Health Matters – Açaí Berries

?Dear Dr. Katie,

A magazine ad showed amazing health benefits and testimonials of using açaí berry juice. What is the açaí berry, and is it truly beneficial for weight loss??

Rachel

Dear Rachel,

Yes, there has been quite a buzz about açaí berries! Native to both Central and South America, açaí berries (pronounced ?ah-sah-EE?) are grape-sized, bluish-black berries (or green, depending on the variety) that grow in clusters of five hundred to nine hundred fruits, high up in açaí palm trees.

The berries, which each contain one large seed, have been traditionally revered for their medicinal effects.

Here in North America, we hopped on the açaí bandwagon in the 1990s, when claims of the berry’s antioxidant power ignited our interest. (An antioxidant is a biochemical compound that counters the cellular damage caused by day-to-day living, pollution, and poor diet, to name a few). Although some antioxidant claims for the berry have been exaggerated, we do know that açaí berries contain 15 to 20 times the antioxidant levels of red grapes. (That’s pretty impressive; much of the hype about our ?need? to consume red wine is due to the red grapes? antioxidant levels!)

So, are there any other health benefits to these berries, in addition to their antioxidant power? How about healthy omega 6 and 9 oils? Açaí berries have been shown to contain biochemical fats that are used in our bodies to promote health. (Not all fats make you ?fat?; the body does need certain types of fat to survive. For example, think of your brain?it contains a lot of fat!). The fats contained in açaí berries include the healthy linoleic and oleic acids (also found in olive oil) and palmitic acid (also found in coconut oil). Another neat fact about these oils is that they act as storage for the berries? polyphenol content (polyphenols, also found in green tea, are a potent antioxidant, and are one of the reasons why green tea is ?good for you?).

In conclusion, the nutritional profile of the açaí berry is excellent. However, you’ve probably noticed that there is a significant amount of hype surrounding the berry for health claims other than those we’ve already discussed (take weight loss, for example). Most of these claims have yet to be scientifically validated, so be discriminating; don’t believe everything. Although it is possible that the berries could indirectly help with weight loss (for example, the more antioxidants you eat, the better you may feel, and the more energy you may have to burn at the gym), the scientific stamp of approval isn’t on this claim yet.

Dr. Katie D?Souza

?Dear Dr. Katie,

I’d like to give the açaí berry a try. What is the best way to eat açaí berries to gain the maximum health benefits from them??

Curious

Dear Curious,

Fresh, dried, frozen, cooked: yes, there are a lot of ways that açaí berries are sold! The best way to consume them is, of course, in the fresh state. However, unless You’re making a trip to the Amazon or South America in the near future, just-picked açaí berries are a rare commodity here in Canada.

So, what’s another excellent way to take the berries to optimize their health benefits? Most experts agree that the whole berry juice is the next best option. By consuming this, You’re raising your antioxidant levels and gaining the majority of the health benefits offered by the fresh raw fruits. And because the whole berry juice is highly concentrated, you need only consume one to two tablespoons per day. However, a word of caution: ensure the whole berry juice really is whole berry juice. The label should state that it is 100 per cent pure.

Like the juice, the freeze-dried extract of the berries is also associated with positive health effects. This extract comes in an encapsulated form, so It’s easy to take: a couple of capsules a day, and That’s it. It’s important that the extract indicates that the berries have been freeze-dried, since this is one of the few drying methods that preserves the açaí berries? nutrients (mechanical or sun-drying, in this case, is not optimal).

Have fun exploring the açaí berry!

Dr. Katie D’Souza

Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.

The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.

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