Acai: Is It Worth the Hype?

by in Food News, Healthy Tips, August 25, 2009

acaipulp_flickr

Before sitting down to write this, I searched “acai” and almost 15 million hits came back — talk about popular! You can’t miss the ads all over the internet promoting this “superfood.” Claims range from Viagra-like enhancements to weight loss to reducing wrinkles. But does this little wonder fruit really do all that and more?

The California Link
Two California brothers, Ryan and Jeremy Black, “discovered” acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-EE”) when they visited Brazil on a surfing trip; the berry was on the menu at many surf shacks and juice joints. After returning to the U.S., they co-founded Sambazon, a beverage company that incorporates the berry in juices, supplements and even sorbet. These days, they rake in $25 million a year selling acai products.

So, What Is It Exactly?
Acai berries are purple, grape-like berries that grow on the palm trees that thrive on forest edges, near rivers and streams. In the Amazon, acai palms cover a land area that’s half the size of Switzerland (crazy, right?).

In Brazil, acai is a staple food. Locals typically enjoy the berries as a side to river fish or with toasted yucca. According to estimates, the 1.3 million people residents of Belem, Brazil (a town near the epicenter of acai commercial production) drink more than 200,000 liters of the juice daily.

In the U.S., acai now shows up in lots of forms — juices, powders, frozen pulp, ice cream, jelly, liquor, smoothies and supplements. Head over to your local health food store or walk through Whole Foods, you won’t get far without finding an acai product. What you won’t find, however, is the fresh fruit. Since it is so perishable, you’ll have to go to Brazil to sample that.

Nutrition Facts
A four-ounce serving of pure acai has about 100 calories and 6 grams of fat. Surprisingly, more than 50% of those calories come from fat. Acai contains omega-9 fats, which have anti-inflammatory properties, but aren’t one of the essential fatty acids (i.e., omega 6 and omega 3). Acai also has fiber, vitamin A, several minerals (iron and calcium, to name two) and good-for-you phytonutrients, including polysterols and anthocyanins.

What are phytonutrients exactly? Well, polysterols are plant components that research has linked to reducing cholesterol and helping to decrease immune system stress. Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that give the fruit its deep purple color. Acai fruit pulp (what you see above)  is high in antioxidants — it has more than cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries or blueberries. However, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that acai juice contained less anthocyanins than red wine and pomegranate juice.

Is It Safe?
All that sounds wonderful, no doubt, but what about too much of a good thing? There’s not enough scientific evidence right now to show how much acai is considered safe, especially when you eat it (or take supplements) for a long period of time. Of course, all the ads and product labels out there claim acai brings a whole number of health benefits, including:

  • Curing allergies
  • Enhancing virility
  • Boosting energy
  • Improving sleep
  • Relieving arthritis
  • Weight loss

You name it and someone has probably testified that acai helped cure it, but there aren’t really any human studies to prove that any of that acai-specific hype is true. If anything, the berry provides the antioxidant benefits that other similar fruits also offer.

More on the Scams
While the Black brothers brought acai into the U.S. market, Dr. Nicholas Perricone appeared on the Oprah Winfrey and brought acai to the mainstream by dubbing it a “superfood.” He believes the antioxidant properties have anti-aging qualities. Since that episode aired, you have probably seen Oprah’s face appearing on countless internet ads (I see them every time I log into Facebook). Oprah has posted this message on her site telling the world that she does not endorse these acai products.

There are also hundreds of websites making outrageous claims of weight loss. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published this article about some acai scams. I also found this site that makes readers aware of internet scams — it lists numerous fake acai websites that you may have come across. Even Consumer Reports tells folks not to believe the hype. If you are unsure of a site or want to see if it’s reputable, you can always log onto the Better Business Bureau’s website and check for yourself.

The Bottom Line
Acai is a berry that contains tons of antioxidants, but no research supports the specific claim that it will make you a tiger in bed or a skinny minny. Is it better than all other fruits out there? Definitely not. Each fruit or veggie contains its share of special phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals — over-consuming one food is not the answer. You can enjoy acai in a healthy diet mixed with a variety of other fruits and veggies. Buying expensive acai products, however, won’t solve your health or weight issues — it’ll just slim down your wallet (not to mention perpetuate the “healthy food is too expensive” stigma).

Learn more about acai in these helpful New York Times and Los Angeles Times articles.

More posts from .

Similar Posts

Do You Kombucha? The Fuss About Fermented Foods

There’s nothing new about fermenting food. In fact, it may be one of the oldest food preparation techniques around. Long before we were sipping pric...

Comments (47)

  1. Tamara says:

    The same rule stands for acai berries as for any other food: the more whole the better. Everyone’s mother has told them that whole oranges are better for you than juice, fresh juice is better than the sugared frozen concentrate, and Hi-C is flavored water. I’m sure acai berries have wonderful nutritional properties, but all the products made from them are just dilutions.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  2. sel says:

    Not only does Oprah not endorse it anymore but both her production company (Harpo Productions) and the Illinois State Attorney General have now filed lawsuits against several acai companies for making false claims…

  3. Pat says:

    i had a bad reaction from Acai in pill form. My BP shot up to 200/120. Bad scare. Don't go there is you have BP problems.

  4. Ken Williams says:

    I have been drinking a liquid nutritional product called "ACAI PLUS" marketed by TriUnity International for over two years. It contains 5mg per ounce of the Acai berry plus a host of other ingredients including several other "super fruits", coQ10 and a complete liguid mineral complex…. Results "for me" lower BP, energy boost, elimination of joint/arthritus problems and several other benefits. I wouldn't be without it. It is a cost versus benefits winner.

  5. Violet says:

    I think if nothing else, pretty much all food and drugs with any kind of hype words in front of it trying to sucker people into thinking they’re healthy or whatever (whether they actually are or not), automatically make me hate them and avoid them like the plague. Way to go, diet industry!

  6. HappyH. says:

    Acai juice will keep you "regular" and loosey goosey if you know what I mean. Drnk too much and you'll get porcelain burns on your tush.

  7. DEB says:

    EVERY TIME I READ THE HYPE ABOUT SOME NEW STUPER FOOD I DO LAUGH. THERE IS NO FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH AND NO SINGLE SOURCE OF ANY FOOD THAT WILL KEEP YOU ALIVE OVER THE YEARS ALLOTED TO YOU. TRY LAUGHING, HELP ANOTHER PERSON, HIKE IN THE MOUNTAINS. VISIT YOUR PARENTS OR GRANDPARENTS. LISTEN TO THE STORYS OF THERE LIVES AS YOUNG ADULTS. REJECT BOTOX AND ALL OF THE CRAZY THINGS OUT THERE THAT MIGHT HARM YOU MORE THAN HELP YOU. MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY AND OTHERS AROUND YOU.

  8. LivingCasually says:

    I have been consuming an acai-rich beverage for several months now. Results FOR ME, include sleeping less and having more energy, and far less joint pain and stiffness. I had no real health issues when I began using the product. I decided to start using the product becaue of the anti-oxidant value and a study that you can find on line by the University of Florida reporting that the acai berry eliminated 86% of leukemia cells in a lab test. So I view it as a preventive measure.

    Called, Mona Vie, this particular product is a fruit juice 'cocktail' that provides an anti-oxidant equivalent of 12 -13 fruits and vegetable in 4 ounces. Mona Vie offers a few choices in the beverage. One contains glucosamine, helping with arthritis-like symptoms, while another contains .8 grams of plant steroils, which has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol. The company makes no claims as to the health benefits of the beverage other than the anti-oxidant property. The process they use is not a 'pressing' as with most juices but a freeze drying that saves the integrity of the berry.

    It is quite pricey, but the company offers a program through which you can actually get your product free and make some money.

  9. Mary says:

    Tried acai juice and pills. Didn't do a thing for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>