Acai berry has recently been featured on many high-profile talk shows, and a quick Google search returns multiple websites promoting some form of it. If you are curious about all the hype and alleged health benefits, read on for the lowdown on this fruit.
What is Acai Berry?
Not many fruits have as alluring a name. Acai (pronounced ah-sah-EE) berry is the fruit of the Acai palm, one of many species of palms belonging to the genus Euterpe, which is native to Central and South America. The palm is fast-growing, and both the fruits and the hearts of the palm are important food sources for locals. The berry’s growing popularity in North America has led to multiple brands of Acai berry supplements (alone or mixed with other fruit juices) offered in the market. Health claims on these products include weight loss, detoxifying, wrinkle-fighting, higher energy levels and superior levels of antioxidants.
What Research Shows
Several studies have been done on the antioxidant activity of the juice or fruit pulp (including a freeze-dried form of supplement). Generally, they agree that this berry exhibits some antioxidant activity but, depending on the methods used to define “antioxidant activity,” the conclusions about specific potency vary. A 2006 Brazilian study of the antioxidant activity of the pulp of various fruits commonly consumed in Brazil showed that Acai berry pulp had less antioxidant activity than acerola, mango, strawberry, and grapes, but more antioxidant activity than guava, passionfruit, and pineapple. A 2008 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (funded by a pomegranate juice maker) used four different methods of testing antioxidant activity in fruit juices and showed that Acai berry juice had less antioxidant activity than red wine, pomegranate juice, Concord grape juice, and blueberry juice, equivalent activity to black cherry and cranberry juices, and more antioxidant activity than orange or apple juices. Note that most of the studies so far focus on the antioxidant capacity as determined by chemical analysis/assays; these tests do not guarantee that the antioxidants would behave the same way inside our bodies.
A couple of studies in the same journal fed Acai berry juice to 12 healthy volunteers and documented higher levels of antioxidants in the blood for up to two hours after consumption, but again, there is no clear health benefit that can be drawn from this observation. It is also unclear what form or forms of Acai berry would be optimally absorbed by our bodies.
The Bottom Line
Like many other fruits, Acai berry contains antioxidants. There is currently no clear evidence of any superiority in antioxidants activity when compared to other types of fruits. Try it if you’re curious, but at times like these when everyone is watching their food budget, your hard-earned dollars are probably better spent buying a great variety of fresh produce, whether fruits or vegetables.