Sales of acai products catapulted to $13.5 million last year, up from $435,000 two years previously. An acai craze has been fueled by discussions on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," where at least two of her experts -- dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Perricone and heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz -- have mentioned the so-called superfood.
With a flavor that faintly resembles raspberries and chocolate, the fruit has 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes and 10 to 30 times more than the artery-protective flavonoids of red wine. It also seems to inhibit key enzymes in your body, perhaps reducing inflammation.
But acai comes at a cost.
One 60-capsule supply runs about $19.95 for a two-week dose. And while there is some merit to the antioxidant content of exotic fruits such as acai, consumers also get antioxidants from array of other foods, such as oranges, tomatoes and blueberries. There is also little evidence that it is useful as a weight-loss aid, although it has sometimes been marketed as one.
The açaí berry – although very healthy, may have become the latest victim of too much hype, just like so many other fad diets and quick-fix diet aids.
Let’s face it -- consuming large quantities of açaí in the hopes of lowering the number on your scale is a fantasy, conjured up by marketing geniuses who get paid well to prey on your weaknesses and foibles.
The Benefits of Acai Berries
The acaí berry comes from the Brazilian Açaí palm, also referred to as “The Tree of Life,” by the Yanomami Indians. They’ve treasured the açaí for centuries as a food that "holds unique power" – believing it gives energizing sustenance.
And why not?
The studies done on the berry show it does have rather remarkable antioxidant properties.
Its ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value, which is a scientific measurement of its antioxidant capacity, is impressive. Researchers have determined that the açaí contains about 300 percent more antioxidants than blueberries or grapes.
In fact, it is thought to have the highest antioxidant capacity of any known edible fruit.
Antioxidants, such as those found in the açaí, are certainly important for youthful health, energy, and stamina, and they help your immune system to operate more efficiently.
Essentially, a diet high in antioxidants super-charges your body to fight off the effects of pollution, chemicals, and the ever-increasing onslaught of germs, bacteria, and viruses that constantly surrounds you.
Additionally, popular authorities like Dr. Nicholas Perricone have documented other beneficial attributes as well. In his book The Perricone Promise, he names the açaí berry as his number one superfood, chosen because of its beneficial combination of essential fatty acids and fiber, in addition to its powerful antioxidants.
But, is the açaí worth the price? And, perhaps even more importantly, are you getting what you pay for?
Things to Take Into Account Before Buying Açaí
With the price of açaí products being quite high, there are a few things you may want to consider before buying.
First, the number one factor in how a sample of açaí scores in ORAC is in the processing.
For example, a gram of raw açaí berry off the tree may have an ORAC value over 1,200, but by the time it arrives in your kitchen, that number may likely be under 100. So keep that in mind if you see different açaí products claiming to have higher ORAC values. You might want to do a little research to see whether their claims of a higher ORAC value are legitimate.
If the acai’s antioxidant power has been dramatically reduced during processing, there are many other foods that are high in antioxidants as well and may beat the açaí product in question, so why waste your money?
Unless you live in Brazil, it’s unlikely you’ll get the chance to eat the fresh fruit. Because the açaí berry is very fragile, shipping it long distances is not advisable. So manufacturers experimented with the best way to preserve its high level of nutrients. They came up with a freeze-dry method that maintains most of the integrity of the original fruit.
A number of companies also make pure Açaí juice. On the positive side, because it has a very low natural sugar content for a fruit, this can be a good choice for diabetics who normally need to severely restrict their juice intake.
However, many açaí products are not pure açaí juice, but rather a mixture of juices that also contain added flavorings and sweeteners. I’d advise against consuming these açaí “juice drinks,” as the sugar content and other additives will likely counteract many of the acai’s otherwise beneficial nutrients.
Açaí is Not the Only Superfood Out There, But it May Be One of the Most Expensive
Sure, acai is one powerful antioxidant, but so are other colorful, dark whole foods like:
Black beans, just to name a few
And most of these are far less taxing on your pocketbook.
As Dr. David Katz, associate clinical professor of public health and medicine at Yale University stated in this article:
"You get more bang for the buck by just eating more fruits and vegetables."
I agree. Especially if you focus on eating raw, organic, whole foods, as they contain more antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts.
Açaí Unlikely to Promote Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, the drill is still the same. The best way to lose weight is to:
Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and grains (especially soda)
Optimize your diet by eating for your nutritional type. Nutritional typing will help you determine the optimal ratio of carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein for your own individual biochemistry, which will automatically help you normalize your weight
So, in closing, if you want to include açaí berries in your diet, by all means, do so. It’s a very healthy berry, chock-full of antioxidants (as long as it has been properly processed). But don’t expect any miracles in terms of weight loss. And remember, there are other whole foods that can still compete in terms of antioxidants that cost less.