Commonly found in both Central and South American countries, the Açai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) fruit is a nutrient powerhouse that comes from the Açai palm. Only two crops of berries are produced a year and the crops are harvested by locals. The berry itself is about 1 inch in diameter, similar in appearance and size to a grape but with a seed that actually takes up approximately 80% of the whole berry. Since fresh berries do not transport well, they are shipped out in either powder or juice form.
Although there’s been a lot of press on the benefits of açai, there still hasn’t been enough long term or dedicated peer-reviewed studies on this particular super food. In general, when it comes to taking herbs and/or other vitamin supplements, one shouldn’t rely on just one thing or in this case, açai berries for good health. Keep in mind that it’s still important to consume a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables to ensure that you are getting enough of the much needed antioxidants (phytonutrients), vitamins, minerals and fiber for your good health and well being.
On that note, one of the things that can be said about açai is that like blueberries, red grapes and other dark colored fruit, it’s a fruit with a lot of antioxidant properties. In fact, there are claims that the açai fruit is a food with the highest antioxidant properties around. The word “antioxidant” has been tossed around a lot lately in the media, but not everyone necessarily knows what the fuss is all about. Simply, an antioxidant helps to protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals are formed naturally in the body as byproducts of normal metabolism, by the breakdown of bacteria by white blood cells, or by enzymatic reactions; they are also formed, in ever-increasing numbers, outside the body by pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, motor vehicle emissions, and many other processes. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules with an odd number of electrons which make them highly reactive and potentially destructive.
Their reaction with certain chemicals in the body may interfere with the ability of cells to function normally. Antioxidants can stabilize these free radicals. The açai berry has two particular antioxidants, anthocyanins and flavonoids, which play a role in the body’s cell protection system by defending against and neutralizing these free radicals. By lessening the destructive power of free radicals, these antioxidants may help reduce the risk of some diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Cholesterol and Heart Health
Açai is also known for both omega-6, which lowers cholesterol levels, and omega-9 fatty acids, which lower LDL cholesterol levels and maintain natural HDL cholesterol levels. These omega fatty acids have been studied for years as a way to protect the heart from damage and reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood, thereby providing possible protection from heart attacks, strokes and other common cardiovascular complications. It’s also high in dietary fiber of which most people don’t get enough of. Fiber isn’t digested by the human body, so as it passes through and out your body, cholesterol, excess food and other toxins attaches itself to the fiber, thus the cholesterol lowering effect. Finally, açai also contains cyanidin-3-glucoside, an anthocyanin that may help the body in the production of nitric oxide. The nitric oxide is instrumental in allowing blood vessels walls to be flexible – reducing the stress on the heart, increasing blood flow and reducing the risk of vessel blockage.
There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done about the functional power of superfoods, such as the açai berry. While there is growing support for the viability of this fruit in regards to its health benefits, one should never put all their eggs in on basket, so to speak. For now, as was mentioned earlier and what can’t be expressed enough is that it’s still important to consume a diet rich in vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables to ensure that you are getting enough of all the healthy nutrients your body needs. Add to that an active lifestyle and all of it will do a body good.
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