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

This Week’s Nutrition News Feed

In this week’s news: The produce aisle takes a page from the junk food playbook; breakfast proponents get a wake-up call; and new thinking on s...

Comments (47)

  1. coupe faim says:

    This was a good and honest article about acai. I’ve been drinking an acai juice blend for about 2 years now and have found that I do receive health benefits but would have a hard time believing that it helps in weight loss (my own weight loss comes from small portions/exercise & I count the acai juice blend into my caloric intake).

  2. Acai is everywhere — celebrities are drinking and eating the berries, doctors recommend it and of course tons of companies are in business to capitalize off the acai berry juice.

    The acai fruit is mostly found on the beaches of Brazil and Peru. a few hundred years ago Brazilians began to harvest acai in an attempt to overcome a shortage of food. They originally extracted juice from the acai fruit to make red wine.

  3. diatplan says:

    Well can't say much. Because I have come across different people all ahving tried Acai but having different reviews. Many have reported blood pressure problems after trying this.

  4. Tracy says:

    I have to say. I am an asmatic and I started drinking Mona Via and to my surprise my asthma started getting better. I also had more energy and was able to walk 2 miles without any weezing or coughing. I had to stop taking the Mona Via due to the cost of the product and now my symptoms are back and my energy is zapped again. I am going to try a product that is sold at Costco and Sams Club called Fruit a Vie it looks to be comparible to the Mona Via but the cost is only 18.00 instead of 40.00. .

  5. Bill Clay says:

    There is nothing new on the face of the earth, only those things high tech marketing techniques think will turn a profit. Make it rare, make it unknown, make it limited, make a fortune.

  6. Hi there, I found your blog via Google while searching for first aid for a heart attack and your post looks very interesting for me.

  7. I came across your blog when searching for a good article to read. I like your point, it contains some really cool stuff but must have to go now.

  8. Thanks for the wonderful info! It was very helpful for my TV spot on acai "weight loss scams"!

    http://elitenutritiondc.com/2010/03berry-talk-wat

  9. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.Keep working ,great job!

  10. Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…

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>