The acai berry (pronounced “ah-sigh-EE”) has been widely hyped ― and debunked ― as a miracle weight-loss supplement. However, experts say that behind the marketing madness this tropical fruit has true, research-proven health benefits.

Monday, 28 Apr 2014 07:20 AM

By Vera Tweed




In fact, respected scientists have determined that its exceptional nutritional qualities can improve overall health in many ways.

“So rich in nutrients is the acai fruit that it is possible someone could survive on it alone for quite a period of time, without showing signs of malnutrition,” says Alexander Schauss, a researcher who has studied acai for nearly 20 years and summarized his findings in a book, Acai: An Extraordinary Antioxidant-Rich Palm Fruit from the Amazon.
The berry, he says, contains all essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (for protein), as well as healthy fats and fiber. Neither he nor anyone else is suggesting we live on acai alone, but the fruit offers a very efficient way to get concentrated nutrients that prevent disease and premature aging, and enhance well being.
As an example, says Schauss, “People with autoimmune diseases can get some benefits, and many people who have fibromyalgia say ‘I feel like a completely new person.’” People with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, and Crohn’s disease may also benefit.
Test-tube and animal studies show that the berry’s combination of strong antioxidants is anti-inflammatory and may protect cells from mutating and becoming cancerous, defend the brain against plaques, and guard against atherosclerosis. And small human studies found that it can reduce joint and back pain, and lower unhealthy levels of cholesterol and blood sugar, thereby reducing risk for heart disease and diabetes and indirectly helping to control weight.
Nutritional analysis at the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA found that acai has “the highest antioxidant activity of any food reported to date.”
Since antioxidants stop inflammation, the berry has tremendous potential to fight disease and slow down aging.
In addition, the antioxidants in acai are varieties that are well absorbed. At Texas A&M University, researchers found both acai pulp and juice raised antioxidant levels in healthy people for up to 24 hours.
“Acai is naturally low in sugar, and the flavor is described as a mixture of red wine and chocolate,” said lead researcher Susanne Talcott.
Acai is a dark purple berry that grows 30 to 50 feet above ground on very slim palm trees in the Amazon rainforests of Brazil. On the outside, it looks like a purple grape but inside, up to 90 percent of the fruit is a large seed, surrounded by a thin layer of pulp and skin. In the Amazon, where it is considered a staple, local residents often drink a quart or more of acai juice daily.
Unlike grapes, picked acai starts to perish in less than 24 hours, so the fresh fruit is rarely shipped beyond its growing regions. For transport, acai is frozen or freeze dried immediately after harvesting.
It is widely available in health food stores or on the internet in many different forms, including powders, juices, frozen packets, and capsules.
How to Benefit
Drink acai juice or add pulp or powder to smoothies. Good quality juices should be made with acai pulp or puree, and should contain approximately 3 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving.

Supplement pills contain more concentrated acai extracts that vary in strength. Acai sorbet is also available. Nutrition bars and other foods also contain acai, but if it isn’t listed as one of the first few ingredients, the quantity is likely too small to produce a tangible health benefit. Sambazon, Acai Roots, and Navitas Naturals (powder only) are high-quality brands.