There’s a good reason we are all getting a bit suspicious of the so-called superfoods – there seem to be so many of them and not always a lot of scientific evidence to back them up. The case of the acai berries is a classic one – adopted as a superfood, some people seem to think they can cure diabetes and promote weight loss. So, what are the definite health benefits of acai berries and how can we include them in our diets?
What are acai berries?
The acai palm (Euterpe olerocea) is a type of palm tree that is grown for both its fruit and the hearts of palm. The name comes from a Portuguese adaptation of a Tupian word that means ‘fruit that cries water’. It is native to Brazil and Trinidad as well as the swamps and floodplains of northern South America. The tree itself is a slender palm that can reach 25 metres high and has leaves that can be up to three metres long.
The fruit of the tree is known as acai berries and are tiny, just 25mm or one inches across and look a lot like a grape but are smaller and have less pulp. They are a deep purple colour. The berries are very important to the diets of locals who use them for a variety of purposes and even make a wine from them.
In the rest of the world, the most common way to find acai berries is either powdered or in a juice. This means that the health benefits of acai berries away from their growing areas are usually less than to the people who harvest and eat them.
Health benefits of acai berries
Back in 2004, acai berries gained the tag of ‘superfood’ and this led to a dramatic increase in the demand for the berries and berry products. Unfortunately, it seems some of the wilder claims were a bit of wishful thinking.
However, there are some health benefits to acai berries that are similar to other types of berries. Mainly, that they include something called anthocyanins, a plant-based substance that is a type of antioxidant. These are the substances that help combat destructive free radicals in the body that cause a full range of damage. By reducing oxidative damage, these antioxidants can help combat ageing effects by protecting cells from damage. It is claimed that acai berries have weight loss potential but as they are higher in oil than other berries, this is less likely.
Acai berry smoothies
The taste of the berries themselves aren’t that great but in powdered form, they make a good ingredient to add to smoothies and therefore boost the overall health benefits of the drink. They are best paired with a base of tropical fruits such as papaya or banana and work well with other berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.
They also work well in green smoothies and their flavour is said to complement chocolate so if you want a sweet treat style smoothie, then you can still claim some health benefits by including some acai berry powder!
In the spirit of experimentation, we did try a smoothie featuring acai berry powder. We used a product from Holland and Barrett to ensure that it was good quality. Check out our recipe below.
A simple berry smoothie using acai berry powder
- 100 gram raspberries
- 100 gram blueberries
- 100 gram blackberries
- 1/2 tsp acai berry powder
- 400 ml milk
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. If you don't like all the seeds, strain before serving