What is Acai? Explore All Health Benefits Right Here

Karolina Zaremba headshot

by Karolina Zaremba


If you’re looking to boost your nutrition game, nutrient-dense superfoods like acai are the way to do it. Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) is a berry that boasts a high amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients for its small size. It looks like a cross between a grape and blueberry and has a wild berry taste.

You’ve probably come across smoothie shops serving acai bowls, or seen photos of them online. To make one, acai is blended into a smoothie base with other frozen fruit, milk or non-dairy milk, and then topped with granola, fruit, or other toppings.

Besides creating beautiful bowls, the many health benefits are worth giving acai a try.

The antioxidant action of acai

ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) was developed by the National Institute on Aging as a measure of the antioxidant levels found in food. Acai berry has a score of 102700, putting it in the top 25 antioxidant-rich foods. However, some limitations with the ORAC score include different ways to measure that can’t be directly compared and the fact the in-vitro (test tube) studies can’t necessarily be extrapolated to in-vivo (human) results. (1)

Antioxidants protect the body by being free radical scavengers. Free radicals are toxic byproducts in your body that can cause damage to cells. They’re made when you process substances like tobacco, pollution, alcohol, and fried or processed foods, but also occur from natural metabolic processes.

Free radicals are linked to aging and diseases including atherosclerosis, diabetes, dyslipidemia (irregular ratio of, or elevated cholesterol), and others (2).

Where do antioxidants come in? Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating an electron. This stops the reaction and prevents cells from being damaged (oxidative stress). This is why it’s so important to get a variety of antioxidants daily from your food and natural supplements.

The specific group of antioxidants in acai that give it superfood status are called anthocyanins. This is the same group of plant compounds found in red grapes or wine. Only 10% of acai’s antioxidant capacity is understood, 90% is still to be identified in the research. (3) It’s likely that we have yet to discover other nutrients that benefit health!

acai fruit and acai powder

Acai can support digestion and immune health, as well as improve brain health.

Healthy reasons to try acai

  • Good for digestion – a 100g serving has 2-3 grams of fiber, which helps with regular digestion and elimination
  • Protects against aging and cancer – the anthocyanins found in acai are a type of flavonoid that gives the berry its deep purple color. These anthocyanins were found to suppress the proliferation (growth) of brain cancer cells in rats. (4) Interestingly, extracts from other berries didn’t have the same suppressive effect.
  • Improves immune function – one study found that the polysaccharides found in acai are immunomodulatory compounds. Consuming the fruit increased interleukin 12 (IL-12) and myeloid blood cells, both important components for immune function. (5)
  • Boosts brain health – due to the fact that the antioxidants protect cell integrity, acai has a positive effect on memory and cognition. The fruit pulp also has anti-inflammatory effects. Studies in mice and rats showed an improvement of working memory and protection of microglial cells of the nervous system in the animals that were given acai. (6,7)
  • Improves metabolic markers – a pilot study in overweight adults found that consuming acai reduced insulin and fasting glucose levels. (8) This shows promise for improving metabolic disease (which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease).
two acai smoothies on a table with straws

Acai can be found as a frozen puree, or in supplements as liquid, powder, and capsules.

Where can you get the acai berry?

Acai is a small, dark berry that’s native to Central and South America, often sourced from Brazil. You can find it in grocery or health food stores. It’s found as a puree (sometimes called pulp) in the freezer section, that you can use to blend into smoothies. If your local store doesn’t carry it, you can order the frozen puree online. As the fruit itself is perishable when fresh, it’s hard to come by the whole fruit outside of its native regions.

If smoothie bowls seem like too much work, you can also get the benefits of the fruit in supplement form. Acai extract is available as different supplements, including liquid, powder, and capsule. It’s sometimes combined with other antioxidant ingredients such as greens. You can easily find Acai 600 and Acai Concentrate on Fullscript!

Should you buy into this health trend?

Acai bowls are one of the big health food trends taking restaurants, social media, and the supplement industry by storm. Acai’s rise in popularity over the last few years is due to it being a “superfood”, and to the visual appeal of bright, colorful acai smoothie bowls.

If you’re still skeptical, try it for the taste! Acai bowls are a great introduction to healthy smoothies. Because they’re fruit based, picky eaters (kids and adults alike) tend to enjoy the flavor. They’re also easy to make at home — here’s how!

Acai Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients

  • 1 (100g) packet frozen acai puree
  • 1 small banana, sliced and frozen (or ½ avocado for less sugar)
  • 1 scoop of protein powder of choice (plain or vanilla work best)
  • ¼ cup milk or plant-based milk (almond, cashew, coconut, etc.)

Toppings

  • Shredded coconut
  • Chia seeds
  • Fresh berries

In a high-speed blender, combine all four ingredients and blend until smooth. You can add some more dairy, a splash at a time, as needed for blending. The desired consistency is thicker than a smoothie, similar to soft-serve ice cream. Pour into a bowl and arrange the toppings on top. Enjoy!