Is Açaí the Miracle Berry?

You don’t need to have Brazilians in your life to have heard about açaí berries. (And if you do have Brazilians in your life, it’s true – they do go on and on about açaí!) The berries are loved for their health benefits – which we’ll get into in a sec – as well as their flavour. They taste rich, almost like a red wine with dark chocolate undertones.

It mostly grows on a type of palm tree called Euterpe oleracea located in South America, particularly Brazil and Trinidad. While the small, round, darkish berry has been a staple of South American diets for decades, it caught on in North America in the early 2000. This was mostly in thanks to Oprah Winfrey touting its apparent weight-loss benefits on her TV show (there is no scientific evidence to support this claim).

But açaí berries are rich in antioxidants, the stuff that fights the cell-damaging free radicals that can lead to cancer and heart disease. Açaí berries have to be freeze-dried within 24 hours of picking in order to keep their nutritional components intact. However, according to a University of California study, blueberry, pomegranate and black cherry juice all have just as high concentrations of antioxidants as açaí. (So did, ahem, red wine.) Still, there are plenty of good reasons to love açaí. The berries are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamins (A B1 B2, B3 and E), complex carbohydrates, essential fats, and amino acids. 

Interestingly, açaí has been proven to destroy cancer cells during lab testing where açaí extracts reportedly triggered a self-destruct response in up to 86 per cent of leukemia cells, according University of Florida assistant professor of Food Chemistry Stephen Talcott (Dr. Talcott is now at Texas A&M University).

As with anything, açaí should not be relied upon by itself. No matter now good those bowls are. A good, balanced diet is the key to being healthy.