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Health Benefits and Nutrition Facts

<p>Sergey Kirsanov / Getty images</p>

Sergey Kirsanov / Getty images

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Fisher, MS

The açai palm—Euterpe oleracea—is a plant native to the Amazon region of tropical Central and South America. It produces small, deep purple-colored berries that are rich in nutrients and antioxidant compounds.

Indigenous communities of the Amazon have used açai berries as a food source and natural medicine for thousands of years. More recently, the popularity of açai has grown in other areas of the world, including the United States, as more people learn about the health benefits of this tropical fruit.

Benefits of Acai

Açaí berries may be small, but they’re packed with health-protective vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Typically, fresh açaí berries are not sold in the U.S., but you can still get the benefits from juiced and frozen forms of the fruit.

Provides Powerful Antioxidants

Açaí berries are rich in protective phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Antioxidants help protect against oxidative stress, a process that otherwise can lead to cellular damage and diseases including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Anti-inflammatory compounds inhibit pro-inflammatory pathways in the body that can sometimes encourage inflammation and lead to disease.

Research shows açaí extract has a greater antioxidant capacity than both vitamin C and vitamin E, and supplementing with açaí products may help improve the body’s antioxidant defenses.

A small study found drinking 200 milliliter (ml) of açaí juice per day for four weeks led to significant increases in antioxidant levels and activity. The treatment also decreased markers of oxidative stress.

Another small study found consuming 400 grams (g) of açaí pulp per day for 15 days increased the men’s blood antioxidant capacity and decreased markers of cellular damage.

Research also shows açaí has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and could help reduce blood levels of certain inflammatory proteins.

May Improve Heart Health

Açai is high in nutrients and plant compounds that may benefit heart health in several ways.

In the same study mentioned above, the four-week treatment of 200 ml of açaí juice led to a 7.7% increase in concentrations of HDL cholesterol among people who drank the juice.

HDL cholesterol is commonly known as good cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol from the body and protects against atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fat in the arteries. Having higher levels of HDL can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Another study found consuming an açaí-based smoothie with a high-fat breakfast meal led to significant improvements in vascular function, including blood flow efficiency. The researchers noted the measure of improvement could reduce the risk of cardiovascular events by as much as 13%.

Also, research suggests açaí may help improve blood sugar, blood pressure, and insulin levels, which can all benefit heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

May Benefit People with Prostate Cancer

Açaí is a concentrated source of plant compounds like anthocyanins that are known for their anticancer properties. Although more research is needed, some studies show açaí berries may be helpful for people with prostate cancer.

In one study, people with recurrent prostate cancer consumed a mixture of tea extracts and fruit juices with 80% of the juice coming from açaí berries. They drank two ounces (oz) of the mixture twice per day for 36 weeks.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the ​​prostate-specific antigen (PSA) doubling time was slowed in 71% of the participants and some participants had a decline in PSA levels.

PSA is a protein produced by both healthy and cancerous cells in the prostate gland. Healthcare providers use the PSA test to monitor the progression of prostate cancer. A slowed PSA doubling time and a decline in PSA levels could indicate a slowing of cancer growth.

Although these results are promising, the supplement used in this study contained multiple components, not just açaí, so it’s unclear if the other ingredients impacted the study results.

More studies are needed to understand how consuming açaí products impacts the health of people with prostate cancer and other types of cancer.

Nutrition of Acai

Açaí berries are rich in important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but the nutrition content of açaí varies depending on processing. Açaí products like frozen fruit packets and açaí bowls often contain multiple ingredients. For example, açaí bowls are often high in added sugar.

Pure açaí products, like frozen purees and dried powders, are a good source of several nutrients.

A one-cup serving of frozen açai chunks contains:

Açaí berries are higher in fat than most fruits, which makes these berries a unique source of energy. The fruit contains small amounts of saturated fats, but most of the fat found in açaí berries is unsaturated fat, which is beneficial for health.

Açaí pulp is also rich in fiber, a nutrient that helps support gastrointestinal health by keeping bowel movements regular and fueling beneficial gut bacteria.

Studies showing the exact nutritional composition of whole açaí berries are limited, but some research reports açaí berries are a good dietary source of fiber and vitamins and minerals such as B6, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese.

It’s important to note the nutritional and phytochemical composition of açaí berries varies depending on growing conditions, processing, and more.

In the Amazon region, most people enjoy fresh açaí berries. However, fresh açaí berries are only available in Brazil, which is the top producer and exporter of açaí berries. The lengthy harvesting process of açaí berries results in nutrient losses, which makes fresh açaí berries unfit for transport outside of Brazil.

For this reason, açaí berries sold in the U.S. are typically in frozen, juiced, or powdered form. Fortunately, processed açaí products like juices and frozen açaí puree can offer many of the same nutritional benefits as the fresh berries.

Risks of Acai

Consuming açaí products like frozen açaí pulp, açaí juice, and açaí bowls is generally safe for most people.

However, drinking unprocessed açaí juice has been linked to an illness called American trypanosomiasis, also known as Chagas disease. Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and can be life-threatening. For this reason, you should only consume açaí products that have been properly processed and are safe for consumption.

Additionally, consuming certain açaí products may affect the results of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. If you’re scheduled for an MRI, you may want to avoid consuming açaí before your appointment.

Lastly, some açaí products, like açaí bowls, can be high in added sugars. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to several health issues, such as elevated blood sugar levels and heart disease. Health experts recommend limiting your daily sugar intake to less than 10% of your total daily calories.

Tips for Consuming Acai

If you’d like to add açaí to your diet, you have several options to choose from. Açaí is available in different forms, including powder, frozen pulp, and juice.

Açaí berries have an earthy taste that’s reported to be similar to raspberries. Because açaí isn’t as sweet as berries like blueberries and strawberries, açaí products often have sugar or other fruits added to improve their flavor. Make sure to check ingredient labels on açaí products like smoothies, juices, and frozen products.

Here are a few tips for enjoying açaí products:

  • Add frozen açaí pulp to your favorite smoothie recipe for a boost of antioxidant compounds

  • Sprinkle açaí powder onto oatmeal, chia pudding, and yogurt

  • Use unsweetened açaí juice blends in smoothies and cocktails

  • Make your own açaí bowls at home using ingredients like unsweetened frozen açaí puree, nut butter, protein powder, and bananas

If you’re a fan of ordering açaí bowls on-the-go, there are a few ways to build your order to have more nutrients, proteins, and healthy fats.

Toppings like honey and granola can add extra sugar. Try adding toppings higher in protein and healthy fats like nut butter or pumpkin seeds. You can also include a source of protein, like protein powder or peanut butter, within your bowl. This can help make the bowl more filling and keep your blood sugar from spiking.

A Quick Review

Açaí is a popular fruit native to the Amazon that’s been linked with several health benefits. Açaí berries are rich in protective plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Research suggests that consuming açaí products could help improve the body’s antioxidant defenses, support heart health, and may benefit those with certain cancers. Açaí berries are also a good source of unsaturated fat and fiber.

If you’re looking for healthy ways to add açaí into your diet, choose unsweetened açaí products like frozen puree and açaí powder.

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Read the original article on Health.

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