Somewhat similar in appearance to blueberries, deep purple acai berries are absolutely loaded with anthocyanin antioxidants that have been associated with improvements in cardiovascular health and brain health. In fact, these antioxidants are one of the main reasons acai has been dubbed a superfood. Acai also contains a range of healthy omega fatty acids, which is unique for a berry, along with several minerals.
These small-but-mighty fruits are native to tropical South and Central America, growing on acai palms along floodplains of the Amazon Rainforest; and in addition to being a trendy go-to ingredient for smoothies and smoothie bowls, they’ve been used (and continue to be used) as a medicinal plant by indigenous and local people in the region.
Bonus: They’re delicious! Some describe the taste of acai as a combo of blackberry, raspberry, and dark chocolate.
Here’s a look at some of the most exciting potential health benefits of acai (and its various nutritional compounds).
5 health benefits supported by acai.
1 Boosted antioxidant status.
Acai berries have a very high level of antioxidants, compounds that help neutralize free radicals and thus combat oxidative stress that might otherwise drive inflammation, premature aging, and a number of chronic diseases. Research shows they have even higher antioxidant levels than blueberries, which are often considered one of the best natural sources. In one 2008 study, researchers found that blood levels of antioxidants increased after participants consumed acai pulp, meaning that the antioxidant compounds were well absorbed in the gut.
As an added bonus, a significant portion of the antioxidants in acai berries are considered anthocyanins, which are widely attributed to cognitive and cardiovascular health, and some evidence suggests that may even help improve the ratio of good-to-bad bacteria in your gut.
2 Optimized brain health.
Acai may help optimize brain health in two key ways. For one, lab studies have shown that acai’s antioxidants help counteract oxidation and inflammation in brain cells, which might otherwise cause problems with memory and learning. Additionally, acai seems to promote autophagy (which literally translates to “self eating”)—the natural process by which cells disassemble and clean out unnecessary or dysfunctional components. This is important, because an accumulation of dysfunctional cellular components, such as misfolded proteins, has been associated with neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.
Some experts believe that finding ways to enhance autophagy may even promote healthy aging and increase longevity.
3 Improved workout recovery.
In a 2015 study, athletes who consumed an acai-based juice experienced a reduction in exercise-induced muscle damage, which researchers chalk up to acai’s high levels of antioxidants. While there was no improvement in exercise performance itself, the study does suggest that acai may be a potentially useful tool in aiding recovery—so you can get back to your favorite workout faster.
4 Enhanced metabolic health.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that increase risk for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease—and research suggests acai may help reduce several of these risk factors. In a 2011 study, overweight individuals who consumed acai pulp every day for a month experienced a significant reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol. They also experienced a reduced spike in blood sugar following a meal compared to measurements taken before their acai consumption began.
5 Anti-cancer properties.
Some nutrition experts believe most berries, including acai, have cancer-fighting properties—thanks, again, to their high levels of antioxidants and other phytochemicals. Many of these plant compounds have been shown to delay cancer development through various mechanisms like altering the gut microbiome or targeting key immune cells that control inflammation, which can help suppress tumor progression. While much more research is needed in this area, it’s certainly promising.
Why acai is considered a superfood.
Acai’s sky-high levels of anthocyanin antioxidants—the compounds that give this berry its deep purple hue—are reason enough to incorporate it into your diet. Additionally, acai contains a good dose of vitamin A, a range of essential fatty acids that may also combat inflammation, and several minerals important for overall health.
Bottom line on acai.
While there haven’t been many high quality nutritional studies on acai, preliminary findings are promising and suggest that acai may play an important role in promoting brain health, heart health, metabolic health, workout recovery, and even cancer prevention—thanks mostly to its anthocyanin antioxidants.