Acai: Berries from the “Tree of Life”

Chock-full of Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and touting twice the amount of protein as an egg yolk, it’s no wonder the acai berry, referred to as the ‘fountain of youth’, has stolen the spotlight as one of the most popular superfoods of its time.

The Acai berry fruit comes from the Acai palm, which grows in swamps and floodplain in Amazonian countries such as Peru and Brazil.  Legend has it that the name ‘Acai’ comes from the daughter of an Amazonian rainforest chief.  The chief found his perished daughter at the foot of a palm tree that was filled with berries; enough fruit to feed their tribe and save them from starvation.

 It has been reported that acai is a renewable resource that can provide a sustainable livelihood for many subsistence harvesters without damaging the Amazon Rainforest.  The berry is the size of a grape, with a seed so large it makes up 80% of the berry. The acai palm bears fruit twice per year, and is traditionally harvested in the Amazon as more of a poor man’s staple than a superfood, as most people there eat acai every day (1).  In northern Brazil acai pulp is traditionally served in gourds with tapioca, and either made salty or sweet. In southern Brazil it is popular cold and served with granola (4).

But why all the recent acai hype? This fruit is good for the body mainly because of its antioxidant properties; the ability to remove harmful toxins from the body (1).  Containing 30 times the anthocyanins levels of red grapes, and 5 times that of ginko biloba, consuming acai can result in increased energy, better sleep, and improved digestive functions (2).   The removal of toxins also leads to improved blood circulation, resulting in weight loss and healthier skin (1).  The powerful antioxidants found in Acai have been shown to cancel the cell-damaging effects of free radicals, therefore suggesting a possible capability to protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and cancers (3). 

Acai berries are also rich in Vitamins A and B keeping your eyes and skin glowing.  Vitamin B maintains healthy skin and muscle tone, prevents hair loss, increases metabolism, and promotes cell reproduction. Its high levels of Vitamins C and E, zinc, and magnesium also help to fight infection, and keep the body healthy and strong (2). If you are hoping to look younger Acai may be the solution, the antioxidants and Vitamin E will fight the signs of premature aging, improve collagen production, and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles. It’s no surprise that natives of the Amazon have dubbed the bearer of this amazing plant the “tree of life”! (1). 

With the recent local introduction of tropical superfruits, we may very well witness Acai production in Ontario one day soon!

References:

  1. “Acai Berry Health Benefits and Facts”. Disabled World Towards Tomorrow.http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/acai-berry.shtml (2012/04/23). 
  2. “Stay Health in a Natural Way”. Antioxidant Acai. http://www.antioxidantacai.org/ (2012/04/22).
  3. “ Health and Antioxidants: Huge Benefits”. ACAI Health and Nutrition Resource Centre.http://www.best-acai.org/acai-antioxidant.php (2012/04/22).
  4. McDonnell, Patrick J. (21 September 2008). "Humble Berry Now a Global Superfood". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA).

Katan Kitchens is as much a personal passion, as a professional venture for Jamie. Having suffered through a ‘health crisis’ in 2007, he has spent the past several years using his research and chemistry/environmental science education towards understanding the role of diet in health; with a focus on SuperFoods for individuals with allergies, intolerances and indigestion. Follow Jamie on Twitter @Katankitchens, or on his blog at katan.ca/blog/

- Jamie Draves, founder of Katan Kitchens