Acai bowls are becoming an increasingly popular health trend, with TikTok and Instagram videos showing versatile recipes for these fruity treats. Despite their popularity, one of the most common questions about these recipes remains: are acai bowls healthy? Read how acai can be beneficial for your brain, and cholesterol levels, and even prevent cancer.
Acai (ah-sah-ee) berries are fruits similar to grapes in appearance, native to the South American region. The indigenous people of the Amazonian rainforests have long claimed the acai berry to be a superfood, and have used it for various health-related reasons.
Acai has gained a lot of popularity globally, partly due to TikTok showcasing the versatile recipes you can create with it. One such recipe is the acai bowl, basically, a fancy frozen smoothie bowl that tastes luscious.
Read on as we look into acai berries, how they can benefit your health, their potential downsides, and how you can prepare your own acai bowls.
Acai bowls are prepared by blending acai berries, followed by adding toppings of your choice to make an ice-cream-like smoothie.
Acai (or açaí) berries are round fruits that grow on acai palms, generally about an inch (25 mm) in diameter. The fruit generally has a deep purple color and can look identical to grapes at first glance.
Acai berries are actually smaller and have a lesser pulp content. The seed makes up 60 to 80 percent of the fruit. Because they contain seeds unlike berries, they are actually drupes.
Acai berries have a short shelf life and are therefore sold as a frozen purée or dried powder. This is generally done by soaking the berries to soften their skin and subsequently mashing them. To get a powder, they are simply dehydrated.
Acai bowls look like ice cream, and if prepared right, even taste like one. Unlike regular ice cream, however, they are rich in nutrients. An acai bowl is basically a really thick smoothie, to which toppings like fruits or nuts are added. Due to its consistency, eating it with a spoon is the most convenient method, hence the association with bowls.
What makes acai bowls a great breakfast option is the way they satisfy your sweet cravings while giving you the necessary ingredients to jump-start your day. It must be noted, however, that acai bowls are not the most convenient breakfast.
Unless you are living in Brazil, you will be getting your acai berries as a frozen purée. And because of the long path it travels, acai does not come cheap.
Additionally, preparing the perfect acai bowl is not an easy task. Getting the consistency just right can be a big task at first, although we have listed a recipe down below to get you the right start.
Antioxidants are what protect your body against free radicals, which are known to be a precursor to many health disorders and diseases.
Your body will always create free radicals. These are unstable atoms that form naturally during metabolism or due to exposure to external stimuli, like environmental toxins. If your body lacks the necessary antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals, they can accumulate to cause DNA and cellular damage and cause several diseases including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Being researched extensively, all studies on antioxidants show that they are essential in preventing DNA damage, and can reduce the risks of various health problems.
How do you get these antioxidants? Plant-based foods are actually your best source, especially berries and fruits. And as it turns out, acai berries are one of the richest sources of antioxidants.
The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC, is a scoring system developed by scientists at the National Institute of Health and Aging (NIH) to measure the antioxidant capacity of foods.
While the viability of the ORAC score as a measure of the biological antioxidant potential is not proven, it does help you get an idea. For acai, 100 grams of raw fruit (no seeds) has an ORAC of over 15,000. Blueberries, preached for being a rich source of antioxidants, have an ORAC score of just 4,500 for the same weight.
A study observed the effect of acai supplementation on seven elite junior hurdlers with 6 weeks of supplementation (1). The researchers found that supplementation had a significant effect in increasing the total blood plasma levels of the athletes.
Aging causes major changes to the brain, as seen with age-related brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The prevalence of brain-degenerative diseases increases exponentially with age, affecting about twenty percent of those aged 80.
While no cure for such diseases has been found, research suggests that diets rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds could lower your risk of these diseases (2).
The brain has high energy requirements (over 20% of the total basal oxygen) and a weak antioxidant capacity. This makes it vulnerable to excessive oxidative stress. Antioxidants play a major role in protecting the brain from neurodegeneration.
Antioxidants act as direct scavengers to oxidizing free radicals, consequently acting as defense systems against oxidative damage (3).
The most notable antioxidant in acai are anthocyanins, which give the berries their deep purple color. They are believed to reduce inflammation, with a 12-week supplementation of anthocyanins among 169 participants shown to positively improve their anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory capacity (4).
A review of randomized controlled trials aimed to summarize the effects of berry anthocyanins on cognitive performance suggested that these compounds could significantly improve memory, as well as improve attention and psychomotor speed (5).
Acai berries are unique even among fruits. While most fruits are rich sources of simple sugars, acai is denser in fat and low in sugar.
100 grams of acai berries provide nearly 70 calories, and have the following nutritional breakdown:
Most of the health benefits of acai come from phytochemicals, or plant compounds, present in it. More importantly, acai berries are great if you want to consume large quantities of food with relatively low calories.
Studies have shown that low satiety responsiveness is one of the genetic factors leading to weight gain. Strategies to enhance satiety responsiveness could prevent weight gain in children genetically at risk of obesity (6). This in addition to the fact that they taste great is what made acai bowls a staple at various smoothie joints.
Our understanding of cholesterol can often be misleading. Cholesterol is a substance usually created by your liver, with the remainder being consumed from animal foods. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells, make hormones and digestive fluids, and absorb certain vitamins.
It is having too much cholesterol that gets problematic. LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or bad cholesterol, when reaching high levels in the body can cause various health issues, including:
Some animal studies suggest that acai could help improve cholesterol levels by directly decreasing LDL cholesterol levels.
A study involving rats compared the effects of acai pulp in a standard diet and a high-fat diet group. Six weeks later, the researchers noted that the high-fat group showed a decrease in HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or good cholesterol. This change was, however, not observed in the high-fat diet group being supplemented with acai (7).
This topic needs to be further researched, as acai supplementation showed reductions in HDL cholesterol in some studies. HDL, or good cholesterol, is a general indicator of good health and can lower your risk of stroke and heart disease.
Another study involving overweight adults showed that subjects who took 100 g of acai pulp twice a day for one month saw reductions in fasting glucose, as well as significant reductions in LDL-cholesterol (8).
Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 alone.
Our oldest description of cancer can be dated back to about 3000 BC, discovered in Egypt. Despite having a history of the disease, there’s still much we don’t know about it.
While cancer is a complex genetic disease, there are certain foods and chemical compounds which could help shield you from it to some degree.
A study induced urothelial bladder carcinogenesis in mice for 10 weeks, and then randomly assigned them a standard diet or a standard diet plus 2.5 and 5% spray-dried acai pulp for 10 weeks (9). The group that consumed 5% acai pulp showed significantly reduced rates of tumor cell proliferation and DNA damage compared to others.
Acai supplementation has shown successful results in various research studying their anti-cancer effects, including:
Many of these properties are associated with the anticarcinogenic activities of anthocyanins (13). Anthocyanins have been shown to inhibit cancer metastasis by targeting certain chemical pathways.
They also have the potential to reverse the multidrug resistance of cancer cells, which improves the patients’ chemotherapy sensitivity. While many researchers have concluded that acai and anthocyanins can have a monumental role in treating cancer, the subject still needs more research to substantiate the claims of its viability in humans.
Being an antioxidant-rich fruit with small amounts of natural sugars makes it seem like consuming acai has no drawbacks. As it is with anything else, consuming acai berries beyond a certain quantity can negatively impact your health.
Human studies indicate that most people who consumed 160 mg of anthocyanins twice a day for 2 months tolerated the extract pretty well. Only 4% of the participants reveals side effects like gastrointestinal problems and eczema (14).
Anthocyanin levels found in acai products ranged from 0.74 to 336.70 mg/100 g in acai products in the US, which means you need to pay attention to what you get (15).
You also need to make sure that you’re purchasing the best quality pre-processed pulp, as some can add high amounts of sugar or other ingredients.
Acai bowls are quick to prepare, with the only key ingredient being pure, unsweetened acai puree. Here’s how you can prepare your own acai bowl. You require the following ingredients:
Native to the South Americas, acai berries are known for their unique, earthy taste that feels like a mixture of dark chocolate and blackberry.
Acai has been gaining a reputation as a superfood, claiming health benefits like reducing cholesterol levels and even possibly preventing cancer. Above all, an acai bowl is a delicious and easy-to-prepare breakfast that gives your day the right start and even satisfies your sweet tooth.