Acai berry, pronounced most commonly as ah-sigh-EE, and also as ah-SIGH-ee, comes from a species of palm tree found in the Amazon region of Central and South America. Demand for the fruit has expanded globally in recent years. The fruit, classified as a drupe—or a type of fleshy fruit that has a pit—is approximately the size of small grape or blueberry and is black-purple in color.
The acai palm is tall and slender, growing up to 30 meters–or approximately 98 feet–and the fruit develops in clusters on long stems near the top of the tree. Acai berries are harvested by hand; a practice that is not dangerous to the rain forest (as cutting the tree isn’t required).
The acai berry isn’t fleshy and has a large pit, so it isn’t particularly edible as a fruit. The benefit comes from its skin and the little bit of pulp around the seed, and it is most commonly processed with water to create a mash, which can be formulated for many uses. The acai berry is naturally low in sugar and the flavor is described as a mixture of chocolate and berries, or of chocolate and red wine.
Acai has become a popular health food as well as a controversial supplement, and claims of its effectiveness range from it being a cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, to a miracle weight-loss enhancement.
Is Acai a Diet Miracle?
Texas A&M University’s Texas AgriLife Research scientists Dr. Steve and Dr. Susanne Talcott assert there is no scientific evidence that acai berries have any weight-loss properties and advise that it is a fruit, not a drug. Acai has high levels of antioxidants, but provides no higher levels of antioxidants than any dark fruit such as blueberries, blackberries or red grapes. In addition to supplying antioxidants, acai is a good source of vitamin A, provides some calcium, and minute amounts of vitamin C and iron.
Antioxidants protect cells from oxidation and could play an important role in preventing the development of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Acai may be a welcome addition to the growing numbers of fruits that make a healthful addition to your diet, but on its own, acai has not proven to be the miraculous superfood some declare it to be.
Should You Add Acai to Your Daily Diet?
Eating a healthy diet incorporating a wide range of fruits is beneficial and by changing the types of fruits you eat, the better the opportunity for getting the full range of necessary vitamins and minerals your body requires. Since acai is an exciting and exotic fruit, adding it to your diet will add some nutritious variety.
Where Can You Find Acai?
Acai is beginning to pop up everywhere, even in local grocery stores as an additive to juices and teas. Since acai is pureed or pulped, you can find it processed in numerous forms including: bulk powders, in supplement form and as an additive to juices such as cranberry, grape and mixed berry. If you’re looking for a more pure, undiluted type, try a health food store and pay attention to what might be mixed in. Because acai has low sugar content, watch for added sugar or anything that might cause allergies.