Not that long ago I went on a trip to Hawaii where I was offered an Acai bowl. I had never been offered an ass eye bowl before and it certainly didn’t sound particularly appetising. In fact it sounded like nothing more than a recipe for an inflamed conjunctiva.
Regardless, being a young, naive, kangaroo loving, bloody Australian mate, I thought I’d give it a red hot crack (give it a try). To my pleasure, the combination of both ac and ai was simply tremendous. What flavours!
If I thought the flavour was great, the health benefits that were supposedly to follow were even greater. Yes, my waiter informed me that this little berry alone: aided in weight loss, improved sports performance, helped cure cancer and even promoted world peace. Right on, man!
This, in a word, seemed like bullshit, so I thought I would have a look at the available scientific data on human subjects.
Before we have a look at said studies, Acai berries are said to be great because they are: high in antioxidants, good fats and fibre, among other things. There is no doubting that. In fact, their antioxidant content is said to be slightly above that of commonly eaten berries such as blueberries and strawberries. But does this actually translate into improved health or sport performance?
To my knowledge there is only one study to date analysing the effects of the Acai berry on a health outcome in humans. This study was conducted on a small group of “healthy” overweight individuals who consumed 100mL of Acai juice twice daily for a month. Consumption led to a reduction in: fasting glucose, insulin and total cholesterol. However, it did not alter blood pressure (1). Not bad.
Like health, there is limited data surrounding the Acai berry and sports performance. In a very small sample (14 individuals) consumption of an Acai berry juice before running on a treadmill at near maximal speed, led to an increase in time to fatigue (on average 96 seconds longer). That’s a good thing! Additionally, improvements in: perceived exertion and cardiorespiratory response were seen (2). Not the best study, but promising nonetheless.
A second study was then conducted on a small group of junior hurdlers, who consumed an Acai berry supplement for a period of six weeks. The supplement had no effect on sprint performance; but it did improve markers of muscle damage and coincidently cholesterol, triglyceride and plasma antioxidant levels (3).
Is it healthful:
Yes, the Acai berry is absolutely healthy. I would classify it as slightly healthful to be precise. Will it make you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and cure cancer like its proponents claim it will? No, there is no evidence to date that it will. Will it enhance your triglyceride, insulin, glucose and cholesterol levels, and possibly optimise your sports performance? Possibly, based on its nutrient profile and the weak scientific evidence conducted to date.
Again, the way I see it, based on current data, the Acai berry is great. However, consuming a few berries will not reverse the damage of other poor dietary habits and replacing Acai berries with another source of antioxidants, even if it is slightly lower, is unlikely to have a significant negative effect on health. All in all, it should be seen as a healthy food, not a medicine, or superfood as it is often promoted.
I hope this has been healthful. Your thoughts on the Acai berry?