Acai Hysteria: What’s All The Fuss About?
It seems that the acai berry is getting a lot of attention these days.
Until a couple years ago, I had never heard of acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-EE”). Now it seems that the acai berry is discussed everywhere. Cosmetic guru Nicholas Perricone called acai his number one superfood on Oprah Winfrey’s website. Why, even the local newspaper in my community had a big story about the acai berry not too long ago.
The acai berry grows in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. Acai has been known and used by the natives in Brazil for many many years to support good health and vitality.
Today people who consume acai on a regular basis report many positive health benefits, some of which are better sleep, more energy, stronger immune system, and better concentration.
A Little History
Not many people knew about acai in North America until the mid 2000’s after roads had been built in the rain forest to truck the acai berries to preservation facilities in bulk quantities.
You see, the acai berry rots 24-36 hours after it’s picked. Before the roads into the rain forest were built, the volume of acai berries that could get to preservation facilities within the 24-36 hour time period was limited to the volume of berries that could be transported out of the rain forest by watercraft, which is a slow mode of transportation.
Therefore, until the completion of trucking roads into the rain forest in 2002, only a small amount of acai berries could be processed and distributed. Acai has been consumed in Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo for quite a while, and acai became popular among the elite in Europe in the late 1990’s.
The completion of the trucking roads into the rain forest in 2002 paved the way for the acai berry to become popular in North America. So, if you haven’t heard of the acai berry until recently, don’t feel like you had your head in the sand because not many other people in North America did either. The acai berry in North America is a relatively recent thing.
Before the acai berry became well known in North America, a few people in the United States discovered it and could envision the business potential.
In 2000 two American brothers, Ryan and Jeremy Black, discovered the acai berry in the form of a fruit pulp and granola mixture eaten by Brazilian surfers.
Soon afterward, the brothers started the company Sambazon, which is one of the United State’s largest retailers of acai.
Today there are many nutrition and wellness companies that sell a wide variety of acai products.
Juice is the major acai product. However, there is a huge variety of acai-containing products other than juice on the market today. You can buy tablets, gel capsules, and powders with acai. Not only that, you can even purchase shampoo, lip balm, chocolate, and beer containing acai.
Acia products are available at all the major health-nutrition stores such as GNC and Sephora. But let’s not stop there. Acai based products are available at nearly every corner store as well.
The power of acai is its antioxidant content. To understand the importance of antioxidants, it is necessary to know a couple things about free radicals.
A free radical is an atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in its outer shell. Most biological free radicals are highly reactive and cause damage to cells by a process called oxidation, which is the same process whereby iron turns to rust after combining with oxygen.
Antioxidants strip the unpaired electron away from the outer shell of free radicals thus attenuating their damaging effect on cells. In a nutshell, antioxidants retard the rate of breakdown of the human body.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has conducted tests on approximately 300 different fruits, vegetables, and nuts to determine their antioxidant content. The acai berry was one of the many fruits tested.
The antioxidant content of a fruit, vegetable, or nut is quantified using the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbancy Capacity) scale. The USDA study found that the six most potent fruits in terms of their antioxidant content are passion fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteen, pomegranate, blueberry, and ACAI. The acai berry exhibited the highest ORAC score of all the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that were tested.
As mentioned earlier, the acai berry rots 24-36 hours after it is harvested. This obviously means that the acai berry has to be preserved so that it can be distributed to the many parts of the world where demand exists.
Proper preservation of the acai berry is critical if it is to retain the high antioxidant and phytonutrient content when it gets to the consumer.
The USDA study found that the only good way to preserve the acai berry is by freeze drying, where the berry is frozen in a vacuum. Freeze drying allows the acai berry to retain the original antioxidant and phytonutrient content.
Another preservation method is called spray drying. During this process the berries are heated until dehydrated and then re-hydrated when juice or other types of products are made. The problem with spray drying is that it destroys 90% of the antioxidants and phytonutrients in the process.
However, spray drying is quick and easy and costs only a small fraction of what it would cost to preserve the acai berry by freeze drying.
Juices and other products that are made from spray-dried acai berries are really not that great when it comes to maintaining good health. You would have to drink 10 times as much as you would the freeze dried product to get the antioxidants and phytonutrients your body really needs.
Another big factor in keeping the original antioxidant content of the acia berry intact in juice purchased by consumers is by not straining the juice. Acai juice contains seeds, pulps, and oils that contain a rich concentration of antioxidants and pytonutrients. Straining out the seeds, pulp, and oils reduces the antioxidant and phytonutrient content by 50%.
Many acai juice manufacturers strain the seeds, pulps, and oils out of their juice to make it more aesthetically pleasing. That’s OK if that’s what you’re after. But then again you have to consume a lot more of the stuff to get the maximum benefit.
The last big component in keeping the original antioxidant content intact is by shipping it in the proper container.
A lot of acai juice manufacturers pack their juice in plastic, which leaches the antioxidants and phytonutrients out of the juice. Additionally, if the plastic is clear, too much light penetrates through the juice and breaks down the antioxidants and phytonutrients.
The best way to ship juice made from acai berries is to pack it in tightly sealed dark glass. Glass does not leach the phytonutrients and antioxidants out of the juice, and dark glass keeps the light out.
So What’s The Verdict?
So, is the acai berry all that it’s cracked up to be?
If the acai berries are freeze dried, the juice is not strained, and the juice is shipped in dark glass bottles, then the answer is a resounding YES!
Any other methods of preservation and shipment will weaken the acia berry to the point where it is really not that helpful when it comes to sustaining good health, unless you consume mega-quantities.
There is enough scientific data to conclude that the acai berry has the highest antioxidant content of any fruit or vegetable. Additionally, there are enough people who have taken acai consistently and have achieved great health results.
The evidence shows that yes, the acai berry is living up to all the hype, as long as it’s properly preserved and packaged.