A nutritious diet is one of the key factors to maintaining health. While there is no such thing as a miracle food, there are some foods that provide a higher level of nutrients than others. (These are often called nutrient-dense foods.) The latest food to garner attention in the media is a tiny fruit called the acai berry—and its proponents are calling it a superfood.
What is Acai?
The acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”) berry is a small, purple berry that grows 30 to 50 feet above the ground on the acai palm tree, which is native to Central and South America. Most acai berries hail from the Amazon rainforests of Brazil.
The acai berry resembles a grape—but in truth, it is a large seed surrounded by a thin layer of skin. Once harvested, the berries are soaked and then the skin is removed and churned into a pulp. This pulp can be mixed with water to make juice; immediately frozen so that it can be shipped overseas; or freeze-dried into a powder.
Health Benefits of Acai
The acai berry packs a powerful punch. It has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit or berry—10 to 30 times more than grapes, pomegranates, and blueberries. The berries are a rich source of anthocyanins—antioxidants that protect the body against free radicals, which are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and may protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
In addition to their rich antioxidant content, acai berries are high in B vitamins, fiber protein, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, manganese, and copper.
Discerning Health from Hype
Like many popular new superfoods, acai berries have fallen prey to crafty marketers who sense the next big trend. Claims that the berries can cure diabetes or aid weight loss are unfounded and unproven; however, the berries are not without their value.
Research is ongoing to determine the benefits of the acai berry. So far, the data shows that the berries do indeed raise antioxidant levels and may also reduce inflammation. Researchers at Texas A&M University found that acai pulp tripled blood antioxidant levels and the juice raised them by 2.3 times. Another group of researchers found that the berries reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain in those with fibromyalgia and other autoimmune diseases.
Researchers continue to study acai to determine its benefits. Right now, the basic conclusion is that acai may offer some health benefits and it certainly doesn’t seem to have any harmful effects. But, it’s not the miracle food some online marketers would have you believe.
If you’re considering adding acai to your diet, there are a number of ways to enjoy the berry. There are several acai juices on the market; however, you’ll want to check carefully for sugar content and other ingredients. Most grocery stores now stock frozen acai pulp, which can be added to a smoothie or mixed with water to make juice. Some health food stores offer freeze-dried acai powder or capsules.
Acai is not particularly sweet, so you’ll want to add a healthy sweetener or be sure to mix it with other fruits. Enjoy!
 Mertens-Talcott SU, Rios J, Jilma-Stohlawetz P, et al. 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. 2008; 56(17): 7796-7802.
 Jensen GS, Schauss AG, Beaman R, et al. Açai fruit (Euterpe oleracea Mart): systematic and collaborative study of the phytochemistry, nutrient composition, and in vitro and in vivo bioactivities of the Amazonian palm fruit in humans. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2009; 15(3): S90–S91.