Açai: Benefits of this Super Fruit
Studies show why consuming açai is a great idea: it has a regeneration effect after muscle performance, it has antioxidant properties and acts as protector of the heart.
Every day, every cell in the human body tries to protect itself from thousands of 'attacks' made by eager molecules that oxidize them and make them age at an accelerated pace (1). In this process the 'assailants' are known as free radicals or ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species), which causes the progressive destruction of cells. This has been thoroughly documented in scientific literature. In the search for an optimal defense against free radicals, scientists hope to find substances in our food that can naturally help the body defend itself. It is known, for example, in the extract of berries, grapes and small bright red and violet fruits, the renowned polyphenol antioxidants are found –protecting the cells against free radicals which can lead to degenerative diseases and abnormalities in the regulation of glucose and lipid in the blood (2-6).
Announced commercially as a "superfood" for years, only recently did açai win convincing scientific validity as a potent and effective defense against free radicals (7,8). One study found that lyophilized açaí pulp (an ultra concentrated açai extract with excellent nutritional profile) has an exceptional antioxidant effect (8). In other words, açai powder demonstrates the ability to enter cells in a functional and effective way in order to neutralize free radicals. In addition, after consuming açai pulp and juice, the antioxidant activity of human plasma increases significantly (7). It is no coincidence that the fruit became a worldwide success, it figures at the top of antioxidant foods list, being far ahead of pomegranates, black and red blackberries, blueberries, grapes and strawberries (9). The fruit also has anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting the inflammatory precursors COX-1 and COX-2, which can relieve pain and inflammation (8).
The açai fruits resemble grapes, progressing from green to purple in their maturation. However, this fruit grows on a palm tree and, like a coconut, contains a high content of healthy fat. A recent scientific analysis showed that the complete polyphenolic profile of açai has a formidable array of beneficial compounds, rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, including a total lipid content of 40.75% of which 52.6% correspond to oleic acid (omega-9), 24.1% to palmitic acid, and 12.5% to linoleic acid (omega-6), together with 19 amino acids that promote health, mainly aspartic acid, glutamic acid, leucine, phenylalanine, valine, lysine, isoleucine, glycine and proline.
The most abundant minerals found in 100g of lyophilized pulp (9,11-13) are:
- Potassium (900mg): close to avocados, bananas, potatoes and chard leaves.
- Calcium (300mg): more than milk and coconut.
- Other minerals: magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, manganese, boron, iron, nickel and zinc.
This combination of essential amino acids with minerals is excellent for muscle regeneration and performance. Besides an 8-18% protein content, açai also contains vitamins such as B1 (0.25 mg/100g dry matter), and the main sterol present is the β-sitosterol (also contains stigmasterol and campesterol). Sterols help maintain cardiovascular health and beta-sitosterol is used to aid in prostate cancer and to reduce cholesterol (14).
To measure the antioxidant power of various foods, scientists use what is known as ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity – a measurement unit for antioxidant capacity in biological samples).
While berries and small dark-colored fruits contain a higher score than most other fruits and vegetables, açai has one of the highest ORAC values known to date.
BENEFITS FOR LONGEVITY AND CHRONIC DISEASES
Its powerful antioxidant properties and polyphenolic profile give açai its unique ability to fight cellular aging and oxidative damage, or the incidence of chronic diseases. A study of the life and survival time of Drosophila melanogaster flies showed that a 2% of açai dietary supplementation increased the life span of females fed with a high fat diet by about 20% compared to the controls fed with a high fat diet, but without the supplementation of açai (15). This scientific research suggests that, in conjunction with other foods similar pigmented and rich in anthocyanins (blackberries and raspberries), açai can serve as a defense on the front line against various diseases of aging.
There is also progressing evidence and encouraging results regarding the role of açai in the fight against cancer. Mixtures of polyphenolic açai pulp extracts and açai oil inhibited the proliferation of cancer cells in the human colon by up to 90.7% in an in vitro study (16). In another study on human leukemia cells, it was observed that polyphenols from açai reduced proliferation by 56 to 86% (17). Before this, a study conducted by Brazilian researchers in 2014 found that açai has the potential anti-carcinogenic effect in the MCF-7 cell line (human breast cell line of malignant tumors used in research), causing reduction of cell viability, morphological changes and induction of autophagy (18).
The polyphenols found in fruits and plants contribute as vasoprotectors, and have anti-hypertensive, antiangiogenic, anti-atherogenic, vasorelaxant effects (19), therefore, they are considered protectors of the heart. And, following the cardiovascular benefits of açai, a study showed that supplementation of açai reduced total cholesterol and LDL in animals (20). A study published in Atherosclerosis magazine found that the Açai juice protects against arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) by inhibiting the production of proinflammatory cytokines (21).
Since the high antioxidant capacity of açai also benefits the function of the brain, with potential implications for the treatment of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Research has shown that pre-treatment of the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus brain tissue with frozen Açai pulp decreased the damage induced by ROS - reactive oxygen species - of lipids and proteins in all tested brain tissues (22).
Açaí (Euterpe oleracea) is a species of palm mainly grown for the extraction of its fruit and palm heart. A study conducted by Greenpeace in 2005, reports the need of a wide range of sustainable and effective initiatives to prevent the continuing destruction of the Amazon. Açai was appointed as a product with this possibility (10). It is native to countries of South and Central America, even though today these palm trees can be found in many other countries, it is in Pará where most production takes place, where the Indians have enjoyed them for centuries and where the vast majority of fruits produced for the rest of the world come from.
VITALIZING AND ENERGIZING
The favorite food of many athletes, açaí is rich in nutrients that help in the recovery of physical activity. The main source of energy of a food comes in the form of fats. While carbohydrates (especially in its simple form - sugar) release energy to the body quickly (resulting in the peak and energy drop associated with sweet food), fats provide a slow release of energy after consumption, providing more sustainable and lasting energy. If you've heard that açai is energetic and vitalizing, this is due to its unsaturated fatty acids, fats with a profile similar to olive oil, but also B-complex vitamins, potassium and proteins..
Some people believe that the açai contributes to weight gain, but the problem is not its lipids (i.e. fats) content since it has a high level of anthocyanins (which aids in fat burning) (15), fibres and very little sugar (it is a fruit with very low glycemic index: 0.5). The bigger problem is what it is prepared with: agave syrup, brown sugar, condensed milk, granola, milk powder, among others.
For those who already like açaí and for those who have not yet tried it, with the advances in scientific research of this great little fruit, it is suggested that, along with similar pigmented food rich with anthocyanins (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries), it can serve as a first line of defense against many diseases related to aging. If you care about your weight and health, a way to keep açai on the healthy side is to replace the agave syrup, for example, with low glycemic index polyols like erythritol or xylitol.
Get the most of its benefits and nourish your body with this super fruit.
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