Acai berries and pitaya (dragon fruit) are both popular ingredients within modern wellness culture diets.
Thanks to their exceptional nutritional values, these fruits have become increasingly popular over the past few years. You can easily spot them in every health enthusiast’s fitness fruit bowl (like this acai bowl), and for good reason.
In this article, we’ll compare acai and pitaya across a range of different factors, including their nutritional composition.
What is Acai?
Native to South American countries like Brazil, the acai berry is a small, purple fruit with exceptional nutritional value. These berries grow upon tall, palm-like trees located within dense rainforests like the Amazon.
Though 80% of the berry is composed of its seed, the remaining 20% has many impressive health benefits.
Acai berries are known for their high antioxidant content (1). This has made them a popular ingredient in many herbal food supplements.
They’re also exceptionally high in other favourable organic compounds, like polyphenols (2). You’ll also find plenty of fiber packed into these bite-sized berries. Despite their small size, they’re a natural powerhouse of healthy chemicals.
These berries go bad remarkably fast; ripened acai won’t last more than 3 days. Sometimes, they may even begin to lose taste and colour within 24 hours!
Because of this, you’ll never find freshly grown acai berries for sale at your local grocery shop. Instead, you’ll have to opt for frozen puree or acai berry powder.
What is Pitaya?
Unlike acai, pitaya is now cultivated in many different parts of the world.
However, both the acai berry and pitaya originated from the same locality: South America. This delicious, bright-red fruit is also known as “dragon fruit” due to its outward appearance that flaunts many green “scales.”
Thanks to newfound farming techniques, pitaya has now become a staple in many Asian countries, too. As a result, pitaya is typically easier to find and buy than acai berries.
Dragon fruit contains many sought-after nutrients, including abundant antioxidants, polyphenols, iron, and magnesium (3).
But that’s not all – pitaya also has an impressively high fiber content.
Below is an accurate comparison of either fruit’s nutrient content. To ensure a fair comparison, all data is derived from 100 grams of each fruit.
|Acai (per 100g)
|Pitaya (per 100g)
In terms of calories, both fruits are quite similar when consumed in small quantities. Though pitaya does contain slightly fewer calories (10 calories less per 100g) acai, the difference is near negligible.
Most people don’t enjoy more than 100-300g of either fruit in one sitting. Hence, it isn’t worth counting the calorie differences too closely.
Acai contains significantly more fat than pitaya. Luckily, this is healthy HDL fat that can support healthy heart functioning. However, many studies show that HDL can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (4).
One study found that just 10 mg·L−1 of HDL-C (HDL-Cholesterol) is enough to reduce this risk by up to 3% (5). Luckily, acai berries contain 5g of fat per 100g of puree. The majority of this fat is classified as HDL-C.
Studies also shows that acai berries, due to their high HDL concentration, are excellent for healthy vascular functioning (6), plus they also reduce the levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in your body.
There is a common misconception suggesting that consuming fat is always unhealthy. This isn’t true; without a regulated amount of fat, our bodies wouldn’t be able to function well. The brain, heart, and other vital organs all require fat for healthy functioning.
Fat also helps cushion our internal organs and keep them safe from mechanical harm or blunt force trauma. This layer of cushioning fat is called adipose tissue.
Things only go downhill when we have more fat than we need, or when we eat too much LDL fat. Luckily, acai berries contain plenty of healthy HDL fat and no LDL fat.
Pitaya, on the other hand, lacks fat altogether. Of course, consuming less LDL cholesterol is good, but you’ll also consume less healthy HDL cholesterol.
Similar to acai, pitaya can promote healthy heart function (7). Another study using red pitaya juice found that it may also provide protection against liver damage and may reduce the stiffness of the heart (8).
Acai contains fewer carbs than pitaya. Many people try to avoid carbs because they feel that carbohydrates aren’t good for their health.
While it’s true that eating excessive amounts of carbs will negatively impact your health, you should definitely try to consume some amount of carbs.
Eliminating carbohydrates from your diet can result in dehydration, muscle-soreness, fatigue, and more. Your blood might also become too acidic due to high levels of ketosis induces by elimination of carbs from your diet.
So, don’t shy away from enjoying some pitaya just because it contains more carbs than acai. These carbs are coming from a healthy source, so they don’t affect you in the way carbs within white bread or chocolate would, which typically cause rapid blood sugar level rises and overeating.
Pitaya also contains more protein than acai. The average person needs 50g of protein per day to survive. 100g of pitaya is enough to supply just over 1 gram of protein.
Judging by this, dragon fruit won’t do much to satiate your body’s need to protein. However, this fruit is rich in many essential amino acids that can help with cell regeneration and related wear and tear.
Cell regeneration is also improved by both acai and pitaya’s high antioxidant count. Research proves that natural antioxidants are capable of significantly boosting the regenerative potential of vascular cells (10).
Antioxidants are known for their ability to fight free-radical damage which can help slow down the aging process (11). They can brighten your skin and also improve the functioning of your inner vital organs.
Due to their high calcium content, both acai and pitaya can help improve bone health. They can also improve your mind’s functioning by ensuring there is enough calcium present within the body.
The brain has many calcium channels that only function when there are enough calcium ions present in between synapses. People with calcium deficiencies hence may face mental retardation and struggle to think clearly.
100 grams of acai contains 20 milligrams of calcium. The same amount of pitaya contains 18 milligrams of calcium, meaning there isn’t much difference between the two fruits’ calcium content.
Pitaya is more fiber-rich than acai, especially if you’re eating acai in puree form. Fiber is essential for healthy bowel function and intestinal maintenance.
Individuals whose bodies lack fiber may experience constipation or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The difference between pitaya and acai’s fiber ratio approximately maintains a 3:2 ratio.
Though acai can also afford you a healthy amount of dietary fiber, pitaya is the clear winner in this department.
Vitamins and Minerals
Acai berries contain a rich variety of essential vitamins. These vitamins have a profound impact upon our overall health.
However, many researchers are interested in acai’s skin wound healing properties that stem from their high vitamin concentration (12). You’ll find acai berries to be extremely rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin C.
Acai berries contain many trace minerals, too. These includes magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous, and chromium. These minerals are typically found bonded within the larger organic compounds that exist inside of acai berries.
Pitaya also contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. It is particularly rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, and magnesium (13).
Despite both being packed with similar nutrients, the acai berry and dragon fruit bear strikingly different taste profiles.
This is due to the way these nutrients, or organic compounds, are arranged within either fruit. It also has a lot to do with which sub-type of a specific nutrient is present within the fruit.
There’s also the influence of how much of each nutrient exists within the fruit. For example, pitaya fruits containing a red center have a higher overall antioxidant content than their white-centered counterparts.
Despite both belonging to the same category of fruit, either type bears a unique colour-scheme and nutritional structure.
White pitaya typically isn’t as sweet as red pitaya. However, due to its relatively lower sugar content, white pitaya is excellent for diabetics.
As for the fruit’s exact taste, many people describe it as having an “earthy watermelon” flavour. However, it is noticeably sweeter than acai.
Though diabetics can definitely enjoy white dragon fruit, acai is slightly better due to its significantly low sugar content. This brings us to acai’s flavour profile.
Due to its lack of natural sugars, acai berries don’t taste as sweet as dragon fruit. Instead, their flavour resembles that of blackberries. They, too, have an “earthy” taste. Some even describe acai barriers as “unsweetened chocolate” due to their low sugar content and resulting flavour.
However, it’s extremely tricky to find fresh acai berries in their original form because of how fast they go bad. So, you’ll likely have to settle for its puree or freeze-dried powder. Both of these maintain only a fraction of the berry’s original taste.
Ultimately, the question of which fruit tastes better comes down to personal preference. If you’d like a lighter, mild taste, go for acai. But if you’d like something that’s slightly stronger, pitaya is an excellent option.
If you prefer sweeter foods, try looking for red pitaya and related products. However, white pitaya is a decent option too. It may not be as sweet as red dragon fruit, but still has a higher sugar content than acai.
Which is Better?
Both acai and pitaya have some remarkable health benefits thanks to their impressive nutrient profiles. Though both fruits are excellent in their own right, each of them has a few distinct benefits.
If you’re looking for a fruit that isn’t too sweet and contains plenty of healthy HDL fat, you should opt for acai. However, if you don’t mind a sweeter flavour – or perhaps even prefer one – pitaya is perfect for you!
Both fruits are excellent for healthy bone development and cellular regeneration, thanks to their high calcium and antioxidant quality. Both also contain high amounts of Vitamin A and C, plus a variety of additional minerals.
Ultimately, the decision of choosing between both fruits primarily boils down to personal preference regarding taste.