All Posts tagged acai berry

The Hot (And Healthy) Foods For 2010

Every year certain foods become more popular because of some newly discovered nutritional property, or their virtues are touted by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart.  So here’s my list of this year’s most popular nutritional foods:

1. MANGOSTEEN

  • Where it’s from: Southeast Asia
  • What it tastes like: Very sweet, similar to a strawberry or peach
  • How to eat it: The Mangosteen’s dark purple rind is cracked open to reveal a soft opaque fruit, which can be eaten fresh or juiced.

2. RAMBUTAN

  • Where it’s from: Southeast Asia
  • What it tastes like: Juicy, tangy and sweet
  • How to eat it: Slice this prickly fruit open. Inside is a jelly-like substance (packed with vitamins A and C) that tastes good by itself or mixed in a fruit salad.

3. NONI

  • What it is: A tropical fruit from the Pacific Islands, full of vitamin C and fiber.
  • How to eat it: Peeled and then juiced.
  • What it tastes like: Growers talk of the fruit’s “smokey coconut” flavor and say its juice blends well with apple or cranberry juice.

4.  ACAI BERRIES

  • What they taste like: Slightly bitter, with a hint of chocolate.
  • How to eat them: Not by the handful! Packed with antioxidants, these berries (which come from the Amazon palm tree) are best enjoyed as a juice or blended into a smoothie.

5. STEVIA PLANT

  • What it is: This South American herb, used in the Truvia line of sweeteners,  is all-natural and has zero calories.
  • How to eat it: One packet of Truvia is equal to 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar.

6. GOJI BERRIES

  • What they are: Dried Himalayan superfruits with nutrients that boost the immune system.
  • What they are: Like Black raisins
  • How to eat them: By the handful: for those with a sweet tooth, try coating in chocolate.

7. TURBINADO SUGAR

  • Why it’s good for you: Although it tastes like regular brown sugar, there are no artificial colors or flavorings.
  • How to eat it: Its large crystals make this sweetener a good choice when baking.

8. AGAVE NECTAR    

  • Why it’s good for you: Because it can be 25 percent sweeter than table sugar, you can use less of the Mexican cactus extract.
  • How to eat it: Agave is a great substitute for honey or white sugar in your coffee or tea.

9. PALM SUGAR

  • What it is: Harvested from the palm trees, it’s an all natural sweetener.
  • How to eat it: Sprinkled on top of fruit or blended with cinnamon or vanilla, for when you need a little extra sugar fix.
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The Health Benefits of Acai Berry…From a Skeptical Doctor’s Perspective

Those of you who know me or have read my blog know that I tend to be skeptical of the latest fad in health and nutrition.  For the acai berry, this skepticism was made even worse by weekly spam e-mails touting the virtues of this “miracle” berry.  This skepticism has not rubbed off on my receptionist yet because she recently told me that she went to the health-food store with her sister and got some information about acai berry.  What roused my interest is the store’s employee told my receptionist to “save her money” and buy the green tea instead because it “did the same thing”.  On a side note, I’m always impressed by sales people who value honesty and truth over getting an extra dollar from a sale.  So after a search of Google, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the acai berry may actually have some truth behind its claims.  Acai (pronounced a-sa-ii or ah-sigh-ee, depending on who you talk to) was actually studied by a researcher at Texas A & M University and found to have anti-oxidants that are readily absorbed by the human body.

So what exactly is the acai berry?  The acai berry is a small, round, black-purple berry that’s about 1 inch in diameter.  It looks similar to a grape in size and appearance, but with less pulp.  It is grown on the acai (or aqai) palm which is native to Central and South America from Belize down to Brazil and Peru.  It mainly grows in swamps and floodplains. The acai trees produce two crops of berries each year.  These berries have been consumed for hundreds of years by its native population.  I even read that they make up 42% of the diet of one tribe in the Amazon area of Brazil.

It has only been in recent years that the acai berry has been marketed as a dietary supplement.  It is currently being sold in the form of tablets, juice, smoothies, drink powders and whole fruit.  Marketers of these products claim that it provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiber content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels.

As of yet, I haven’t been able to find a whole lot of evidence (aside from the people who market the products) to support most of those claims.  However, it does appear to have a good bit of anti-oxidant properties, it’s low in sugar and high in fiber, and according to the Texas A & M researcher – it tastes like a mixture of red wine and chocolate.  As an anti-oxidant, acai berries help to rid the body of free radicals.  When your cells and body perform their daily functions, oxygen is used in the process and oxidation takes place producing free radicals (think of iron that’s been left to the elements and develops rust through oxidation).  Free radicals are the waste material of these oxidative processes that can have an influence on the forming of cancer, arterial damage, inflammation, and accelerated aging through oxidative damage. They are also caused by a diet high in fried and barbequed foods, pollution, radiation, etc.

Therefore, acai berries are good for helping prevent damage to your body that’s caused by free radicals.  The question that I don’t have answered yet is how the rather expensive acai berries are any different from other good anti-oxidants such as vitamins A, E, and C as well as bioflavonoids, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract and green tea.  Obviously, the health food store employee my receptionist talked to didn’t think it was that much better, but for me, the jury is still out.

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