|Acai Palm ( Eturpe oleracea) - What are the health benefits of acai?|
Common Names: Acai Palm, Assai Palm, Cabbage Palm
Synonyms: Euterpe badiocarpa
Related species: Eturpe edulis
Conservation Status: Not threatened
Distribution & Habitat: The Acai Palm is widely distributed and is very common throughout northern South America. The natural habit of the Acai Palm tends to be along river edges and seasonal flood plains and is mostly found along water courses of Brazil. Acai Palm is also cultivated extensively and grown in organic, chemical free conditions in the vast Amazon River estuary. Acai is a widely distributed, prolific palm and very widely grown because of the properties of the Acai fruit and the use of the heart of the palm for as a staple food in Brazil.
Background information: The Acai Palm belongs to a family of over 1200 species comprising 32 distinct generic groups and are widely regarded as one of the most useful plant families in the world. Palm trees have provided a range of food and products used by man for eons. Uses include food, clothing, oil for cooking, drinks, clothing, weapons, building materials, and containers.
Acai is an extremely common, slender, yet very tall palm and grows 15 to 25 m in height. Most mature Acai palm trees in the wild develop 4-8 stems from a single seed and root system. It isn't uncommon for the Acai palm to sprout up to 25 or more shoots all growing as individual Acai palms. Acai palm has adapted well to live and thrive in seasonally flooded areas in soils often waterlogged for months. The Acai Palm produces quite small male and female flowers of a brown to purple color.
The Acai Palm produces a highly nutritious edible berry which grows in dense bunches typical of many palms. The fruit is round and 1-2 cm in diameter, has an oily coating over a fibrous sheath covering a single large seed. Acai fruit ripens from a green color to a dark rich purple. Each Acai stem normally produces four to eight bunches of fruit throughout the year making it one of the most prolific fruiting palms in the forest. The bunches of ripe fruits are heaviest in the dry season (July to December) with individual bunches weighing up to 6 kg. One Acai palm stem usually yields an average of 24 kgs plus of fruit per year. The fruit is a favorite of rain forest animals and is actively sought out by birds and rodents. Seed disbursement from their droppings ensures continual propagation of the species. Found throughout the Amazon, Acai is very common in the Brazilian state of Pará. The Acai palm is perhaps the most common palm found throughout the lowland flood areas of northern South America.
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Palm Hearts: Acai and other Euterpe palm trees are the subject of commercial exploitation in South America. Palm hearts, eaten worldwide as a vegetable, are obtained by cutting the palm and removing the crown shaft, in which the heart is found. Palm hearts are the tender, whitish immature leaves of the palm frond just above the growing point on each stem. Although it has almost no nutritious value, palm hearts have been a staple food enjoyed by the local populations for generations and have also become a economic resource and export product for many rainforest countries. France, followed by the U.S. are the largest importers of palm hearts. There are over 120 registered palm heart processors operating in the Amazon, with a multitude of smaller unregistered family operations selling their harvests to the larger facilities with onsite canning operations. Originally, much of the commercial palm heart production in South America beginning in the 1960's came from a different palm tree, Euterpe edulis, which only produces a single trunk. (However, one large tree can yield up to 50 pounds of palm hearts.) Because the tree must be felled to extract the palm heart, palm heart exploitation without any adequate management severely decimated the wild populations of this species at an alarming rate. Ref: http://www.rain-tree.com/acai.htm Back To Top
After many native E. edulis palm groves disappeared, harvesters began using the acai palm as a more sustainable alternative since it produces many stems/trunks. Unlike it's cousin, when one of the Acai's stems is cut, more stems will grow back on the same root system and the cutting of some of the stems encourages fruiting on the remaining stems. Acai palm (E. oleracea) is now the world's main source of palm hearts. While Acai does offer a more sustainable alternative, it does not ensure that the correct exploitative harvesting methods will be used to guarantee the plant's survival. Huge stands of Acai palm are often over-exploited and sometimes entire groves are clear-felled for palm heart exploitation. Currently, there is a shortage of raw materials in many locations in the Amazon River estuary due to over-harvesting and a lack of sustainable management of native stands; palm heart processing plants in the area generally operate only 2-3 days per week. Ref: http://www.rain-tree.com/acai.htm
Most botanists concur that palm heart harvesting of any palm species is probably an unsustainable practice due to the damage done and the trees wasted in the process. The Acai palm's future does look rosy however, due to the rapidly growing profitable export market for the Acai fruit. Profits gleaned from sustainable harvesting of the Acai fruit are quickly outstripping the profits from unsustainable harvesting of the palm heart.
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Acai Berry: In Brazilian herbal medicine, the oil of the Acai fruit is used to treat diarrhea; an infusion of the grated fruit rind is used as a topical wash for skin ulcers; and, the fruit seeds are crushed and prepared in an infusion for fevers. In the Peruvian Amazon, an infusion of the toasted crushed seeds is used for fever. In Colombia, where the trees grow along the Pacific coast line, it is called naidí and the fruit is turned into a common and popular drink.
Acai Juice: Easily the most common use of the Acai fruit by Amazonians is the dark purple juice. The juice is extracted from the small round fruit by soaking the seeds in water to soften the thin outer shell and then squeezing and straining them to produce a very tasty, dense purple liquid. Acai liquid is served fresh and ice cold with (or sometimes without) sugar and tapioca flour. It is a nourishing and refreshing drink that is also used to produce ice cream, liquor, mousses and sweets in general. Consumption of up to 2 liters per day of this highly nutritious juice has been recorded amongst indigenous populations. Acai juice has been and remains, an extremely important part of northern native Sth American diets and has become very popular throughout all socio economic levels.
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Acai Health Benefits:
What is known about the Acai berry fruit health benefits, backed by scientific research into the fruits properties, is quite substantial. Acai is a rich source of anthocyanins and other phenolics and phyto-nutrients. Acai berries are amongst the most nutritious foods of the Amazon, rich in B vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Acai also contains oleic acid (omega-9), a beneficial fatty acid (often mistakenly referred to as essential).
Minerals found in Acai Berry: Potassium is the mineral most abundant in the Acai. Acai is also rich in copper, and unusually high in manganese. Only a small portion supplies far more than the body needs of this ultra-trace mineral.
Acai Phytonutrients: Anthocyanins are compounds that have potent antioxidant activity, allowing for the neutralization of potentially harmful free radicals. The famous research regarding the "French Paradox" attributes anthocyanins as being the antioxidant that protects the French from heart disease. The French are known to consume large amounts of coffee, nicotine, sugar, white flour, cheese and saturated fats, yet they have a very low rate of heart disease compared to neighbouring countries like the UK and Denmark. The red wine grape, due to its anthocyanins is what is believed to be responsible for the very low incidence of heart disease. While red wine has good quantities of anthocyanins, the Acai berry has been shown to contain many times the anthocyanins levels of red wine. Back To Top
By neutralizing these free radicals, anthocyanins from the Acai berry may actually serve to maintain the healthy function of numerous systems and organs. Some of the anthocyanins that have been found in Acai include cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-glucoside-coumarate. Other phenolics include catechin and epi-catechin (the same compounds in green tea), quercetin derivatives and other flavonoids. It is likely that the synergistic effects of these compounds, as present in Acai fruit are responsible for its potent antioxidant activities.
ORAC Scale: The Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (ORAC) assay measures the total antioxidant activity of a biological sample. It’s a test developed for the USDA by scientists at Tufts University to measure the antioxidant speed and power of foods and supplements. The ORAC scale is used in human, agricultural, food and pharmaceutical products, as well as food ingredients and is quickly becoming the accepted standard for comparing antioxidant potential in foods and supplements.
Acai Antioxidant Benefits: For the average Western person to cope with all the reactive oxygen and free radicals they will encounter on a daily basis, foods and beverages totalling an ORAC value of at least 2000 units per day are needed. It’s been estimated that 80-90 percent of the world’s population fails to consume even half of this level. Acai is reputed to be extremely high on the ORAC scale and provides levels multiple times that of many anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables, such as cherries, cranberries and mulberries.
Aging Population: As the population ages, 80% of older people in Western countries will develop at least one chronic metabolic disease. If the USDA says that high-ORAC foods may slow aging and prevent metabolic disease from occurring, isn't it about time you increased the quantity of antioxidants in your diet to prevent this process from occurring in the first place?
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Dubious Marketing Practices: In recent times a new Acai fruit drink demand in the USA and several other countries, has resulted from slick marketing campaigns surrounding a number of new Acai product launches. It almost seems that the U.S. is in the grip of an "Acai craze" due to a number of intensive and expensive marketing programs, touting Acai as the new, wonder fruit of the Amazon.
Some of the claims being made for Acai drink are extraordinary ... including weight loss and the lowering of cholesterol and curing of cancer.
The following extract is from the chicagoreader.com website Tuesday April 19th 2011
Acai Berry Marketers Accused of Fraud
Posted by Alex Parker on Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 3:24 PM
" Lose Weight Fast? As diet gurus will tell you, there’s no quick fix. And that pretty reporter and her stories on the health benefits of the acai berry are part of a wide-ranging scam that's been bilking consumers for years, according to the federal government. The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on those ubiquitous advertisements featuring an attractive reporter (often the borrowed image of French TV anchor Melissa Theuriau) expounding on the alleged health benefits of acai berries. Today, it filed a lawsuit against ten operators of fake news sites that use the logos of news organizations, such as ABC, CBS, and USA Today, using them to legitimize practices that the FTC says “deceptively (entices) consumers to buy the featured acai berry weight-loss products from other merchants.”
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Dubiously, Acai berry juice, is joining those now relatively common plant products that have produced the most millionaires in the United States MLM/network marketing fraternity, Aloe Vera, Mangosteen Goji and Noni. Thanks to Acai's increasing name recognition and to the lack of testing methods to determine its quality and amount of active ingredient, greedy suppliers, brokers and manufacturers frequently stretch small amounts of genuine Acai berry extract or powder to literally make tens or even hundreds of litres or kilos of finished Acai drink, reaping substantial and outrageous profits. The taste of the Acai juice or drink you experience could well be mainly due to citric acid and artificial flavours added during the manufacturing process of the Acai drink.
This type of marketing strategy isn't new however. It's a direct result of other "exotic" fruit products like Goji, Noni and Mangosteen, netting billions in U.S. sales through direct marketing and retail sales, playing on the exotic flair of some reasonably common tropical fruit that wasn't previously well known in the US and other western countries. Since Noni's profitable appearance in the U.S. market several years ago, many enterprising companies have been searching for the next and newest (highly profitable) noni-replacement from an "exotic" tropical fruit such as the Acai berry.
To further compound the situation, most of the drinks made from Acai berry for commercial exploitation, are reconstituted from Acai concentrate, thereby destroying much of the inherent beneficial nature of the berry due to pasteurization and the manufacturing processes the ingredients go through. Often flavours and preservatives, sodium benzoate/benzoic acid are added to allow the product to keep for indefinite periods which may cause their own problems due to the formation of carcinogenic benzene in hot bottled preparations. More modern cold bottling as carried out by better manufacturers does not create the same environment for benzene to form. However, if the product becomes hot at any time during transport or storage, it is possible and indeed, a very probable risk that benzene will be formed in the formula.
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Oftentimes actual mgs of active ingredient, anthocyanins, in a whole bottle of liquid Acai juice may be far less than what the average person would consume by eating 20 or 30 red grapes. Before consuming hyped up liquid health drinks, you need to be sure that the manufacturing process hasn't resulted in the formation of benzene. A reputable company using cold bottling techniques should be able to supply independent lab test results to verify their product is benzene free or at least under the acceptable official guidelines for benzene contamination in health drinks. If you are already consuming a liquid antioxidant formula make sure you ask the company for written documentation that their product has been certified free of benzene!
The Health-Report team, have looked thoroughly into many of the so-called wonder products out there and have come to the conclusion that most are not worth paying anything for as far as health benefits are concerned. As mentioned above, you may as well eat a few dozen red grapes or perhaps black currants, or blackberries each day as pay for an exorbitantly priced bottle of Acai juice drink which will have little or no effect on your health.
Having said that, some manufacturers that supply freeze dried powder concentrate have been able to maintain the integrity of the original Acai fruit. Freeze drying means the manufacturing process does not interfere with the good properties nor does it involve destructive pasteurization and preservatives to be added as is the case with liquid "health" formulas, to ensure they keep for long periods.
Not all dried antioxidant formulas are created equal either. The CERTIFIED ORGANIC freeze dried antioxidant product we recommend at the Health-Report site is easily the best we have ever encountered... One serving contains over 7000 ORAC units. A months supply, is equal to 210,000 ORAC units. To get the equivalent amount of ORAC units from other foods, you would have to buy the approximate amount of the following Foods or Supplements - 5 kilos of blueberries - 24 bottles of Noni juice 8 kilos of raspberries - 10 bottles of Goji juice - 10 kilos of strawberries - 7 bottles of Mangosteen juice.
The ORAC score easily exceeds the recommended level of 2000 to 3000 ORAC units per day we are advised to consume.
Supplying yourself with quality "anti-aging" antioxidants along with a healthy diet, is your first and best line of prevention against metabolic diseases such as cancer and heart disease as well as preventing the onset of premature aging.
However having said all the above... Did you know THE single most important antioxidant in the body is actually produced by the liver and is called Glutathione? For more information click on Dr Oz's video. If Glutathione interests you make sure you obtain factual information about it. Go to our Glutathione Review page to read more.
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For more information
Acai Cancer Research
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