5 Acai Benefits That Make It a Healthy All-Star

Photo: Stocksy/Kristen Curette Hines
Before the rise of acai bowls, getting your fruit and veg servings in the morning-time was way less artful. (Sorry, smoothies! Unless you're of the unicorn variety, you're just not as eye-catching.) A breakfast of deep purple cream topped with coconut flakes, a layer of almond butter, and the occasional crop of decorative flowers—what could be more Instagrammable?

Apart from the refreshing flavor and its gorgeous bluish-purple hue though, this super berry has a whole slew of nutritional benefits to brag about. So to get the dish on just how this buzzy fruit claimed its superfood status, I asked  Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of Better Than Dieting and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table to hash out all the nutrient-rich deets—plus, how to how to make sure your bowl doesn't turn into a sugar bomb.

Keep reading for the 411 on this nutrient-packed, candy like gift from nature.

health benefits of acai
Photo: Unsplash/Brenda Godinez

What are the benefits of acai?

1. Acai fights inflammation #likeaboss

Just like many berries, Taub-Dix says the acai variety packs an impressive antioxidant punch in very little space on your plate. In fact, according to the USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC), they surpass fruits like cranberries and blueberries in that department. And, in the age of gut-consciousness, it's also important to note that both the juice and the pulp of the berry have been found to have an extremely high antioxidant absorption rate. Meaning, more bang for your nutritional buck.

One antioxidant, in particular, that's found in acai is anthocyanin, which almost has too many benefits to count: It's been found to reduce inflammation, improve memory function, prevent cancer cell invasion, reduce oxidative stress from free radicals, and more, according to Medical News Today. The antioxidant is actually a plant pigment that's responsible for your fruit's mermaid-y tint when blended.

2. Acai may combat diseases like asthma and diabetes

Antioxidants at large have also been found to neutralize free radicals—unstable atoms that can damage other cells if left to their own devices—that have been known to cause diseases like asthma and diabetes. Early research even suggests that they might halt the growth of esophageal cancer. However, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, it's important to note that the anti-cancerous effects have yet to be proven in humans.

Acai Bowls in NYC
Photo: Stocksy/Natasa Mandic

3. Eating acai will make your skin radiate

By now, you already know that beauty begins from the inside. And thanks to the previously mentioned antioxidants, you can *basically* consider acai your daily foundation. That's because (as previously mentioned), these acai superheroes target free radicals, which can also wreak havoc on your skin when rogue atoms latch on to healthy cells. Left unchallenged, they can cause some serious damage and accelerate the appearance of aging. Just add a hefty dose of antioxidants though, and your inner radiance will shine right on through.

4. Acai won't spike your blood sugar (but still tastes like dessert)

If you've ever ordered a bowl from your local joint, you might have done a double take after your first super sweet bite. That's because, according to Taub-Dix, it's an all-too-common practice to combine this superfood with artificial syrups and sugar (thus negating the whole "healthy" breakfast" thing). "You have to be careful when eating them in terms of the flavor you're really getting because oftentimes, sugar is added to make them sweeter," she explains. "If this is your breakfast, you could be getting a lot more sugar than you think by the time 11 o’clock rolls around." 

In its OG state, acai has an almost chocolate-like berry flavor, and it only contains about 2–3 grams of sugar per 100-gram serving. (In comparison, fruits like bananas, grapes, mangos, and pineapples contain 18, 15, 23, and 16 grams, respectively.) So, there's really no need to pour in added sweetener. If you do want to combat the berry's slightly tart taste though, Taub-Dix recommends blending acai with a naturally sweet fruit like dates or apricots to make your breakfast bowl taste like dessert without it *actually* being one.

The lesson here? If you're planning on ordering this treat instead of DIYing a good-lookin' bowl in your own blender, don't be afraid to quiz the cashier on the sugar content. Otherwise, you might end up eating between 60–80 grams in the a.m. However, there is a silver lining. As Taub-Dix notes, splitting a sucrose-y bowl with your whole girl gang is better for you than going out and, say, ordering individual sundaes. So forget ice cream parties—acai parties are the new, hip thing.

health benefits acai
Photo: Unsplash/Jannis Brandt

5. Acai berries flood your body with good-for-you nutrients

Though the antioxidants in acai are, without a doubt, the superfood's greatest claim to nutritional fame, it also contains scores of trace minerals, which can help both your metabolic and brain function work properly (especially in the summertime).

For starters, the berries contain healthy fats like omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9, which help power your brain, stabilize your blood sugar levels, and keep you fuller, longer. And the nutrients just keep coming: This buzzed-over berry also contains fiber (which is essential for your digestive system), along with B vitamins and electrolytes like calcium, iron, copper, and zinc.

In short, acai packs a lot of nutritional support into each bite-size berry. Just like peaches, which you can layer on your burger to up the ante on your BBQ's flavor profile, acai berries have the kind of versatility that levels up a sweet or savory dish. "I like to mix these kind of things with vegetables," says Taub-Dix. "Like if I’m making broccoli rabe or spinach or arugula, I like to put in some sort of a dried berry or dried fruit and some nuts just to sort of balance it out and round it out." You've probably rocked this veggie-fruit combo before by sprinkling your salad with cranberries. But hey, why not mix things up and go for the acai option instead?

Or, on those days you feel like having a warm breakfast bowl, try adding a handful of the dried fruit—or a drizzle of its juice—to your oatmeal. Taub-Dix also suggests sprinkling the berries into cold cereal or mixing a handful into your next batch of muffin mix. And hey, if you sprinkle them into this kombucha soda bread, you'll be getting both antioxidants and probiotics. Just remember, the berries do have a bite to them, so Taub-Dix says you might want to make it a tri-berry party, and add in some cranberries with another of your favorite varieties. 

Are there any side effects to be aware of when eating acai?

Consuming acai has minimal health risks or side effects, but if you have pollen allergies or are allergic to similar berries (such as blueberries or raspberries) this might not be the fruit for you. If you've never had them before, start small to see how your body reacts—just to be safe.

So, next time you're scouring the menu (or the internet) looking for good-for-you option for breakfast or an afternoon snack, consider a bowl of this blended fruit. Just remember to skip the extra sugar—oh, and to snap a picture for your feed before you dig in.

Originally published July 17, 2018; updated September 25, 2020.

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