Acai: The Miraculous Berry?
Years ago we met with the CEO of an all-natural snack food company who was traveling to the Amazon rainforest to find plant superfoods that no other food product in the U.S. would have. When he returned he raved about the acai berry. It was the first we had heard of it and we couldn’t wait to try it. The berry has shown up just about everywhere since, surrounded by claims that it can make us stronger and leaner, and extend our lives by fighting cancer and heart disease.
Here’s the acai low-down:
The good: Acai contains potent anthocyanins and flavonoids that help to defend the body against disease by neutralizing free radicals.
The neutral: The fruit has no known health advantage other anthocyanin-rich fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and cranberries. While they do possess health benefits, there is no evidence that they cure cancer as some advertisements claim.
The bad: Unless you live near the Amazon, you probably won’t be able to get fresh acai berries--they spoil within 24 hours of harvest (we suspect this is why the CEO never ended up adding acai to his products). Most acai is sold as pulp, juice, or supplements. What's more, many of the supplements and bars contain just a tiny extract of the actual berr, and a number of the acai-containing juices are watered contain mostly apple or grape juices.
The ugly: Acai will cost you a pretty penny. The bars run upward of two bucks apiece, we’ve seen acai juices priced at $40 for a 32-ounce bottle, and our local health food store sells 8 oz of powdered acai for $49. We’d rather spend that same money on eight pints of fresh blueberries, blackberries or strawberries!
The bottom line: You don’t have to spend a ton of money on anthocyanins. We get ours from mouth-watering berries that we can buy at the local farmer’s market.
Some of our favorite ways to eat berries:
• On top of plain oatmeal with a sprinkle of cinnamon. We buy instant, no-sodium, no-sugar-added oatmeal, toss in berries and then add cinnamon—it’s perfect on a busy morning.
• In a parfait. Layer non-fat Greek or regular yogurt with berries—it’s such a treat. Tammy often uses a low-sugar flavored yogurt when she makes it for her kids, or she’ll add a little bit of low-sugar jam on top.
• On top of frozen yogurt. It’s vanilla for us—YUM!
• On salads. They add a beautiful color and sweetness.
• In hot cocoa. One of Lyssie’s favorite desserts is a sugar-free hot chocolate with frozen strawberries mixed in to cool it off.
• In a smoothie. Check out one of our favorite easy berry smoothie recipes below!
Smooth Berry Smoothie
1 cup frozen mixed blueberries, strawberries, and/or raspberries*
1 frozen ripe banana
1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
In a blender, combine all ingredients. Blend until smooth.
*Note: You can use any or all of these berries, whichever you have on hand.
Calories: 300; Total Fat: 2.5 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 gram; Protein: 8 grams; Total carbohydrates: 70 grams; Sugar: 50 grams; Fiber: 7 grams; Sodium: 80 milligrams
What’s your favorite way to eat berries? Do you make any great smoothies?