The Fruit of Life

Long prized by the indigenous people of Brazil’s Northern Amazon, the Açai berry (pronounced AH-SIGH-EE) is only now being validated by modern science as a remarkable fruit. Known to Brazilians as the fruit of the “Tree of Life,” açai is a tasty nutritional powerhouse with twice the antioxidants of blueberries, ten times that of grapes and cranberries, and up to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine. Research has shown that in addition to anthocyanins and essential fatty acids, this fruit contains a healthy dose of plant sterols, which have been shown to reduce cholesterol, protect the immune system, and relieve prostate enlargement. In one University of Florida study, açai destroyed human cancer cells (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2/22/08).

“We are only just beginning to understand the complexity of the açai berry and its health-promoting effects,” said Stephen Talcott, PhD, assistant professor with the school’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “One reason so little is known about açai berries is that they’re perishable…Products made with processed açai berries have only been available for about five years, so researchers in many parts of the world have had little or no opportunity to study them.”

Small Fruit, Big Nutrition

Açai won’t hurt your waistline: 100 grams contain only 90 calories and deliver 3.5 grams of dietary fiber. Açai also contains dozens of polyphenols, a class of powerful antioxidants that have been credited with the “French paradox”: Although the French eat a diet rich in fat, their lower rate of heart disease is thought to stem from the high amount of polyphenols in French wine. Açai is also rich in monounsaturated oleic acid, which is the main fatty acid found in olive oil. Oleic acid helps the omega-3s penetrate the cell membrane, keeping the cells flexible and supple and allowing all hormones, neurotransmitters, and insulin receptors to function more efficiently.

With an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, a measure of antioxidant value) rating of a remarkable 1,026, açai provides optimum defense against free radicals, rogue molecules thought to cause disease. Açai’s antioxidants also help combat premature aging. Nicholas Perricone, MD, anti-aging authority and author of The Perricone Promise, has praised the açai berry as the number one superfood in the world for “age-defying beauty.” Brazilian researchers have discovered that açai extract can be used to fight infections caused by germs such as staph. It is also believed to improve blood circulation and sex drive.

Enjoying an increase in popularity among the health-conscious, açai is available in health food stores, often in juice form and also as part of whole-food concentrates. Packed full of antioxidants, amino acids, phytonutrients, and essential fatty acids, this exotic Brazilian berry is a good bet for a free radical fighter that gives you a big health boost.

Reprinted with permission from Energy Times (05/08).