WHAT IS ACAI?
Acai is a date palm berry from the Acai palm tree. The palm is a slender single stemmed palm tree that grows to approximately 25 meters in height. The Acai palm tree grows primarily in the Amazon Basin along the banks of the Amazon River and its tributaries. It grows prolifically throughout the entire region. It bears fruit that are berry like and grow on long stems in large clusters.
The Acai berry is a small round black to deep purple berry with a hard outer shell that is thin with very little meat associated with the berry. All of this surrounds a rather large nutritionally void and dense seed. The seed makes up approximately 87% of the whole fruit leaving very little in the way of skin and meat. It is not a fruit that you would pop in your mouth to chew.
Acai is a nutritious whole food with many health benefits. The nutrient content of Acai berries has been evaluated by some of the top educational institutions around the globe. Here is a description of the nutrient content of Acai berries and Acai berry juice.
Several new facts about the nutrient content of acai have been identified in the table below. Averaged or approximated data are presented as the assessment of this berry's nutritional composition comes from two sources (4, 7) whose açaí samples were not identical:
1. the caloric value of a single serving (approximately 600 calories per standard 100 g) is exceptional among comparative berry fruit such as goji (“wolfberry”, Lycium barbarum L.) and lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium L.), apparently due to its remarkably high fat content
2. In one study the total fat content for açaí berry is highly unusual for fruit, some 40% of dry weight. The primary medicinal part of the plant is the fruit or berry. Numerous studies have been completed on the nutritional composition and chemistry of the fruit. Acai fruit and berries contain lipids (49.4% and 33.1%), proteins (13.8% and 9.3%), ash (5.2% and 2.2%), and total dietary fiber (27.3% and 18%), respectively. (22)
3. relative to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and the micronutrient-dense goji berry, açaí has remarkable contents of several essential minerals – calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc
4. lipid-soluble antioxidant vitamins A and E are rich in concentration, 1000 IU and 45 mg per 100 g, respectively. 67% of the total tocopherols in açaí pulp are alpha-tocopherol
5. In another study on freeze-dried acai fruit identified 19 amino acids, making up 7.6% of total weight. Oleic acid (54%), palmitic acid (27%), and linoleic acid (12%) were the 3 dominant fatty acids. Nutrient analysis of 100 g of powder found 534 calories, 52 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 33 g total fat, and 44 g fiber. Vitamins A, B (10), and C are present, as well as calcium and iron. Five sterols have also been isolated. The major phytochemicals include anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and other flavonoids, which are most likely associated with antioxidant activity. Cyandin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-rutinoside are the 2 predominant anthocyanins. (12, 16, 23) Total analysis of all flavonoids in the fruit pulp 16 and antioxidant capacity of the seed extract 5 is documented.
Table 1. Macronutrients
(1) Laboratorio Catarinense SA, Joinville, Brazil, ref. 4
(2) Schauss et al., ref. 7
(3) Gross et al., ref. 3
(4) ref. 1
By comparison with the two other berry species shown - goji and blueberries - the new açaí analyses demonstrate a much higher energy, fat and fiber yield. By comparison to most plant foods, goji berry is also a high-calorie, nutrient-dense fruit, whereas blueberry is relatively lean in caloric value and nutrients.
Analysis of the fat composition by both sources (4,7) revealed the precise origins of açaí's exceptional lipid density. Nearly all of the saturated fatty acid content in açaí is from palmitic acid (IUPAC hexadecanoic acid, approx. 23%), monounsaturated fat is from oleic acid (approx. 58%, an omega-9 fat,18:1 ω-9), and polyunsaturated fats result from linoleic acid (12%, an omega-6 fat, 18:2 ω-6). These three fatty acids, therefore, make up 93% of the total lipids in açaí. The oleic acid content of açaí is the same as in olive oil.
Both studies included data for several phytosterols, plant-derived lipids with structure similar to mammalian cholesterol. Phytosterols have considerable promise as cholesterol-lowering and anticancer agents in human therapies (5). In each study, beta-sitosterol was the dominant element, comprising some 85% (average) of the total for all sterols (Table 2). These results reveal açaí as an enriched food source of this valuable phytosterol.
In summary, açaí fruit displays unusually high contents of calories, diverse fats, fiber and phytosterols, particularly beta-sitosterol.
MINERALS & VITAMINS
The density of several minerals in açaí is a significant percentage of the DRI, especially for copper and zinc which equal or exceed the DRI (Table 2). In one assay (4), vitamin E content was 3-times the DRI (Table 2).
Table 2. Essential Micronutrient
(1) Laboratorio Catarinense SA, Joinville, Brazil, ref. 4
(2) Schauss et al., ref. 7
(3) Gross et al., ref. 3
(4) ref. 1
* not considered a micronutrient; x, no RDI established; ^ demonstrated in fruit, roots and leaves of Lycium barbarum L. or Lycium chinense (3); ? no reports
Attention of food chemists is drawn readily to açaí by its rich color, a subjective indication of high concentration of phenolic or anthocyanins pigments with antioxidant properties that may convey health benefits for numerous human disease conditions (8,9).
Both studies (4,8) analyzed açaí pulp for phenolic compounds, finding levels of anthocyanins were1% of sample mass (4) and total phenolics unexpectedly moderate (1.4 g per 100 g, ref. 8). It is likely that phenolics not yet identified are present in açaí, indicating a need for further analysis of pigments in this intriguing berry.
In the study by Schauss and coworkers (8), measurements of oxygen radical absorbance capacity (“ORAC”, antioxidant strength) were performed on freeze-dried açaí pulp and skin powders in vitro for each of four reactive oxygen species (ROS) - superoxide, peroxynitrite, hydroxyl radical and peroxyl radical for both hydrophilic- and lipid-soluble species.
The assay for superoxide, considered perhaps the most representative determination of antioxidant capacity (as it is involved in formation of other ROS and circulates systemically in blood), revealed a value of 161,400 units per 100 g, the highest result yet found for superoxide radical among plant foods (8). Total ORAC (against peroxyl radical) determined from both hydrophilic and lipophilic sources was 102,700 units per 100 g, again the highest value found to date among edible fruits and vegetables for this radical (8). Additional evidence showed that açaí pulp significantly inhibited the formation of all ROS in vitro (8).
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