Health Benefits of Acai

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by B. StoneMaguire

Acai (pronounced ah-SAH-ee) is a small, dark purple berry indigenous to the Amazon. The berries look like a cross between a blueberry and a grape but are actually quite different in structure, flavor and nutrition. Acai fruit grows in profusion in grape-like clusters on the tall, lean acai palm trees. It is only recently that the acai has become popular outside of Latin America, and due to its profound health benefits, acai consumption has exploded.

In the Amazon region, acai berries are used for everything -- they are cooked with fish, vegetables, and breads, made into a pulp or juice, or served for breakfast with sugar and grains. For some, this deep, rich fruit makes up around 40 percent of their total diet. Brazilian natives claim the berry is in almost instantaneous source of energy and sustains them for hours. An acai berry is about 80 percent seed and 20 percent fruit. Freshly picked, the berries are hard, unlike other berries. They have to be soaked in water for softening. Acai berries are not naturally very sweet, so sugar is usually added. Their flavor is unique: wild berries with a distinct chocolate taste. Extremely perishable, acai pulp is freeze-dried and formed into large bricks, and then shipped around the world and made into a variety of products from powders, to extracts, to juice blends.

Acai is a food staple in the Amazon, but in the West, these berries are the ultimate superfood. Loaded with free radical-disarming antioxidants, amino acids, proteins and fatty acids, acai berries are a much more solid source of nutrition than the average blueberry or cranberry.

Consumed for the myriad health benefits of acai, from lowering cholesterol levels, slowing the aging process, to weight loss, they are described as the 21st-century miracle food. Whether they can live up to their reputation or not ultimately depends on personal experience, but the chemical makeup of the acai is loaded with potential.

One of the health benefits of acai is to help lower cholesterol levels. Rich in linoleic and oleic acids, acai berries are an excellent source of good fatty acids. These omegas work by minimizing LDLs (low density lipoproteins), which are harmful, artery-clogging cholesterols. A buildup of LDLs can lead to heart problems, heart attack or stroke. Acai's omega-6 and omega-9 supply HDL (high density lipoprotein), which nourish both the heart and brain. These good fats assist the body's natural process of eliminating bad fats and support the entire cardiovascular system.