains only 2 grams of sugar and 15% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin A.
But these nutrients do not equal weight loss—at least not according to science. While certain acai supplements have been touted as a weight-loss remedy, there are no independent studies that prove these claims. However, an initial study found that acai could reduce blood sugar levels.
How to get acai in your diet
One of the biggest issues with the acai fruit is that it begins to go bad just one day after it’s picked. If you can’t consume them fresh, it’s best to switch to a supplement. When converted into a supplement, companies will try and retain the phytochemicals of the fruit, giving you all the benefits of fresh fruit in a dried or powdered form. Look for a brand that don’t load up its supplement with fillers—sound advice for acai supplements and pretty much every other supplement out there.
But you can indeed get too much of a good thing, and that’s exactly the case with the ever-popular acai bowl. Acai contains healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants, but the sugar content in acai smoothie bowls is typically off the charts. While the acai berry is not the main culprit here, additional toppings can often increase the sugar content to 65 grams or more. So it’s best to eat the berry fresh or in supplement form.
Here’s the bottom line: the acai berry’s health benefits are legit. But it’s best to take the berry fresh or in supplement form, not as smoothies or bowls that drag down its health benefits with sugar, sugar and more sugar.