Acai Fruit: Fact and Fiction

Tuesday, 20 April 2010 03:30 PM

Marketing hype can sometimes overshadow the true value of a food. Such is the case with acai (pronounced “assa-YEE”), a berry from the Amazon with an unusually high concentration of antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.

Acai, which is available in juices, as frozen pulp of the fruit, and in dietary supplement pills, gained notoriety after its benefits were discussed by Oprah and Dr. Mehmet Oz last year. The marketing frenzy that ensued, falsely implying the big O and Oz endorsed various acai weight-loss pills, was so intense that it led the TV host and the physician to sue 40 Internet marketers.

Frenzy aside, acai has been popular among health-food enthusiasts and forward-thinking nutrition experts since 2001, when it was first introduced to the United States. Its real claim to fame is its high concentration of nutrients, rather than being touted as a magic weight-loss pill.

Acai Facts

Scientists have not tested acai’s ability to induce weight loss but they have found other important benefits. As a start, more than a dozen researchers in major academic centers, including some from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have found that acai may be the richest source of antioxidants among all known foods today.

Antioxidants stop a process much like internal rusting in our bodies, so the ramifications are enormous. Basically, antioxidants help us age much more gracefully and play a major role in warding off all manner of ills, including cancer and heart disease.

Acai is also rich in healthy fats and fiber. And, it contains sterols, the same types of plant ingredients as those used in cholesterol-lowering margarines.

Historians have found that acai has been an important food for thousands of years. During the last few centuries, botanists traveling with explorers have described the berry as a staple, with natives of Amazon regions relying on supersized portions (slightly more than 60 ounces) of acai juice for the lion’s share of their daily nutrients.

Scientifically Speaking …

Research is just beginning to look at the broader benefits of the tropical berry. A cancer study is underway. Meanwhile, initial studies on small groups of people have found that acai is beneficial for joints and for lowering risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

In one study, presented at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, 10 healthy but overweight men and women ate 4 ounces of acai pulp twice per day for 30 days. The fruit significantly lowered levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and insulin. These improvements reduce risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The mechanisms that lead to diabetes can also cause fat storage. So, while researchers did not look for a possible effect of acai on body weight, it’s quite possible that the berry could make it easier to lose weight or avoid weight gain.

In another study, presented at the North American Research Conference on Complementary and Integrative Medicine, researchers tested acai juice. The 14 people who participated suffered from joint problems, including back pain (the spine contains multiple joints).

After two weeks of drinking acai juice daily, people in the study began to have greater range of motion in their joints, especially in their backs. After eight weeks, they experienced significantly less pain and more improvement in range of motion in all joints.

How to Eat Acai

You can�t buy acai in the produce section of your supermarket because it grows along the Amazon and is too perishable to transport to the United States. This is what you can find in stores or online:

� Acai supplements in pills.
� Acai juices, either pure acai or blended with other fruit juices.
� Acai powder, which is freeze-dried acai. It can be added to smoothies or yogurt, mixed with other juices, or added to salad dressings or puddings. For recipes, visit www.navitasnaturals.com/recipes.
� Frozen acai pulp in 4-ounce packets. It can be blended in smoothies while frozen, or thawed and eaten like pudding, with or without other fruit or flavoring. Taste it first and then decide. For recipes, visit www.sambazon.com/recipes.

Acai is higher-priced than most other fruits, for a reason. The berries look like deep purple grapes but have a very large pit surrounded by a thin layer of pulp, so it take a lot of berries to make a packet of pulp.
And, it grows in the canopies of skinny palm trees that are up to 50 feet tall. Someone has to climb those trees and pick the berries by hand. Then, the pulp has to be separated from the pits and frozen or freeze-dried within about 24 hours, before being transported from the Amazon. It�s a labor-intensive process. But then, it�s a nutrient-dense berry.

© HealthDay

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Acai has been popular among forward-thinking nutrition experts since 2001, when it was first introduced to the United States. Its real claim to fame is its high concentration of nutrients, rather than being touted as a magic weight-loss pill.
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 03:30 PM
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