Is Acai Healthy?

Whats’ all the fuss about acai?

Acai – I am guessing those of you here have seen this name before…Perhaps it was while you were surfing the Internet or on the menu at a healthy café’, or maybe it was inside a health food store, or even over the radio. Wherever it was, it doesn’t seem to be going away…

The smoothie bar at Swerve fitness offers Acai based products for after your class here in NYC!

The smoothie bar at Swerve fitness offers Acai based products for after your class here in NYC!

Sellers can be misleading (even down right over-exaggerate) when it comes to marketing a product (it IS business of course). Major claims around the product that I have come across have spanned as far as assisting weight loss, improving sexual performance, providing anti-aging properties, or being the secret to living longer (sounding pretty good thus far, right?).

Today I thought we would crack down the truth about acai, it’s true nutritional value, and whether it is really worth all the hype and the money.

Acai (pronounced as ah-sah- EE) is the fruit from the palm tree Euterpe oleraceae (and I thought ACAI was hard to pronounce!).

Acai loving earth raw powder Australia

Acai in the form of pulp/skin powder contains anthocycanins and flavonoids- both being antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in the body’s functioning cells.

A few studies note that acai did in fact display health beneficial properties; These include high antioxidant levels, being anti-inflammatory, stopping cell growth, and protecting the cardiovascular system – but results have not been conclusive.

I found a research article written by Michael, Tasleem and Ivan (reference at bottom) which debunks some of the claims for us:

  • Claims that acai contained ridiculous amounts of antioxidants compared to regular berries were inaccurate.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects tested were minimal.
  • Acai stopped cell growth but researchers haven’t found this piece of information particularly beneficial for human health.

It is important to realize that this is a relatively new topic in nutrition, where further research is needed to form reliable and complete findings.

However, they did find that acai:

  • Helped control appetite, and
  • Improved cholesterol levels

This may be due to acai’s high fibre content that leads to more LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) being removed from the body.

So now how about we look at the different types of products acai can come in;

  • Acai breakfast bowls,
  • Acai bars,
  • Acai powders,
  • Acai juices,
  • Acai capsules, and
  • Acai Smoothie packs …just to name a few!

Acai sambazon juice

A few of the “ready-made” products contain the fruit acai but can also contain many other ingredients. Organic, raw acai powder appears to be the most naturally nutrient-dense product, so lets compare it with other acai products available in the market shall we?

Acai table travelling dietitian

Manufactures have developed an assortment of acai products that include juices, sorbets and smoothie packs (yes the stuff you see in healthy café’s). With a closer look, acai powders contain the least amount of energy, sugar, carbohydrates and sodium. FYI: Orac is the method of measuring antioxidant capacity within cells in a lab setting while different phenolics determines the taste, mouthfeel and colour of wine with anthocycanins being a subcategory that is responsible for the red to blue pigments in fruits and vegetables.

 

Image from Sambazon website

Image from Sambazon website

The table shows that acai flavoured products may contain up to 4-7 times as many kilojoules than the raw organic powder form. Not only that, sugar content is increased- despite it coming from natural sugars- sugar is sugar and shouldn’t be consumed excessively.

Acai sorbet sambazon

So am I saying that we should avoid acai ALL TOGETHER?

No, of course not! Plain acai powder still contains calcium, iron, Vitamin A and antioxidants- you can essentially consume higher amounts of these nutrients without the added kilojoules and sugar. Don’t be fooled by the business industry that tries to sell you a miracle “weigh loss and age-defying” wonder food.

Your best bet is to stick to the less processed powder form, add it to your smoothies, or high protein Greek yoghurt; and having an unsweetened, or naturally sweetened, acai bowl (with the works!) once in awhile wouldn’t hurt either.

 

Here’s a simple “acai smoothie bowl” recipe to try at home:

 

Recipe adapted from Teresa Cutter on http://www.thehealthychef.com/2013/09/acai-smoothie-bowl/

Serves 2

For the base you will need:

1 frozen banana and/or strawberries

1 cup kale leaves or spinach (optional)

1tbl raw organic acai powder

1tbl chia seeds

1 serve of preferred protein powder

1 cup liquid base (nut or seed milk, coconut or regular water)

Toppings:

-Generous amounts of fresh berries (blueberries and strawberries are a must try!) or any type of fruit desired

-Sprinkle of additional goodies (try crushed pistachios, almonds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, raw cacao, maca, chia seeds, goji berries, or even LSA- “Linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds” mixture)

Now that you’ve got everything:
1) Blend the frozen fruit, acai powder, protein powder, chia seeds and small amounts of your liquid base into a smooth consistency.

2) Add more liquid until you get the texture you want

3) Divide into 2 potions

4) Top with fresh berries, sliced banana or any other fruits desired. Sprinkle on your extras for the final touch.

Acai Bowl from the Lululemon Pintrest Page

Acai Bowl from the Lululemon Pintrest Page

As you can see, you can definitely include Acai for the benefits it can provide, just go for the plain version and turn it into something super healthy rather than kidding yourself that the extra table spoons of sugar in some of the manufactured products are a necessary part of you getting the benefits of the fruit into your diet.

I hope you found this useful!

For now,

TD x

 

References:

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228327223_Aai_%28Euterpe_oleracea_Mart.%29__a_phytochemical_and_pharmacological_assessment_of_the_species_health_claims

About The Author

Kara Landau aka "Travelling Dietitian" is an Australian Accredited Practicing Dietitian based in New York City. She is a world explorer, healthy foodie, social butterfly, and barre class lover. When she isn't trying new cuisines, researching new product innovations in the health food space, or speaking to the media on behalf of her food industry clients, she can be found quietly conjuring up her next idea in how to make this world a healthier and better place.

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