Where Does It Come From?The acai palm is a species native to the swamps and floodplains of Brazil, Trinidad, and various parts of South America. It belongs to the genus Euterpe along with other smaller palms and it goes by the scientific name Euterpe oleracea. This species of palm is widely cultivated for its fruit and for its hearts of palm, though the leaves are also used for hats, baskets, or brooms and the trunk of the tree can be processed into dietary supplements. In recent years, demand for acai berries as dietary supplements has skyrocketed to the point where the plant is almost exclusively cultivated for that purpose.
What Are the Health Benefits?Acai berries are large, round fruits that have dark purple skin and yellow flesh. Each berry grows up to 1 inch (2.5cm) in diameter and surrounds a large seed, or pit, that makes up about 60% to 80% of the fruit’s size. Similar in appearance to a grape, these fiber-rich berries can be consumed raw, dried into powder, or soaked and mashed into a paste. Due to their short shelf life, they are also sold as a frozen fruit puree or a pressed juice. The main health benefit of acai is related to its antioxidant content. Here is a quick overview of the top 5 health benefits of these berries:
1. Protects Against Free RadicalsFree radicals can damage your cells, not only speeding up the process of aging but increasing your risk for a number of serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The antioxidant content of these berries outshines even blueberries and cranberries, fruits known for their antioxidant benefits.
2. Improve Cholesterol LevelsIn animal studies, acai berries were shown to decrease both LDL and total cholesterol levels – benefits which are hypothesized to be true for humans as well. In one study, overweight adults who consumed smoothies made with acai twice a day showed lower LDL and total cholesterol levels after one month.
3. Stop or Slow Cancer SpreadThough they cannot be considered a cure for cancer, acai berries have been shown to stop cancer cells from spreading or from forming entirely. These anti-cancer effects have been exhibited for several types of cancer including colon and bladder cancers.
4. Improved Cognitive FunctionAs you age, free radicals cause dangerous oxidation and inflammation in the brain which can affect your memory and learning – it can also increase your risk for Alzheimer’s. The antioxidants in acai protect the brain from this kind of free-radical damage and may actually improve cognitive function as well.
5. Supports Weight LossThese berries have been shown to contain certain hormones that help stabilize blood sugar and control hunger, two benefits which may support healthy weight loss. They also support healthy digestion due to their fiber content which is good for weight loss as well. In addition to providing these health benefits, acai berries are powerhouses of nutrition. A 100-gram serving of frozen fruit pulp contains just 70 calories with 5 grams of fat and 4 grams of carbohydrates. This serving also contains 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of sugar, 15% your daily recommended intake of Vitamin A, and 2% your daily recommended intake of calcium. These fruits also have trace minerals like iron, zinc, manganese, copper, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
How Do You Use It?Fresh acai berries are perishable and fragile, so you may not see them very often at your local grocery store or even be able to find them in health food stores. Your best bet is to look for acai berry powder in supplement form – you can find it in health food stores or online. Another option is to look for acai in the form of a juice or a frozen fruit puree. Any of these options can be blended into a nutritious smoothie or cooked into baked goods. You can also use fresh berries as a topping for your morning oatmeal or serve the fruit puree over frozen yogurt for a healthy dessert option.
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