We are all familiar with how certain nutritional supplement and food trends seem to come and go in popular media and culture.
It’s often not hard to tell which wellness supplements and foods are currently hot by how many of your patients make a point to first casually mention that they had heard about a great new supplement or healthy super food from a friend or family member.
They will then go on to say that they have done their own research online, but want to get your opinion. It’s a reasonably safe bet that you are probably feeling a lot of questions right now about acai berries, either in supplement or in food form.
Given that you can’t turn on the TV or surf the Web without coming across an ad or article touting the benefits of acai berries, this shouldn’t be surprising. What are acai berries, and what are their health benefits?
Acai benefits: Putting the super in superfood
Acai berries are the fruit from the acai palm trees that grow in the rain forests of Central and South America. They are about an inch in diameter, with a dark purple skin and yellow flesh. Acai berries taste similar to blackberries, but with a somewhat earthier flavor.
However, what really makes acai berries unique in terms of health is that they are one of the most nutritionally dense super foods. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 grams of frozen acai berry pulp contains:1
- Calories: 70 kcal
- Fat: 5 g
- Saturated fat: 1.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 4 g
- Sugar: 2 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Vitamin A: 15% of RDA
- Calcium: 2% of RDA
Packed with antioxidants
Acai berries are probably best known for their antioxidant power. A database created by the USDA compares various foods for their Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score, which measures the antioxidant level in various food. It found that acai berries outscored both blueberries and cranberries, both of which are high in antioxidants.2
One hundred grams of acai berries has an ORAC score of 102,700, while blueberries had an ORAC score of 4,669, and cranberries’ ORAC score was 9090.
Researchers believe that anthocyanins, the plant compound that give acai berries their distinctive dark purple color, may be the active ingredient that provides the berries with their extraordinarily high antioxidant power.3 A 2008 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compared the plasma anthocyanins levels between two groups of volunteers, one of which consumed a beverage containing acai berry pulp, and the other consumed a beverage without acai berry.
When all subjects had their plasma levels measured at both 12 and 24 hours later, those who had consumed the beverage containing the acai berry had greater levels of available anthocyanins in their plasma.3
When you get right down to it, acai berries are a step above many other health food trends. Between the nutritional density and antioxidant power of acai berries, good things really do come in small packages!
- Full Report (All Nutrients): 45002624, PURE UNSWEETENED SUPERFRUIT PACKS, UPC: 818411001000. USDA Branded Food Products Database. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Accessed 3/2/3018.
- Haytowitz DB, Bhagwat S. (2010). USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed 3/2/2018.
- Mertens-Talcott SU, Rios J, Jilma-Stohlawetz P, et al. (2008). Pharmacokinetics of anthocyanins and antioxidant effects after the consumption of anthocyanin-rich acai juice and pulp (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) in human healthy volunteers. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(17), 7796-7802.