A traditional food re-labelled as a superfood
Acai Berry is a rainforest berry that grows on Euterpe oleracea palm trees in
the Amazon basin. This dark purple berry that looks like a blueberry and has a
fruity taste with a hint of chocolate. For centuries the local inhabitants have
used the acai berry as a staple part of their diet, but over the last decade the
berry has become popular in the coastal cities of Brazil and acai smoothies
popular in Brazilian beach culture.
The berry is eaten by fitness enthusiasts and athletes for its energizing and
detoxifying properties. With high levels of antioxidants and cholesterol
fighting fatty acids, the Amazonian acai berry has been hailed as the new
superfood and anufacturers around the globe have been adding acai to food and
drinks as part of a growing trend towards healthier eating.
Most marketing claims are too good to be true, laboratories linked to acai
promoters report extraordinary nutritional properties while watchdogs report far
less and reducing acai to having lower nutritional value than strawberries and
there is no scientific evidence that açaí consumption affects body weight,
promotes weight loss or has any positive health effect.
Indigenous peoples have eaten it for years and it is seen as a poor man’s food,
they eat it ripe from the trees and dried as an out of season snack. Eaten
fresh, the nutritional qualities are highest, but after harvest and processing,
the nutritional values rapidly decline in the hot climate.
By including acai berries into your diet, advertisers say that you will be supporting the Brazilian
economy, but it is not without negative impacts. There are rumours of
malnutrition in the communities who once relied on this staple nutrient fruit
but now find it more profitable to sell it. So by buying it, you may be
depriving Brazilian jungle dwellers of a vital nutrient they’ve relied on for
generations and attempts in Brazil to boost production to meet demand have had
little success because of the difficulty in obtaining land alongside riverbeds.
Acai is a rich source of a class of polyphenolic flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are the same antioxidants that give wine its health benefits. Antioxidants are needed by the body to quench free radicals, whose oxidative damage contributes to aging and degenerative diseases. They body's free radical defense system comprises several endogenous antioxidant enzymes as well as exogenous antioxidant nutrients obtained through diet. The phyto-chemical and nutrient compositions of a standardized freeze-dried acai powder were examined in a study of Natural and Medicinal Products Research in Washington. Among many findings, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins and other flavonoids were found to be the major phyto-chemicals. Five anthocyanins were identified as predominant and minor anthocyanins. The total content of measured as 3.1919mg/g dry weight. Polymers were found to be the major proanthocyanidins. The concentration of total proanthocyanidins was calculated as 12.89mg/g dry weight. Acai contains one of the highest contents known for oleic acid in the pulp of a fruit.
The acai berries themselves can be eaten in their natural state, but they are
often processed to create an acai berry extract that is used to flavour drinks and food. The berries can also be crushed to create acai berry juice, which is then mixed with water and other ingredients to create a refreshing drink. In addition to the juice and extract, the berries can be processed into powders that are used to create supplements and other capsule-like items.
Many people refer to acai as a super-fruit and claim it helps weight loss, but
the science does not support this claim.
The bottom line
Unless you live where acai is grown, eating it is not going to revolutionise
your health, it’s not going to help you loose weight or anything. Acai seed is
available in many supermarkets, its something to try and it makes a nice
sprinkle over your cereal, but really forget the hype, avoid the scams and leave
this fruit in the Amazon..