Heart disease, inflammation and brain health are all some areas of health that açai can benefit. I was also pleasantly surprised at the impressive macronutrient content. Açai boasts uniquely high levels of fat - a very uncommon feature of any fruit. Not to mention moderate levels of protein, which is of course important for many metabolic functions.
Has your interest in açai powder been sufficiently piqued?
So what is açai powder and what are its health benefits? Let me enlighten you!
What is Açai Powder?
Açai powder (pron. asai) is the freeze-dried powder from açai berry pulp. Açaí berries (Euterpe oleracea) are native to Brazil and regions surrounding the Amazon forest. Açaí berries are a small, round, dark purple drupe. It’s shape and size is similar to a grape. These berries are around 1 to 2 centimetres in diameter, and the seed makes up the majority (80%) of the fruit.
The History of Açai
The global demand for açaí fruit has exploded over the last 20 years. Açaí trees are considered the most important plant in Brazil, as it accounts for around 42% of the total food intake by weight for the local population. Açaí berries were a staple food in Amazonian cultures for centuries. The traditional Brazilian dish açai na tigela could be considered the original ‘acai bowl’. It is usually served as a smoothie, topped with bananas, strawberries, goji berries or granola. Depending on the region, tapioca pearls or cassava flour is sometimes added.
Nowadays, açai products are widely available in frozen desserts, smoothies, juice as well as in cosmetics and supplements. Trendy cafés and juice bars all over western culture, including Australia have no doubt seen an açai bowl or two grace their brunch menus.
Is Açai Powder Good For You?
The short answer is yes. On its own, açai powder is very healthy, full of antioxidants and has a range of health benefits. It’s always important to be cautious about fashionable health food products. Ones containing açai are no different. They are sometimes loaded with other unhealthy ingredients.
Another thing to be mindful of is what sweeteners are used in store-bought açai bowls. Straight açai powder is quite bitter, not unlike raw cacao powder. So if you’re eating açai bowls that literally taste like ice cream, make sure there’s not too much in the way of added sweeteners. Typically, a banana is all you need to make it delicious. If you’re one who regularly enjoys these from your favourite market or café, just double check what’s added to make it palatable.
Organic and naturally sourced açai powder is the best choice, as it will be untainted, from its native country of origin and has maximal antioxidant content.
Açai Powder Nutrient Content
It’s very rare to come across a berry, or any fruit that boasts such a high protein and fat content. This is a unique and fascinating quality of açai fruit. A balanced macronutrient diet, higher in protein and fat, lower in carbohydrates has several metabolic benefits. So including açai as part of your favourite wholefood diet, is one way to ensure you’re staying healthy.
100g of freeze-dried açai berry powder contains:
- 52g carbohydrates
- 8g protein (solid!)
- 33g fat (yes, thank-you)
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Vitamin A
The polyphenol content of açai powder is comparable to black cherries and cranberries, It even ranks higher than black tea. The various health benefits of polyphenols in fruits and vegetables is well elucidated. Here’s a list of polyphenols discovered in açai fruit.
- Ferulic acid
- Gallic acid
- Ellagic acid
- Vanillic acid
- Coumaric acid
Polyphenol Highlight - Anthocyanins
The rich purple colour in açai powder is due to the high anthocyanin content. These are the same polyphenols found in blueberries. Anthocyanins are a subgroup of flavonoids that give fruits and vegetables a red, purple or vibrant blue colour. They are an incredibly potent antioxidant and have a well documented range of health benefits. In the body, anthocyanins have been shown to protect against cell damage, augment antimicrobial activity and improve brain health.
Anthocyanins appear to affect various inflammatory pathways in the body, including the cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway and inflammatory cytokine signalling pathways. COX pathways are the primary pathway in humans that causes pain. This could be another potential use for anthocyanin-rich foods, such as açai, in the management of pain conditions.
Summary of Anthocyanin Benefits
- Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory
- Prevents cancer cell proliferation
- Actives detoxification enzymes
- Neuroprotective - protects brain cells from stress and damage
- Protects against environmental damage and pollution
Health Benefits of Açai Powder
In 2021, a comparative study involving açai seed extract and a blood pressure-lowering medication was conducted. The results showed that while both interventions lowered blood pressure, the açai supplement had added antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. This had further beneficial effects on kidney cells and vascular cell function. This finding led the authors to conclude that açai is a valuable natural remedy for high blood pressure as it acts on several body systems together. Moreover, açai extract protected and had a ‘cardiovascular remodelling’ effect on the heart.
Cognition & Brain Health
A cell study published in the Nutritional Neuroscience journal, found that açai extract had a broad spectrum anti-inflammatory application in the brain. Açai was shown to reduce reactive oxygen species production, cell proliferation and inflammatory cytokines in brain cells. The neuroprotective quality of açai could be due to the combination of polyphenols, anthocyanins and high fat content. Including açai in an everyday diet could have beneficial therapeutic effects for the treatment and prevention of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.
Another study showed that açai extract appears to target specific inflammatory brain pathways. In a general sense, açai is a possible therapeutic functional food for the prevention of neurological disorders and neuroinflammation.
Inflammatory Diseases & Kidney Disease
Açaí fruit has a very high concentration of anthocyanins. This sub-group of polyphenols is positively linked to the reduction of cancer, kidney disease and inflammation. Açai has been shown to be a potentially effective intervention for chronic kidney disease. This is largely due to the alpha-tocopherol and flavonoid content of Acai. These compounds exert potent anti-inflammatory actions and protect against DNA damage.
Açai Extract Prevents Cancer
A systematic review was conducted in 2018 on the anti-cancer effects of açai on animal models. The results unequivocally showed that açai extract reduced cancer cell formation at various junctures of the cell cycle. Açai reduced tumour cell proliferation, the size of the tumours and tumour incidence. This is largely due to the anti-inflammatory properties of açai which then cause cancer cell death. Açai extract is a very promising chemoprotective agent against cancer development and should be considered as a beneficial intervention.
How To Store Açai Powder
Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. If you live in a very hot climate, store in the fridge.
How To Enjoy Açai Powder (that’s not an Açai Bowl)
Conveniently, you can add açai powder wherever you’d usually add cacao. It’s naturally bitter, due to the high polyphenol content and has a vibrant purple colour, similar to blueberries. A tablespoon or two is all you need to get some major health benefits. Here’s some ways to include açai powder in your day:
Açai Bliss Balls
These beauties are high in healthy fat, antioxidants and minerals. And they are literally beautiful in their vibrant purple glory!
- ½ cup of pitted medjool dates
- ¼ cup of cashews (soaked overnight and drained)
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
- ½ cup of any nut butter
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon of açai powder
- Blend everything in a food processor or high-powered blender
- Form mixture into balls and roll them in your choice of shredded coconut, açai powder, extra hemp seeds or cacao powder.
Make Your Own Açai Bowl
If you want to recreate your favourite café-style açai bowl, how could I leave you hanging? Give this delicious recipe a go.
- 1-2 tablespoons açai powder
- 1 cup nut milk or milk of choice
- ¼ cup oats or chia seeds
- 1 banana
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
- 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
- Drizzle of raw organic honey
- Blend açai powder, nut milk, oats or seeds and ½ the banana in a blender. Blend until consistency of soft-serve ice cream or a thick smoothie.
- Serve in a bowl, chop the rest of the banana and place on top.
- Sprinkle with hemp and sunflower seeds and drizzle of honey.
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