You may have heard of overnight oat bowls or the Jamba Juice acai bowl, but what makes acai berries so healthy? We have the details regarding the health benefits of this superfood, plus a couple of acai bowl recipes you can prepare easily at home.
The Health Benefits of Acai Berries
Acai berries come from the acai palm trees native to Central and South America, deep within the Amazon rainforests. Also known as a Brazilian superfruit, they're celebrated worldwide as a nutritional powerhouse.
Often sold as frozen acai puree once their tough skins have been soaked through and mashed up, acai berry's taste is reminiscent of a cross between unsweetened chocolate and blackberries. Like many other dark berries, including raspberries and blueberries, acai berries (actually classified as drupes rather than berries botanically) are natural immunity boosters that are full of antioxidants. Here are some scientifically backed specifics.
1. Nutrient Content
One ounce of acai berry powder offers up:
- Calories: 19.6
- Total Fat: 1.4 grams
- Fiber: 0.6 grams
- Protein: 0.3 grams
- Vitamin A: 210 international units (IUs)
- Calcium: 5.6 milligrams
- Sodium: 2.8 milligrams
Relatively high in saturated fat, acai is nevertheless low in sodium and cholesterol, is a good source of dietary fiber, and has a significant percentage of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Acai powder contains no vitamin C, but does contain trace amounts of minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, chromium, zinc, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as plant compounds like anthocyanin, which gives the berry its deep purple coloring and acts as an antioxidant in human health.
2. Antioxidant Power
Speaking of antioxidants, here are some of the benefits provided by acai berries.
First of all, acai contains more antioxidants than other dark berries like cranberries and blueberries. This is measured via the ORAC score (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), which finds that 100 grams of frozen acai pulp has an ORAC score of 15,405, while blueberries have a much lower 4,669.
Antioxidants are known to help reduce the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers by neutralizing the damaging free radicals circulating within the body. This 2008 study found that acai pulp helped raise the level of antioxidants in the blood of 12 fasting participants more than acai juice or a beverage with no antioxidant content at all, making it clear that an acai bowl made with fruit pulp has a bigger health impact than acai juice.
3. Improved Cholesterol Levels
Animal studies show that acai has the capacity to decrease total and "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. While there aren't many human studies done on acai and cholesterol, those few that have been conducted confirm that an acai smoothie a day can help lower the LDL and total cholesterol numbers for overweight adults in as little as 1 month.
Researchers attribute this superpower to the plant sterols in acai, which have revealed in other studies an ability to prevent cholesterol absorption and reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
4. Food for Thought and Brain Function
Studies on rat models have found that many of the plant compounds in acai have neuroprotective effects that may help prevent age-related mental deterioration. These, along with the antioxidants that help lower full-body inflammation and protect our DNA from free radical damage, can help improve learning and memory in animal studies, plus help trigger autophagy, a natural metabolism that helps "recycle" old cellular debris that may be interfering with the brain's function.
5. Anti-Cancer Abilities
As far as we know, there is no one food that works as a magic bullet cure for cancer, and yet there are some dietary elements that do help stop cancer cells from developing and from spreading and metastasizing throughout the body. The acai berry is one of those foods, showing a positive impact in cases of breast, colon, and bladder cancer. More research is needed on human subjects for there to be a scientific consensus, but this early research is promising.
How to Eat Acai (Plus 2 Delicious Acai Bowl Recipes)
Acai berries as a fresh fruit have a pretty short shelf life, so more often you will find acai in the form of juice, powder, or as a frozen fruit puree. Acai juices tend to have the highest amount of sugar and the lowest amount of antioxidant content, so while they're still healthy, your better bet is to consume dried powder or the frozen, unsweetened acai puree.
If you're ready to try this berry but don't know where to start, we have two unique VeggieShake recipes here to inspire you. Try them with our own Superfood blend, which contains powered acai already, along with dozens of other whole-food ingredients.
Frozen acai puree is probably the best way to enjoy the taste of the berries. Gluten-free and vegan frozen acai packets can be purchased and combined with ingredients like the following.
- 2 packages of frozen acai
- 1 cup of mixed frozen berries
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 cup of almond milk
- 1/4 cup of cashews
- 1 teaspoon of camu camu powder
Simply combine all these ingredients in an overnight bowl or blend them together for immediate enjoyment as part of an acai berry cleanse for weight loss and detoxification.
Enjoy the immune-boosting powers of all these frozen fruits (like camu camu, which has more vitamin C than any other food), plus the healthy addition of almond milk, cashews, and a topping of seeds like flax and/or chia seeds for omega-3 fatty acid content. For a refreshing healthy breakfast or nutritious dessert, you can make this acai smoothie bowl in about 5 minutes of total prep time.
Full of fiber and natural fat, powered acai has high concentrations of plant compounds that can be used to help lower blood sugar and boost your brain function. Here are the main ingredients of our Acai Oat Bowl recipe.
- 1/2 cup of rolled oats
- 2 cups of cashew milk
- 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
- 2 teaspoons of acai powder
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- Toppings: strawberries, cashews, and granola oats
Blend together the milk, cinnamon, and acai powder until you reach smoothie consistency, mix together with chia seeds and rolled oats, let sit overnight so the oats and seeds can swell up with moisture, and then top with your preferred fruit and a drizzle of honey. The total time is minimal to set up this tasty breakfast so that it's ready exactly when you are first thing in the morning.
Use these recipes as a jumping-off point, but don't be afraid to modify them to your heart's content. Peanut butter, almond butter, or hazelnut butter? Up to you. Kiwis, frozen blueberries, or avocados? Why not all of the above? Cacao for a chocolatey acai mixture or non-sugar sweeteners to cut back on tartness? As you please. Apple juice to up the fruit content or coconut water to thin it down? So long as it tastes good, you're doing it right.
Whether you want powdered acai or the frozen puree, visit your local grocery store to select all of your favorite toppings like seeds, fruit, and coconut flakes, and get creative. With enough ingredients, you can mix and match a new acai bowl recipe every day so that you never get bored with being healthy.