"Açaí berries are deep purple fruit, about the size of a grape, that comes from the açaí palm tree, found in Central and South America," says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. of Real Nutrition NYC. Especially plentiful near the Amazon, these sweet-tart berries have a flavor that Shapiro describes as "a marriage between a blackberry and dark chocolate." Sounds delicious, no?
As far as açaí being a nutritional superfood — well, you've heard right on that one. Says Shapiro: "The açaí berry is very rich in nutrients; they are a wonderful vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids." Adds Marissa Lippert, M.S., R.D. of Nourish NYC: "Açaí berries are jam-packed with a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins, thanks to their dark purple-black hue. Anthocyanins help prevent disease, like heart disease and cancer, and overall inflammation. From a beauty angle, they help delay signs of aging — never a bad thing!"
Surprisingly, açaí is one fruit that is actually better to consume in its dried or frozen form, according to Shapiro. "You will see that fresh açaí berries are not available at most retailers in the U.S. — by the time the berries make their way here from the Amazon, they will have lost a lot of their nutritional value. The best way [to consume açaí] is either flash frozen, where the berries are picked and then frozen at peak ripeness, or dried, where the berry pulp is slowly dehydrated to maintain nutrition, and then often ground to insert into supplements."
While açaí berries are certainly good for you, they're not magic weight-loss tools, says Shapiro — although they're can certainly be considered to be a nutritious part of a healthy diet. "However," she adds, "these berries are low in calories and high in fiber, which can assist in weight loss when eaten as part of a healthy diet and in proper portions." Says Lippert: "[The combination of] antioxidants, fiber and 'good-for-you' monounstaurated fats can help you feel satisfied with a small portion of the fruit. Greater satisfaction from smaller portions can make a difference in your attempts to trim a few extra pounds off."
An important parting note: Especially if you're eating açaí berries dried or in frozen form, make sure the product you choose is free of added sugars — the benefits of the real thing are sweet enough.
Photo: The Food Passionates/Corbis