The past few years there has been a huge obsession with the acai berry. Claims of weight loss magic, lowering cholesterol, slowing aging, increasing libido, and boosting the immune system are common.
But does this South American berry really live up to the hype?
Let’s first address what the acai berry is and where it comes from.
Acai berries are a small fruit harvested from acai palm trees, which are mostly native to northern South America (think Brazil and the Amazon rainforest). They are about one inch in diameter and look like a cross between a grape and a blueberry.
The berry has a large seed in the middle which makes up approximately 80% of the fruit, rendering most of the berry inedible. It’s also known to be fragile and difficult to transport. That’s why you won’t see the fruit sold here in the US in its whole form, but in the form of a powder or frozen pulp.
In terms of health benefits, we can say with confidence that acai berries ARE higher in antioxidants than other popular berry such as cranberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Antioxidants are important because they neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals throughout the body. If free radicals are not neutralized by antioxidants, they can damage cells and lead to a number of diseases, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Antioxidant status is typically measured by something known as the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC score. And in the case of acai, 100 grams of frozen pulp has an ORAC of 15,405, whereas the same amount of blueberries has a score of 4,669.
Wow, that’s pretty impressive.
But one of the most interesting things about acai is that it actually has more fat than carbs! That’s right. In one 3.5 ounce serving, there are only 3 grams of carbohydrates, ALL of which come from fiber.
And if you haven’t already guessed, the type of fat found in the acai berry is healthy, and contains a mix of mono and poly unsaturated fats as well as a small amount of omega 3.
So far we have a powerful antioxidant rich fruit that has virtually little to no sugar and is a good source of fiber and healthy fat.
For those reasons, we personally love eating acai.
But as with most “superfoods,” no one single food is going to produce magic weight loss, clean out your arteries, improve your sex life . . . you get the picture.
The key is to include an array of colorful fruits, veggies, and other high nutrient foods in your meals and snacks on a daily basis and not rely on one magic bullet to produce results.
All this being said, we know you are probably wondering . . .
How healthy are acai bowls you can buy in your average yogurt joint or juice chain?
Here is where the tricky part comes in.
Because acai berries are not sweet at all (in fact they are very tart), they must be combined with plenty of sweet fruits or in some cases sweetened yogurts, honey, sherbet, agave, etc. to improve their taste, not to mention what might be piled on top (like sweetened granola and/or more fruit).
This can make your average acai bowl or smoothie extremely high in sugar.
Jamba Juice’s Acai Super Antioxidant smoothie, for example, contains 53 grams of sugar and their Primo acai bowl has 67 grams! Yes some of this is coming from the natural sugar in fruits, but the rest is from added sugars.
What’s the bottom line?
Generally, acai bowls are going to be healthier than a bowl of ice cream or sherbet, for sure. When ordering, be on the lookout for what else is combined with the acai. Try to keep a lid on the abundance of extras so you don’t wind up with a calorie and sugar bomb on your hands.
And if you are counting it as a meal, see if they can squeeze in a protein source like some hemp seeds, chia seeds, or a plain protein powder to keep your blood sugar in check.
The alternative? Make your own of course! Be sure to use quality organic brands from freeze dried powders like Ora , Kiva or Terrasoul, OR frozen packs like Ama or Wild Harvest (in health food stores). Want a great recipe? Check out our luscious homemade acai bowl creation below.
Acai Coconut Breakfast Bowl
Note: A small amount of acai goes a long way . . . so even if you use 1/2 a frozen pack or 1 tablespoon of powder you are still getting fantastic antioxidant boost. And since they are expensive, a little CAN go a long way.
- 1/2 -1 frozen acai smoothie pack (run under water to thaw slightly so you can break it up), OR about 1 tablespoon powder
- 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (more as needed to blend)
- 1 medium-large frozen banana or 1/2 frozen banana and 1/2 cup frozen cherries
- 2 tablespoons hemp or chia seeds (or combo)
- handful of greens like spinach, Romaine, Swiss chard, etc
- toppings: 1/4 cup fresh blueberries or strawberries, 1 tsp cacao nibs, 1 tablespoon shredded coconut, 1 tablespoon chopped nuts or toasted sunflower seeds
Blend the acai, frozen fruit, greens, and hemp/chia in a high speed blender until creamy, but still thick and frosty. Add more non-dairy milk if needed to blend, but the goal is to add only enough to puree so the final product is as thick as possible. Then scoop into a bowl and add your choice of toppings.
PS: How in the world do you pronounce acai?? The official word on the street is the following: Ahh – sigh – EE (rhymes with tea)!