Tropical and trendy, acai is becoming a staple in smoothies and wellness drinks. And after being called a “superfruit,” acai has a lot to live up to, especially when it comes to pregnancy.
When prepared properly, acai is safe during pregnancy. A unique fruit, acai offers antioxidants and a good source of unsaturated fat to keep you full and satisfied. Washing whole berries thoroughly, choosing only pasteurized acai juice, and being picky about how your acai bowls are prepared are the keys to enjoying this tropical treat safely.
Beyond safety, many women want to know if acai really is a “superfruit,” what the berry’s health benefits are, and if acai can help them overcome their fertility struggles. I’ll walk you through the proven benefits, as well as how to choose safe ways to enjoy acai.
Is Eating Acai Safe During Pregnancy?
Acai might be best known for its fun and vibrant pink hue, not to mention a taste fruity enough to momentarily transport you to the tropics.
Even celebrities are finding ways to promote the trendy berry that’s being called a “superfruit” (Hi, Starbucks’ famous “pink drink”). With so much buzz, it’s easy to be tempted to try it for yourself, but are the “super” benefits to this fruit safe during pregnancy?
Acai berries (fresh and dried)
Acai berries can be eaten both fresh, like you would with other more common berries, as well as freeze-dried. Enjoying acai berries in either form is likely safe during pregnancy. As with all fruits, keep food safety in mind when eating fresh acai berries, washing them thoroughly before digging in.
Powdered acai is made by finely grounding the dried berries. Because all of the water has been evaporated out of the berries during processing, acai powder is more concentrated and a little goes a long way.
While acai is safe in amounts typically found in foods, there’s very little known about the safety as a supplement, especially while pregnant. During pregnancy, it is safest to avoid taking more than a single serving of acai powder daily, including acai supplements (source: NIH).
Acai juice is a common (and tasty) addition to smoothies and other drinks, including the ever-popular Starbucks Strawberry Acai Refresher. Like other fruit juices, always choose pasteurized or “filtered” versions of the juice.
You should avoid unpasteurized acai juice when pregnant. Unpasteurized acai juice has been connected to Chagas disease, which can be transmitted to the baby in utero and problems like low birth weight and prematurity (source: NIH, CDC).
If you’ve accidentally drunk unpasteurized acai juice and now realize it’s unsafe, keep in mind that while it’s possible to transmit Chagas disease to your baby, this only happens in 1-5% of infections (source: CDC), so it’s very rare. If you have concerns, then speak to your health provider.
Note: The Starbucks Strawberry Acai Refresher is safe during pregnancy, but it’s caffeinated, albeit less than a cup of coffee. So while the acai juice is pregnancy-safe, remember to account for the caffeine. The “grande” size has 45 mg of caffeine (source: Starbucks).
Acai oil is less popular than the berry’s juice and puree forms. The oil is more often found as an ingredient in hair and skin care.
Topical uses are likely safe, so long as you follow the package directions and aren’t ingesting any of the oil. Currently, there’s no scientific evidence to show the safety of eating acai oil during pregnancy.
Overall, acai can be part of a healthy and safe diet during pregnancy. Keep in mind thorough washing, choosing pasteurized juices.
Can I Eat Acai Bowls During Pregnancy?
Aside from Starbucks, the acai bowl might just be the most iconic acai dish. Acai bowls are all about the customization, meaning you could simply opt out of any ingredients that aren’t pregnancy safe, right?
When it comes to the toppings, that’s totally true! But the base of the bowl, however, acai puree may not be as safe as meets the eye.
Many restaurants and smoothie shops that offer acai bowls use a soft serve-style machine to get the acai thick and creamy. These machines can be hot spots for bacteria to grow, and are especially concerning for Listeria contamination (source: NSW Food Authority). Listeria can cause serious complications during pregnancy (source: ACOG).
If you’re an acai bowl lover, don’t worry- alternatives to the acai soft serve are available! Some establishments use a 3-gallon tub of frozen acai puree, similar to how hard ice cream is stored and served at ice cream parlors. The tubs are not as susceptible to bacterial contamination and are a safer choice during pregnancy.
One preparation method to avoid when dining out is the blender. Blenders may seem safer than the soft serve machine as they’re more easily cleaned, but often they are not fully sanitized in-between customers.
When in doubt, ask restaurant staff how the acai is stored and prepared, and only order if the establishment uses tub-style acai.
Note: if you have diabetes or gestational diabetes, many of the popular commercially-used acai puree brands are sweetened with additional sugar. If you need to limit sugar in your diet for a medical reason, ask for an unsweetened version of the acai puree, if one’s available.
Homemade Acai Bowls During Pregnancy
Perhaps the safest option of all is homemade. Acai puree packs are now sold in many grocery stores, usually found in the freezer section alongside the other frozen fruits. In a thoroughly washed blender, blend together:
- one acai pack
- any other fruits of your choice (banana works well here)
- and just enough liquid (milk, water, or juice) to get a thick consistency
Pour into a bowl, add your favorite toppings, and dig in!
Is Acai Healthy or Good for Pregnant Women?
Acai is quite a unique fruit. Though acai berries look similar to blueberries, they offer very different nutrients.
While most other berries are high in fiber with a little bit of carbohydrate, acai berries also contain fat. The fat in acai is mostly unsaturated fat, including the beneficial omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Just 3.5 ounces of unsweetened acai puree offers over 5 grams of fat (source: USDA, Polyphenols in Human Health and Disease).
The fat in these berries is actually a good thing! Drinking a smoothie for breakfast might sound like the healthy choice, but lacking a fat source won’t leave you full for too long. That’s where acai steps in. The 5 grams of fat is satisfying for your stomach and helps keep you full.
Your baby gets a nutritional benefit here too. Eating some acai can help you meet your baby’s need for omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are necessary to support baby’s brain and neurologic development throughout pregnancy (source: Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology).
Beyond omega-3s, acai is also a good source of antioxidants. The berries are highly concentrated with anthocyanins, or the purple pigment that makes the berries stain just about everything they touch a bright purple hue.
Acai’s antioxidant power can be linked to the fruit’s reported benefits on cholesterol levels, heart disease, and even brain function (source: Food and Nutrition Research, Polyphenols in Human Health and Disease). Antioxidants can also strengthen the immune system, which is typically weakened during pregnancy.
Can Acai Improve Fertility?
Experiencing fertility struggles is heartbreaking for many women. Even women who are not going through infertility often look to “natural” ways to improve the chances of getting pregnant quickly. Acai is often queried for this very reason.
The thought that acai could help improve fertility stems from the berry’s antioxidant power. A decrease in female fertility occurs naturally as women age, due in part to increased oxidation at the ovaries. Antioxidants are thought to improve the delicate balance and improve egg health and ovulation (source: Life).
There is some evidence that suggests antioxidant supplements, including ones that use acai, can improve outcomes of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), but the research is conflicting and not all of the studies show positive results (source: CCRM Fertility, Life).
Even when the acai supplements didn’t improve IVF outcomes, there were no harmful side effects found (source: Life).
Thinking about taking an acai supplement for fertility? Be sure to discuss this with your medical provider before starting, as some fertility-specific acai supplements are best used with medical supervision.
Because there’s not much known about the safety of acai supplements during pregnancy, it’s also best to reserve these for your pre-conception days, rather than during pregnancy.
If you’re struggling to get pregnant as a result of undernutrition or hypothalamic amenorrhea, the unsaturated fats in acai may be helpful.
While the fruit is not particularly high-calorie, and increasing calorie intake is the main goal for many women struggling with undernutrition, the body needs an adequate amount of fat to produce reproductive hormones (source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
In addition to adequate nourishment throughout the day, acai can be a unique way to bolster your fat intake when this is an area you’re struggling in.
Overall, acai makes for a refreshing and unique addition to your pregnancy diet. Beyond the tropical taste, the unsaturated fat in acai ups their satisfaction factor and the fruit is also known for its high amount of antioxidants.
Thoroughly washing the fresh berries and selecting pasteurized juices, while avoiding acai supplements and soft serve-style acai bowls are the keys to enjoying acai safely during your pregnancy.