Ah, açaí bowls… there’s no doubting they’re pretty as a picture, but are these pricey smoothies worth the hype?
The purple berry (pronounced ah-sigh-ee, to save your hipster blushes) is touted as one of the world’s richest sources of antioxidants.
And its fans claim a raft of health benefits from weight loss to cancer prevention. It also usually comes in a smoothie bowl topped with carefully arranged fruit and nuts, because… Instagram. But is açaí really as healthy as they say?
The world’s best antioxidant?
Yes, açaí berries are rich in antioxidants. You can tell by their rich purple hue that they contain anthocyanins, a polyphenolic pigment linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and cancer.
Yet this doesn’t make açaí unique. A comparison of different beverages found higher polyphenol content in pomegranate juice, grape juice, blueberry juice, cherry juice and red wine. Though this study was sponsored by POM… wonderful – so we’d take it with a grain of salt!
Overhyped health claims.
Açaí manufacturers have faced legal issues for promoting the unrealistic health claims of the fruit. Açaí has been advertised to help with weight loss, immune function, heart disease, cancer prevention and type 2 diabetes reversal (to name a few) with virtually zero science to back it up.
Yes, there is nutritional value in the pure pulps and powders. But it’s the açaí supplements you really need to watch out for. From fake testimonials to fictional celebrity endorsements to credit card scams, these products just reek of dodginess.
What about the sugar?
While it’s hard to find an official source, it looks like açaí pulp is very low in sugar, with less than 1g per 100ml. But that doesn’t mean your açaí bowl is sugar-free. Large amounts of bananas, mango, agave syrup and honey are often added to sweeten it up (and bulk out the expensive fruit).
The bottom line?
If you just love the taste of açaí, buy the unsweetened pulp yourself and add it to your own low-sugar smoothies. Amazonia is a good ethical brand – fair trade, preserving the Amazon rainforest and giving financial aid to the 4,000 families the business supports.
But if you’re just in it for the health benefits, we’d recommend saving your money and buying antioxidant-rich blueberries, cacao and, of course, dark leafy greens for your next smoothie bowl instead. And definitely don’t buy açaí supplements online!
We originally published this post in October 2016. We updated it in November 2017.