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.

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Comments (47)

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  2. verse says:

    Undeniably consider that that you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest factor to have in mind of. I say to you, I definitely get irked even as folks think about worries that they just don’t understand about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing with no need side effect , other people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thank you

  3. melinda says:

    Watch your blood pressure when eatting acai berries. It may not mix with high blood pressure meds. My husband had a reaction, when drinking a fruit drink every am. with acai berries in it, just 8 oz a day at breakfast, he noticed his bp going up, when he stopped drinking the juice and went back to good ole orange juice from the good ole USA, state Florida…his bp went back down to normal….

  4. Thanks for reading, everyone, and weighing in. But let's go back to the topic: acai berries. Has anyone ever tried any of the acai products out there? I see them occasionally at the health food store, but they're always rather expensive. What do you think of the trend towards dubbing foods "superfoods"?

  5. golden says:

    Hi there;
    I've been using NOW's Acai caps and I have a sister using them also. We both use them for energy. Not for dieting, nor for being g.i.d. (good in bed). We both notice the diff when we don't take them. No bad reactions, no BP reactions.

  6. All, users have reported many comments in this post as being off-topic and inflammatory, and it is our policy that we remove posts that are deemed irrelevant to the topic(s) at hand if several readers flag them. Please feel free to continue the debate on acai and share your experiences. Thanks, Kristine (blog administrator)

  7. jo meyr says:

    I also tried Monavie.. liked it, but it's to expensive. There is a very similar juice sold at Sam's that is called Fruit A Vie… tastes the same, makes the same claims and costs less.

  8. maryjc says:

    It sounds like you had a good experience. I had a very serious reaction to the Acai berry. I added this to my vitamin regime and went into liver failure. Now I can only take B vitamins and eat healthy. Hopefully, no one else will have this reaction.

  9. Philip says:

    Little do people know that acai if not consumed fresh or in frozen form (which is how it's consumed in Brazil) looses it's nutritional value. So all of these tonics that claim the health benefits from acai are basically fruit juice.

  10. Hootyj says:

    Please don't "shout". Typing in all caps is considered a form of yelling, or shouting or TALKING VERY LOUDLY. It is also considered very rude by many bloggers.

  11. donna says:

    It's in the process. Fruit A Vie? How much fruit is actually in that…don't get me wrong. I'm sure there is fruit listed after the H2O.

  12. bmw says:

    It didn't do anything for me either.

  13. LivingCasually says:

    I can't agree with you that MonaVie is a rip off. While it may not have worked for you, there are many, many reports from consumer who say it does work. It is probably just that you have to find the thing that does works for you. The University of Florida study alone indicates that it is not a fraud. The impact of anti-oxidants on free radicals (and therefore, cancer) is well know. How do you measure that? I know from my own experience with health concerns unrelated to Mona Vie, the same treatment will not impact two different people in the same way in the same time frame. There are too many variables to say this will definitely work for you in this time period, and with a product like Mona Vie, one of those variable is the amount consumed. Who knows, that next bottle could be the one to put you over the edge!

    I am truly sorry that you did not get the results you wanted. I have no answers for you related to Mona Vie. I am praying for your divine healing.

  14. LivingCasually says:

    What results were you looking for?

  15. linda says:

    Then you should look into Mona Vie Pulse, it contains Resveratrol and all natural and it did help lower my cholesteral. The Mona Vie Active helped me with inflammation in my neck and back and my immune system is rock solid. Your talking about 19 fruits not just 1, so potent stuff!!!

  16. Sharon says:

    Hi Tracy…You know you can get your MonaVie paid for easily. Send me a message at casualliving@gamil.com and put MonaVie in the subject. I will send you the information and I promise no hassles. I don't think you are going to be able happy with the results you get from the other stuff. It just won't be the same.
    Sharon

  17. Sharon says:

    Hey Bill…It's the American way!!!

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