Acai — sometimes spelled açaí — is a berry that comes from a South American palm tree. The acai plant grows up to 100 feet tall and thrives in rainforest habitats where flooding occurs regularly. While acai is a relatively new "superfood" to North American and European markets, indigenous tribes of the Amazon region have eaten it for centuries.
Some businesses have made problematic claims about the health benefits of acai berries, juices, and other food products. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against some companies for making unproven claims about acai. An unproven claim is not definitely false, but more research is needed.
Before you take any supplement, including acai, do your research and check with a medical professional.
May Protect Against Free Radicals
Acai berries contain antioxidants—nutrients that protect against cell damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that form naturally in the body and also from external sources like cigarette smoke or pollution. Natural free-radical formation occurs from the digestion process and exercising.
Free radicals lead to oxidation of cells, causing damage. Experts believe that cell oxidation may be a leading cause of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. However, more research is needed to see whether consuming antioxidants as a supplement can reduce the risk of these illnesses.
Acai's purple color comes from the antioxidant anthocyanin. Preliminary studies have shown that anthocyanins protect cells from oxidation damage. However, more study is needed to learn the effects in humans and the optimal acai dosage to achieve this effect.
May Lower “Bad” Cholesterol
Early research shows that consuming acai may lower LDL — or "bad" — cholesterol levels. An excess of LDL cholesterol in the body can lead to artery plaque buildup. This causes blockages that may result in heart disease or stroke.
Additionally, this research shows that acai may raise HDL — or "good" — cholesterol. This type of cholesterol travels around your body and collects LDL cholesterol. It’s then processed in the liver and excreted. While you still do not want this type of cholesterol to get too high, low HDL cholesterol levels are also associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease.
May Help Manage Blood Sugar
Preliminary research also shows that consuming acai for 30 days may help people who are overweight to manage their blood sugar levels. Being overweight increases your risk of becoming diabetic, or having high blood sugar levels. Medication can help, but lifestyle changes may also improve symptoms or reverse the condition when it comes to type 2 diabetes.
More research is needed to determine whether acai can help overweight people manage their blood sugar levels, and what the proper dosage of acai would be.
Does Acai Help With Weight Loss?
In 2013, the FTC ordered certain online marketers of acai products for weight loss and their affiliates to pay a total of $9.4 million in fines and settlements for misleading claims.
To learn more about weight loss, contact a doctor, nutritionist, or another medical specialist.
The nutritional value for acai depends on how you consume it. If it’s in a smoothie, you must also consider the other fruits and juices in the smoothie. One popular way to consume acai is in an acai bowl. This dish uses blended acai berries as a base, with other fruit added. For exact nutrition information, read the label of the specific acai product you are consuming.
Things to Watch Out For
Acai is generally safe to consume as a fruit pulp in smoothies and acai bowls. However, drinking pure, unprocessed, acai juice may lead to Chagas disease. It's caused by a parasite found in rural areas in Central and South America. Some people never develop symptoms of this disease, but for others, it leads to lifelong health complications including heart and digestion problems.
Researchers are experimenting with acai as a contrast for MRIs of the digestive tract. If you have an MRI scheduled, talk to your doctor before you eat acai.
How to Eat Acai
Two popular ways to eat acai are in a smoothie or acai bowl. Both of these preparations require blending frozen acai pulp or acai berry sorbet and adding other ingredients of your choice.
There are also many supplements in powder, tablet, or capsule form that contain acai.