Written by Mita Majumdar, M.Sc. | 

Article Reviewed by The Medindia Medical Review Team on Nov 02, 2016

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Acai Berry a Super Food or a Nutritious Fruit?

Has the extremely popular health food, acai berry lost its sheen? Find out.

Acai berry (Euterpe oleracea / Euterpe cuatrecasana) is basically a drupe (fruit) of a tall, slender tropical palm reaching a height of more than 60 feet. The genus Euterpe is named after the Greek goddess of music. The dark purple fruit, about the size of a large blueberry, is produced in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits. It has a single large seed that forms the major portion of the fruit and the only edible portion is the pulp surrounding the seed.

This Brazilian berry, used for centuries by the natives, suddenly rose in popularity as a health food with anti-oxidant properties after it was publicized in the Oprah Winfrey Show. After numerous blogs, advertisements, and intensive marketing by companies, the fruit found its way into the market as a dietary supplement and a vital ingredient of beauty products.

Acai Berry - Does It Really Work?

Acai berry is touted to have many benefits. Some are as follows:

  • Its anti-oxidant properties delay aging and make the skin look younger.
  • It improves digestion and increases energy levels.
  • It enhances male virility and improves sexual performance.
  • It reduces or reverses diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
  • It helps reduce cholesterol.

Acai berry is, no doubt, a nutritious fruit. Analysis of 100g of dry powder of freeze-dried acai fruit pulp and skin reveals its nutritional content:

  • Calories – 533.9
  • Total carbohydrates – 52.2 g
  • Dietary fiber – 44.2 g
  • Sugars – low
  • Protein – 8.1 g
  • Total fat – 32.5 g
  • Vitamin C – negligible, vitamin A – 1002U, calcium – 260 mg, iron – 4.4 mg, aspartic acid and glutamic acid.

Apart from the above nutrients, acai berry is rich in anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid compound that may have preventive and therapeutic roles in a number of diseases including diabetes and heart disease, because of its anti-oxidant properties.

However, a study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition reports that anthocyanins contribute just 10 percent of the total anti-oxidant capacities of the fruit. Moreover, up to 30 percent of its anti-oxidant capacity is lost during long-term storage. Heating also reduces the phenolic compounds and anti-oxidant capacity of acai berry according to researchers from Texas A&M University, USA, who studied the chemical composition and anti-oxidant properties of acai. But the good news comes from a study by Texas AgriLife Research scientists, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry which found that both the pulp and the juice of acai berry could significantly absorb anthocyanins into the blood and show anti-oxidant effects. The scientists further opined that although the fruit has some good attributes, ‘it is not a solution to all diseases and could just be part of a well-balanced diet.’

To sum it up, acai berry MAY NOT be a ‘SUPER FOOD’ but it certainly is healthy food with:

  • lot of dietary fiber that aids digestion;
  • naturally low sugar, making it favorable for people with diabetes;
  • rich anthocyanin content that helps reduce oxidative stress; and
  • a wonderful flavor of red wine and chocolate.

Acai berry may NOT to the extent purported be helpful:

  • in weight loss;
  • for anti-aging and longevity; and
  • in reducing or reversing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

As stated earlier, acai berry should just be one of the components of a balanced diet.

References:

  1. Pacheco-Palencia LA, Mertens-Talcott S, Talcott ST., ‘Chemical composition, antioxidant properties, and thermal stability of a phytochemical enriched oil from Acai’ (Euterpe oleracea Mart.). J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jun 25;56(12):4631-6. Epub 2008 Jun 4.
  2. Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications (17 October 2008). Brazilian Acai Berry Antioxidants Absorbed by Human Body, Research Shows. Science Daily.
  3. Brazilian Acai Berry Antioxidants Absorbed By Human Body, Research Shows - (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081006112053.htm)
  4. Alcohol, Oxidative Stress, and Free Radical Damage - (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-4/277-284.htm)
  5. Aging Not Slowed By Antioxidants, Study Rejects 50 Year Old Theory - (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/131363.php)
  6. Moor de Burgos A, Wartanowicz M, Ziemlañski S. Blood vitamin and lipid levels in overweight and obese women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1992 Nov;46(11):803-8.
  7. Schauss AG, Wu X, Prior RL, Ou B, Huang D, Owens J, Agarwal A, Jensen GS, Hart AN, Shanbrom E. ‘Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry’, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (acai). J Agric Food Chem. 1 November 2006; 54(22):8604-10.
  8. Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, Harnack L, Hong CP, Nettleton JA, Jacobs DR Jr., ‘Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: A prospective study in postmenopausal women’. Am J Clin Nutr. March 2007;85(3):895-909.
  9. Erlund I, Koli R, Alfthan G, Marniemi J, Puukka P, Mustonen P, Mattila P, Jula A. ‘Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol’. Am J Clin Nutr. February 2008; 87(2):323-31.
  10. Ovensa Z, Vachalkova A, Horvathova K. ‘Taraxasterol and beta-sitosterol: New naturally compounds with chemoprotective / chemopreventative effects’. Neoplasma. 2004; 51(6): 407-414.

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