The Acai Palm Tree is native to Central and South America. It grows a red-purple berry, of course called an acai berry, which is in the same family as blueberries and cranberries. For many years retailers have been selling it in various forms as a health promoter. Although its popularity has seem to wane over the years, its health benefits have not changed. There are in fact many acai benefits.
Why is Acai Supposed to be so Amazing?
The reason acai is deserving of mention is that it is not your average fruit. It contains especially powerful and abundant antioxidants that prmote health.1 In fact, researchers have found it to be valuable in the prevention of diseases up to and including cancer.2 This seems to be a result of two main antioxidants found in acai.
First, are a group of molecules we call anthocyanins. They are responsible for the blue, red and purple colors of some nutrient-rich fruits, veggies and flowers. For example, blueberries, red grapes, red wine and of course acai, are all full of anthocyanins. These molecules act as powerful antioxidants that aggressively neutralize free radicals in your body, thus reducing oxidative stress and all sorts of diseases.3 The second, flavonoids, are also a powerful group of antioxidant molecules common among plant-based foods.4
A Brief Biochemistry Lesson on Free Radicals
Every cell in your body needs oxygen to survive and will begin to die within minutes of not having it. But there is a cost to using oxygen. Each oxygen molecule essentially contributes an electron your cell machinery, but not exactly willingly. Obviously molecules don’t think for themselves, but when these electrons are removed, the oxygen becomes very reactive. We call this a free radical. It now “wants” another electron to become stable again and can take it from another molecule that doesn’t hold onto its electrons as strongly. This of course causes damage.5 The victim may be an important cellular protein, a cell organ or even DNA itself. Whatever it affects will probably not work properly anymore. For instance, if the portion of DNA in a cell that tells it when to stop dividing receives damage, cancer may result.
Of course, your immune system is built to deal with free radicals. But it can’t do it alone. Actually, it relies on your diet to supply antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to help ‘mop up’ these free radicals. But with our modern lifestyles, most of us don’t, in fact can’t, get enough from food alone. Thus, we may experience oxidative stress, a term meaning too much free radical damage. Oxidative stress is thought to a main cause of disease.6
Acai Benefits for Weight Loss?
There have been many diets and diet pills that include or even exclusively focus on the weight loss benefits of acai. As the thinking goes, acai improves your overall health and thus puts you in a state to most effectively lose weight. While this is not untrue, acai alone do much for weight loss. You could make the same argument about a lot of things.
While any fruit or vegetable contains antioxidants, acai is one of the most concentrated, ounce for ounce. The ORAC scale, developed by the National Institute of Aging, is a measure of the antioxidant concentration of various foods. As you can see from the accompanying picture, acai ranks quite high. And again, antioxidants neutralize free radicals (and other toxins) and therefore prevent them from causing damage to cells. This means a lower risk of disease, slower aging and better health overall.7
What the USDA Says About Antioxidants
- “”Studies at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston suggest that consuming fruits and vegetables with a high-ORAC value may help slow the aging process in both body and brain.””
- “…the ORAC measure may help define the dietary conditions needed to prevent tissue damage.”
- “Science has long held that damage by oxygen free radicals is behind many of the maladies that come with aging, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. There’s firm evidence that a high intake of fruits and vegetables reduces risk of cancer and that a low intake raises risk. And recent evidence suggests that diminished brain function associated with aging and disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases may be due to increased vulnerability to free radicals.”
Additional Nutritional Benefits of Acai
Omega 3,6 and 9, the “good” fats can all be found in acai. These have many health-related advantages of their own, including heart health and decreased inflammation, another major cause of disease. Plus, there are 19 different amino acids in acai to help build protein. This is not common in a fruit, most of which contain far fewer amino acids. The plant sterols, B-sitosterol, campesterol and sigmasterol are also found in acai. These contribute to better digestion as well as lower cholesterol and improved heart health. Lastly, there are a variety of vitamins, minerals and plenty of fiber in acai berries.