Wondering what the deal is with those Instagram-worthy açaí berry bowls? Here's the scoop on this superfood and if it really lives up to all the hype.
The açaí berry, which hails from Central and South America, became popular in the U.S. about 10 years ago but has long been a go-to fruit in places like Brazil, where it's used in everything—even ice cream. (You should know about these 10 Superfoods Ice Cream Flavors You Don't Want to Miss.) And while açaí berries are pretty to look at, they are also good for you, says Marci Clow, M.S., R.D.N., at Rainbow Light. "Açaí is a nutritional powerhouse that provides phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and even some amino acids and essential fatty acids," says Clow.
The Nutrition Confusion
During açaí's rise to fame, many whispers tied the antioxidant-filled berry to weight loss. Açaí-infused supplements suggesting you were in for a smaller waistline, less bloating, and a cleansed digestive system were common staples in health food stores. But spoiler alert—like most supplements promising serious weight loss and fast results, these magic little pills aren't what they claim to be. Linking açaí berries to weight loss is simply not true, says Clow. "There is no single food or ingredient that should be solely relied upon to lose weight."
The Truth About Açaí Benefits
You might not slip into last year's skinny jeans just by eating açaí bowls for lunch every day, but there are still many healthy reasons to incorporate açaí into your diet. (This açaí bowl recipe and açaí berry smoothie are a good place to start.) Açaí berries are incredibly high in antioxidants, beating out the levels in other relatives such as cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. A study published in Nutrition Reviews also found that açaí helps boost vascular function and overall heart health. Subjects who had an açaí-based smoothie as part of their breakfast experienced a 1.4 percent improvement in blood flow, and researchers say all it takes is a 1 percent improvement to reduce your risk of heart disease or a heart-related event by 13 percent.
Bonus: That high antioxidant content also works great in beauty products, which is why the skin-care aisle at your drugstore and makeup counters at the department stores are filled with products infused with açaí. While it's hard to measure how successful açaí is in topical form, antioxidants as a whole in beauty products help prevent premature skin aging, improve texture and tone, and can boost collagen production. So there's a strong case to add this berry to your beauty regimen, too.
What's more, a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that eating a balanced diet including açaí berries, along with other fruits like apples and bananas, will boost your immune system, protect against diseases, protect your heart, reduce inflammation, and help control your blood pressure, to name just a few perks.
Just One Problem
Lots of açaí bowls and smoothies are loaded with sweeteners, which can really add up if you're eating açaí every day. Make sure you're buying açaí (whether frozen smoothie packets, dried berries, or juice) that doesn't have any added sugar or artificial sweetener. Clow says to check the label before you buy and look for frozen, puréed açaí berries without added sugar or açaí that's freeze-dried.