Acai Berry: Why this Super Food is Good for You
Celebrity lifestyle nutritionist Ishi Khosla tells you about ‘Acai berries’ and their nutritional values.
With berries acquiring a ‘super-food’ status, the search for “berry-type” fruits has led to discovery of several varieties. Yet, another berry is the Acai berry from South America.
Inception in 1990
This round black/purple/red about one inch in diameter grape-like fruits grows on tall acai palm trees. Native to the Amazon region of Brazil, they are an integral part of traditional diet and have been used for traditional medicine for centuries. In the last few years, more and more people have become aware of their health potential, after it was introduced in 1990s in North America.
Loaded with Antioxidants
Like all berries, this one too is loaded with antioxidants. However, the difference lies in the exceptionally high levels of these antioxidants. Measured by ORAC value (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity), a method of measuring antioxidant capacity it shows that that acai pulp contains 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes and 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine.
Nutritionally too these berries are a bit distinct in their composition. Unlike other berries, they are a significant source of fat and are therefore high in calories. The fat primarily comes from a highly desirable kind of fat the monounsaturated fat (MUFA) – kind of fat found in Olive oil. They also contain a fair amount of Omega 3 fats, the kind present in fish.
Popular as a Functional Fruit
Acai berries are also good sources of fibre, proteins, B-vitamins, vitamin C and calcium. Berries are known for their unusually high content of phytosterols, and phenolic components (plant chemicals with special health benefits). No wonder the fruit has recently become popular as a functional food.
Scientific studies on these compounds suggest that these compounds have anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, immune-boosting properties by virtue of their free radical fighting actions. Acai berries have other health benefits too.
They offer protection against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and neurological disorders like alzheimer’s and dementia. A recent study reported that the consumption of açai fruit pulp reduced levels of fasting glucose, insulin, total cholesterol & LDL cholesterol levels in overweight adults. Their high fibre content has been found to be beneficial in constipation.
Most commonly, they are found as supplements, but several companies are now manufacturing juices, health drinks, yogurts, and sorbets made from acai berries, often in combination with other fruits. Many acai supplements are not pure acai berries and contain added preservatives and other components like minerals that may even be detrimental to health, if consumed in high dosage & without guidance of a physician.
Not Ideal for Cooking
Acai berries do not lend themselves well to heating or cooking, because of nutritional losses. However, freezing helps to retain their goodness. Eat acai berries in moderation, but do not go overboard. Allergic reactions can occur if you have an allergy to other fruits or pollen or sensitivity to the acai palm.
Not grown or easily available in India, so far, we hope that this valuable berry becomes a part of the Indian soil someday.
(The author is a celebrity lifestyle nutritionist)
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