Acai berry is heavily promoted as a superfood and for a good reason. This tiny grape-like fruit, which comes from the acai palm tree, is said to improve heart health, increase fat burning and slow down aging, among other benefits. Rich in polyphenols, it supports immune function and protects against oxidative damage. If you enjoy working out, the acai fruit may help you recover faster from training and reduce muscle breakdown.
Acai berries are rich in polyphenols and other antioxidants that protect the brain, inhibit tumor growth and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.
What Is Acai Berry?
This Brazilian "superfruit" has been making headlines as one of the most nutritious foods on earth. It's widely used in weight-loss formulas, dietary supplements, energy drinks and everything in between. You can enjoy it raw in smoothies and fruit salads, add it to your favorite deserts or use it in powder form.
Read more: Secrets of 16 Strange and Popular Superfoods
The acai seed, which is something most people throw away, makes up about 80 percent of the fruit. Most vitamins and antioxidants are found in its skin and flesh. High in anthocyanins and polyphenols, acai berry is considered a functional food. It protects against inflammation, supports cardiovascular function and may prevent cancer cells from spreading.
A popular way to enjoy this fruit is to make an acai bowl. In general, this recipe calls for acai puree or acai berry powder, frozen berries, bananas, rolled oats, raw honey, fruit juice and various nuts or seeds.
Acai bowls are quite high in carbs, though. Depending on the ingredients used, this beloved treat can be a sugar bomb. Enjoy it in moderation and consider using unsweetened açaí berries and/or swap juice for water to cut down on carbs.
Read more: 6 Easy Smoothie Breakfast Bowls
Acai Nutrition Facts
The acai fruit packs both flavor and nutrition. It's naturally sweet and tastes like a blend of berries and chocolate, so you can use it in homemade desserts or as a snack between meals. One serving of acai berry puree provides:
- 40 calories
- 1 gram of protein
- 3 grams of carbs
- 3 grams of fiber
- 3 grams of fat
- 60 milligrams of potassium
- 0.36 milligrams of iron
- 20 milligrams of calcium
This superfood is lower in carbs than most fruits. A medium banana, by comparison, has 105 calories and 26.9 grams of carbs. One serving of cherries boasts 88 calories and 22.4 grams of carbs, while strawberries deliver 47 calories and 11.2 grams of carbs per serving.
What makes the acai fruit stand out is its high antioxidant value. This functional food boasts large doses of ferulic acid, ellagic acid, resveratrol and other polyphenols. It also contains traces of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid and oleic acid. You'll also get B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium, copper and other micronutrients that support overall health.
Health Benefits of Acai Berries
The potential health benefits of acai berries are attributed to their antioxidant properties. According to a June 2015 pilot study published in the journal Biology of Sport, these fruits may help reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and improve blood lipids.
Junior hurdlers who consumed an acai berry-based juice blend daily for six weeks experienced an increase in blood antioxidant capacity along with major improvements in triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Their sprint performance remained unchanged.
Acai berries have been also studied for their protective effects on bone mass. The bioactive compounds in these fruits regulate the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may help inhibit osteoclastogenesis, a process that contributes to bone loss.
Furthermore, the acai fruit promotes wound healing by suppressing the activation of TNF-α and other reactive oxygen species, according to a study featured in Toxicological Research in June 2017. The study was conducted on rats, but it highlights the fruit's antioxidant activity.
A recent review, which appeared in Plos One in July 2018, describes the anticarcinogenic properties of acai berries. Research shows that this fruit is safe and may prevent cancer development. Acai berry has been shown to inhibit tumor growth, reduce cancer cell proliferation and inhibit cancer progression. It appears to be particularly effective against esophageal and colon cancer due to its anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative action.
Acai Berry and Weight Loss
This fruit is marketed as a natural weight-loss aid. Unfortunately, clinical research doesn't support these claims.
Acai berry boasts high antioxidant levels and has its place in a balanced diet. However, it's not a magic bullet for fat loss. While it does contain monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), a type of fat that may help you get leaner, you'd need to consume it in huge amounts to reap the benefits.
Acai berries are not calorie-free. If you eat too much of them, the calories will add up. These fruits can improve your health and well-being, but this doesn't mean they promote weight loss. Enjoy them in moderation as part of a calorie-controlled diet, but don't go overboard.
This antioxidant-rich food may benefit those who are overweight or obese, though. In a November 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, overweight men who drank acai-based smoothies experienced greater improvements in vascular function than those consuming a smoothie matching their macronutrient needs.
Therefore, acai berries may lower the risk of obesity-related cardiovascular problems. These potential benefits were attributed to their high content of polyphenols.
Keep Your Brain Sharp
As you age, your brain becomes less efficient at storing and processing information, forming neural connections and creating new memories. These changes may be partly due to oxidative damage, according to the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Another possible cause is inflammation, which affects the glial cells that protect your neurons.
The antioxidants in acai berry scavenge oxidative stress and may improve brain function. A study published in the journal Nutrition in July-August 2014 suggests that acai may have protective effects on the brain cells.
Another study, which was posted in Nutritional Neuroscience in November 2015, has found that acai supplementation reduced inflammation and reversed age-related cognitive deficits in older rats. These findings were attributed to the polyphenols and anti-inflammatory compounds in the acai fruit.
Both studies were conducted on animals. However, they suggest that acai berry may improve brain health and protect against neurodegenerative disorders. More research is needed to confirm its effects on humans.
Are Acai Berries Safe?
This delicious fruit is generally safe but not for people who are allergic to berries. Beware, though, that acai juice may be infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite from the Amazon region.
This microorganism has been linked to outbreaks of Chagas' disease. Over the past years, several people developed symptoms associated with this infection after drinking acai juice. Pasteurization is the only way to destroy this parasite.
Also, beware that acai berries can affect the results of MRI scans. If you eat this fruit or drink its juice before having an MRI, let your doctor know about it.
- NCBI: "Effects of Supplementation With Acai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) Berry-Based Juice Blend on the Blood Antioxidant Defence Capacity and Lipid Profile in Junior Hurdlers"
- NCBI: "Amazon Acai - Chemistry and Biological Activities"
- USDA: "Acai Bowls, Acai Blend With Fruit & Granola"
- USDA: "Acai Berry Puree"
- USDA: "Raw Bananas"
- USDA: "Cherries, Sweet, Raw"
- USDA: "Raw Strawberries"
- NCBI: "Extract of Acai-Berry Inhibits Osteoclast Differentiation and Activity"
- Toxicological Research: "Skin Wound Healing Effects and Action Mechanism of Acai Berry Water Extracts"
- Plos One: "Anticancer Potential, Molecular Mechanisms and Toxicity of Euterpe Oleracea Extract (Açaí)"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Consumption of a Flavonoid-Rich Açai Meal Is Associated With Acute Improvements in Vascular Function and a Reduction in Total Oxidative Status in Healthy Overweight Men"
- ASPET Journals: "Oxidative Stress and the Central Nervous System"
- NCBI: "Restoration of Stressor-Induced Calcium Dysregulation and Autophagy Inhibition by Polyphenol-Rich açaí (Euterpe Spp.) Fruit Pulp Extracts in Rodent Brain Cells in Vitro"
- Taylor & Francis Online: "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"
- CDC.gov: "Oral Transmission of Trypanosoma Cruzi, Brazilian Amazon"
- NIH.gov: "What Do We Know About Safety?"
- ResearchGate: "An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Acai (Euterpe oleracea) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration"
- NCBI: "Anti-Inflammatory and Neuroprotective Role of Natural Product Securinine in Activated Glial Cells: Implications for Parkinson's Disease"