The trendy açaí (pronounced ah-sah-EE) berry is found in a variety of products, including juice blends, smoothies, sodas, instant-drink powders, and ice cream. Touted and marketed as a super fruit that provides highly beneficial properties, the açaí berry is in high global demand in recent years.
Açaí is the fruit of a large palm tree, Euterpe oleraceae, indigenous to the Amazon and its tributaries. The açaí palm produces branched clusters of berries, containing 700 to 900 fruits. The fruit is small, round, and black-purple, similar in appearance and size to a grape but with less pulp and a larger seed.
Marketers of açaí products make claims that açaí increases energy levels, removes toxins from the body, aids in weight loss, and improves sexual performance, heart health, digestion, and skin appearance. While there is very little data to support these claims, açaí does offer a number of health benefits.
The Health Benefits
Açaí has a high antioxidant content that protects cells against oxidative damage, and it has a rich content of proanthocyanidins and other flavonoids. Proanthocyanidins improve circulation by reducing capillary fragility, thus strengthening blood vessels, an important protective factor for those at risk of stroke. Because açaí extract has been shown to have vasodilator activity, it could be of benefit in the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Research has shown that polyphenolic compounds in açaí have a number of useful health-promoting effects, including an improved immune function. The compounds also restrict tumor growth, induce the death of cancer cells, and have a mild anti-inflammatory effect that may prove useful in the treatment of allergies.
Go ahead, enjoy the fruit-juice blend that contains açaí. It will be refreshing and nutritious. Its high antioxidant content will convey health-promoting properties, and it is a good source of dietary fiber, iron, and calcium.
Winston J. Craig, Ph.D., R.D., is professor of nutrition at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.