Supplement Spotlight: Acai Berries

13th January 2013

By Louise Turner, featuring expert Sarah Barber.

Boost your health with acai berries

Acai berries (pronounced Ah-Sigh-Ee) are the new darling of the antioxidant world. The size of blueberries, but a darker black-purple colour, these highly perishable South American berries are freeze-dried or ground into a fine powder to maintain their nutritional qualities.

Why take acai berries?

Acai berries could help the body in a variety of ways, from supporting muscle and brain development to helping lower bad cholesterol and promoting longevity.

Acai berries could be beneficial if you:

  • Have concerns about cancer, heart health or osteoporosis
  • Suffer from stress
  • Need to lower your cholesterol
  • Are looking for an energy boost
  • Are vegan or vegetarian
  • Want to improve your memory or concentration

Benefits of acai berries

High in antioxidants: "Acai berries are renowned for their high antioxidant properties," explains Sarah Barber, a nutritionist who specialises in raw and superfoods. "Because they grow so close to the equator, the plants develop antioxidants as a way to protect themselves from the sun - like a UV filter. This is great for us as antioxidants protect us from damage caused by free radicals in the body."

Foods that are known to neutralise free radicals, are rated on the Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) scale. The score indicates a food's ability to absorb free radicals. Acai berries have an ORAC score of 185, higher than pomegranates (105) and more than five times that of blueberries (32).

Rich in plant sterols: Acai berries are rich in the plant sterol beta-sitosterol, which inhibits the absorption of bad cholesterol. "Sterols are known for bringing down bad cholesterol which has a positive effect on heart health and supports heart function," says Sarah.

In 2011 researchers assessed acai fruit's impact on risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease in overweight people. The study found participants taking acai pulp saw a reduction in fasting glucose and insulin levels, as well as cholesterol. The study concluded consumption of acai pulp reduced levels of certain markers for metabolic disease risk in overweight adults.

Source of amino acids: Amino acids play an important role in building protein which is essential for skin, tissue and muscles. "We usually get protein from animal sources but acai berries contain 19 of the 22 different amino acids that exist," Sarah says.

Full of vitamins: Essential vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus and calcium which are good for bone health, beta carotene which helps eyesight, and vitamin E which is good for reproduction, have all been found in acai berries. They're also a good source of fibre and have a low G.I., which could help regulate blood sugar levels. "It is this property which leads people to suggest acai berries are an energy booster because they will feed your cells without disrupting your blood sugar," explains Sarah. "This is good for both diabetics and those who are hypoglycaemic."

Any cautions?

There are no known restrictions on who should take acai berries, though their high potassium content means anyone with kidney-related issues should consult a health professional for guidance.

Acai berries are available in supplement form, as a powder, and can be added to juices, smoothies or yogurt. Sarah recommends starting with ½ a teaspoon a day. "We all have different biochemistry so all react differently, but taking up to a tablespoon a day is fine," she says.