Chances are that if you’ve even stepped near a health food store in the past few years, you’ve heard of an amazing super-fruit claimed to be one of the greatest super-foods of our time; the Acai/Açaí (ah-sigh-ee) berry. There are numerous healthy berries that would be a great addition to your diet, but the Acai berry is one of the healthiest berries you will ever find.
This antioxidant-rich fruit has been heralded for centuries as a healing, immune-stimulating, energy-boosting fruit. Research has shown that this antioxidant-rich berry may be able to fight the health problems associated with oxidative damage, not to mention many other health benefits.
Acai berries are the fruits of the acai palm, a species of palm tree native to Central and South America (Botanical name: Euterpe oleracea). These berries, which are characterized by their blueberry / grape-like appearance and bitter taste, have been cherished by the Amazonian natives for centuries due to their incredible medicinal properties. These properties, which are slowly being validated by ongoing studies, are the reason why acai berries, along with other Amazonian foods such as cacao and maca – have become synonymous with the ‘superfood’ label.
A superfood can be defined as a food that offers superior nutritional value for the amount of calories it contains. More and more people are starting to experience the health-giving benefits of superfoods such as Goji berries, Noni fruit and now Acai berries. Acai berries are considered one of the top superfoods, generally due to their incredible antioxidant properties, and are said to have numerous other health benefits. So what can Acai do for you?
Here are 7 Health Benefits of Acai Berries
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1. Very High in Antioxidants & Nutrients
No doubt about it, there’s quite a long list of health benefits that are attributed to acai berries. Most of the benefits you’ll get from eating acai berry are due to the berry’s extremely high antioxidant content, which is why it’s said to have a high ‘ORAC score’.
ORAC stands for ‘Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity’, which is a scale that measures the antioxidant properties of foods. ORAC values are used to classify foods by how many antioxidants they contain based on weight. Acai berry high on the list!
Purple acai berries actually get their distinct colour due to high concentrations of the pigmented nutrients they contain, especially anthocyanins, which are found in many reddish-purple berry species. The concentration of antioxidants in acai is believed to be 10 times higher those in red grapes, and acai is estimated to have 10 to 30 times the amount of anthocyanins than red wine!
Antioxidants including anthocyanin contribute to the anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing benefits of acai berries. That’s because antioxidants are ‘free radical scavengers’, which means they help slow the process of free radical damage (also called ‘oxidative stress’) that causes the body to deteriorate and develop ailments over time.
Free radicals are responsible for the ‘wear and tear’ we attribute to ageing and they enter the body through things like a poor diet, chemical exposure, environmental pollution and high amounts of UV light exposure. Not only does free radical damage make us look older faster, by damaging our skin – it also contributes to joint, skeletal and muscular pains.
By helping the body remain more resilient to the effects of free radicals, acai is beneficial for nearly every bodily system: cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive, neurological, immune, etc. Plus when it comes to acai’s anti-ageing effects – good things come in small packages! Studies show antioxidants in acai are able to enter the cells in a fully functional form and to perform oxygen quenching functions even at very low doses.
2. Helps With Cognitive Functioning
Eating plenty of foods with antioxidants is a natural way to improve your focus and memory. Inflammation and oxidative stress are two major underlying causes of cognitive problems, including loss of memory, dementia and other age-related mental disorders. Through a process of suppressing biological activity that degrades cellular integrity, acai nutrients seem to have protective effects over brain cells, which could have implications for improved cognitive and motor functions.
Studies have found that fractions extracted from acai contain brain-saving nutrients, including anthocyanins such as cyanidin, delphinidin, malvidin, pelargonidin and peonidin, along with phenolics such as catechin, ferulic acid, quercetin, resveratrol, and synergic and vanillic acids. Acai berries are believed to help stimulate mental functions and help someone think more clearly, maintain high energy levels and deal with various effects of psychological stress better. Acai is protective against the damaging effects of stress, including disrupting hormonal balance and raising cortisol levels, which is why some consider acai berry to be an ‘adaptogen’.
3. Appetite Control, Blood Sugar Balance & Weight Loss
Overweight and obese people, especially those with excess belly fat, have an increased risk for metabolic syndrome – a condition that is characterized by dysfunctions in fat and glucose metabolism. People with metabolic syndrome have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. Preliminary studies suggest that antioxidants may assist in the normalization of the metabolic pathways involved in metabolic syndrome. As the acai berries have been shown to contain exceptionally high levels of antioxidants – researchers have also started to show interest in the potential benefits of acai berries for people with metabolic syndrome.
In an uncontrolled pilot study published in 2011, a group of researchers from California found that consumption of acai reduced levels of a number of markers of metabolic disease – including fasting glucose and insulin levels, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
Some experts believe that acai berry has certain appetite-suppressing abilities thanks to how it effects various hormones that control blood sugar levels and feelings of hunger, fullness and satiety. It seems to help improve metabolic functions which helps the body work better absorbing nutrients, breaking down foods, eliminating waste and regulating the release of insulin.
Some research shows that that by helping boost proper digestion and controlling the amount of insulin in the blood, acai is beneficial for curbing cravings and might be helpful in a healthy weight loss plan.
4. Offers Protection Against Heart Disease & Diabetes
Although it’s known best for its antioxidants, acai also contains phytosterols that all help promote cardiovascular health. Studies show that regularly drinking acai juice has positive effects on blood lipid levels and can protect the heart. Consumption of acai berry helps lower inflammation too, which is one of the root causes of coronary heart disease, hormone-related problems and type 2 diabetes.
In a study, published in the June 2011 edition of the journal Atherosclerosis, acai was found to fight atherosclerosis in mice through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Atherosclerosis is a potentially serious condition that occurs when oxidised fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries. Over time, these hard structures, known as plaques, can block the arteries and cause serious cardiovascular complications, such as stroke and heart attack. Acai berry has been found to improve overall cardiovascular health by improving the flow of blood and other nutrients to the heart and other organs.
In addition regarding the small 2011 study on metabolic syndrome mentioned earlier – after measuring fasting plasma glucose, insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, exhaled (breath) nitric oxide metabolites (eNO) and plasma levels before and after the study – subjects on average experienced improvements in fasting glucose and insulin levels, a reduction in total cholesterol and borderline significant reduction in LDL-cholesterol levels. The researchers concluded that acai might help overweight adults lower their odds of experinecing heart disease and diabetes.
5. Immune Booster
Acai is very high in Vitamin C and ellagic acid, an immune-system-boosting combination that has been shown to suppress the growth of cancer. One study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that polyphenolic compounds extracted from acai reduced cancer cell proliferation by 56-86%. It is thought that acai’s phytochemcials can stop the process of carcinogenesis on a molecular level, killing off tumorous cells before they multiply. Acai berries are not a cure for cancer; but hopefully more research will examine their benefits and potential role in the fight.
6. Energy Booster
Tired (no pun intended) of hitting the wall day after day, no matter what you do? Acai berry is known to increase energy levels! There are times when we can all use some help maintaining enough energy to fulfill our daily life obligations (both at work and play).
Studies indicate regular Acai berry supplementation can boost your body’s energy levels because of the powerful array of antioxidants and nutrients it contains. Also, the mix of antioxidants, fatty acids and nutrients are said to promote faster recovery times and increase stamina. Due its overall health benefits, taking acai extract can lead to an increased overall level of energy and stamina and may aid to combat fatigue and exhaustion.
7. Anti-Ageing Effects & Improved Cellular Health
Since acai berries are extremely high in many forms of plant phytochemicals and antioxidants, they may contribute to an ability to slow or reverse typical processes of ageing-related oxidative damage. On a general level, the anthocyanins found in acai play a role in our cellular protection system, helping to keep cells strong against the invasion of free radicals and this is why acai is widely promoted as an anti-ageing food.
However, high levels of antioxidants do not necessarily lead to an increased life span. To investigate whether acai supplementation promotes longevity in a living organism, a group of researchers gave acai to female fruit flies. The scientists found that acai supplementation resulted in a significant increase in the fruit flies’ life span, compared with the life span of the flies fed a non-supplemented control diet. This study appeared in the March 2010 issue of the journal Experimental Gerontology.
Since Acai Berries are a bitter flavoured fruit, the Acai berry extract is often combined with additional fruit extracts to improve the flavour as well as boost the micronutrient profile. With such an amazing array of benefits – adding a shot of Acai into your daily regime might be just the boost your body is looking for!
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