Is it a superfood? The truth about the acai berry, acai juice, and acai diets
The acai berry and the juice produced from it is big news at the moment. Touted as everything from a miracle weight-loss aid to a wonderful anti-oxidant superfood, the acai berries are big business right now. And this has caused lots of internet users to get spam telling them they can lose X pounds a week, burn fat, and feel great.
I don't sell any acai products, or invest in anyone who sells such stuff. This review is from my own research, as I looked into the products and the science quite carefully when deciding whether or not to take it myself. So rest assured, I'm not trying to flog you some dodgy supplements or pills!
So what are the facts? What is the evidence about the real benefits, if any, of the acai berry and the juice and supplements produced and marketed so avidly at the moment?
And what are the myths? What scams are out there, and how can you avoid them?
This article looks at the truth behind the acai hype.
What is the acai berry? Where does it grow?
The acai berries come from a Brazilian rainforest tree, called the acai palm. The tree produces two lots of berries per year, in large bunches of 1,000 or so grape-sized berries. One tree, often about 20 metres tall, produces something like 25kg of acai fruit a year.
For indigenous tribes in the Amazon rainforest, the acai berry is an important food source, and is eaten as a major part of people's diets. Most of the berry is taken up by a seed, and it's the remaining 10 - 15%, the acai pulp, that is eaten or made into drinks.
Over the past couple of decades, acai has become more popular in Brazil in general, and is drunk as juice and used as a flavour in foods such as sorbets and ice-cream.
What claims are made for the acai berry or acai juice?
You will find, all over the internet, claims that acai supplements or acai juice can help you lose weight, burn fat, increase energy levels, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, improve digestion, detox, encourage good quality sleep, and reduce the risk of cancer. Acai berry juice is also touted as being a great anti-oxidant, reducing damaging free radicals.
Phew! That's quite a list. Does the evidence stack up?
What's in the acai berry?
The nutritional content is impressive.
Once acai berries are picked, they go off quite quickly. So the acai products you buy are made in one of two ways – freeze-dried pulp, or frozen pulp. Tests on good freeze-dried powder show high levels of carbs and fat, and lots of different nutrients.
The technical details of the nutrients in acai extract
There are two main anthocyanins in acai powder, cyandin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-rutinoside. There are also proanthocyanidins, namely polymers, homoorientin, orientin, isovitexin, scoparin, and taxifolin deoxyhexose. Oleic and palmitic acids are common, and there are 19 different animo acids to be found.
Are acai claims justified? The three main sets of claims examined
In the links at the bottom of this article, I've included some of the scentific research done into acai berries and juice, so that you can read it yourself should you wish to see the original work.
The scientific analysis of acai extracts appear to show high and beneficial levels of anti-oxidants. In the case of some types of anti-oxidant, it had the highest levels of any food tested. The anti-oxidants were found to be in a form which could easily enter human cells, and it appears can do a lot of good. There is further evidence that anti-oxidants in berries can indeed help treat cancer, although the research is in its early stages and is far from definite. So in this respect, the evidence seems to support the claims that acai can be a great addition to your diet.
I have seen absolutely nothing which supports the idea that acai juice or the acai berry will help you burn fat or lose much weight, apart from websites which sell the stuff! If you are eating healthily and exercising, consuming acai might well improve your sense of well-being as you lose weight, but that's it. There's nothing of the weight-loss-magic-bullet about acai juice, unless you are a company selling it.
Some people swear it has helped them lose weight, but until there are proper, scientific trials, I'm far from convinced.
General well-being and energy levels
This is something of a subjective test. Lots of people do feel it makes them feel well and energetic. It's hard to measure, of course, and I've not seen scientific trials specifically on this (although the properties set out in the anti-oxidant categories might well make you feel good).
Overall, it seems that there are a lot of good things to be said about acai juice or pulp, and nothing bad. It's been massively over-hyped, of course, but the research I've done has lead me to conclude it's worth adding to my diet, and I've done so.
Buying acai – be careful!
All acai is not created equal. A lot of products advertised as “acai berry drink” or “acai juice drink” contain a vanishingly-small amount of real acai juice at a hefty premium. So read the label, and make sure you are getting what you think you are paying for!
Acai products are generally made from either freeze-dried powder, or frozen pulp. Because the berries go off so quickly after being harvested, fresh acai berries aren't available unless you live in the Amazon!
You need to check out the company from which you choose to buy, and check what the other ingredients are. There is no point taking a supplement or drinking a juice containing lots of nasty preservatives, for example.
From my reviewing the acai for sale on the web, I've noticed one particular thing to be VERY CAREFUL of when buying acai online.
A lot of website offer a "free trial" of their acai juice, acai capsules, etc. But you have to enter your credit card details, and as part of the small print in the terms and conditions, you've actually signed up to paying a huge amount per month indefinitely. So a free trial, yes, but repeat bills for up to $100 a month on-going!
You can get good-quality acai powder, or acai juice, for much, much less than this. Buy from a well-known retailer, such as Amazon, and don't pay through the nose!
You also need to check the ingredients list - some products out there are labelled as acai juice or capsules, but actually contain very little acai and lots of other things.
The next section of this article includes links to a website which has investigated various acai-based net scams.
Links to the scientific evidence
- Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the acai berry
A summary of the properties found in freeze-dried acai berry products. This research looked at what is in the powder, and how much of it per 100 grams is found.
- Pharmacokinetics of Anthocyanins and Antioxidant Effects after the Consumption of Anthocyanin-Rich A
A summary of the conclusions drawn from a scientific study on consumption of acai juice and acai pulp, with control samples in the study. It wasn't a huge study group, but still interesting research.
Is the acai berry a superfood?
In my mind, yes. The antioxidants are impressive, and I feel well drinking it. Not a magic bullet, not the elixir of life, but great stuff!
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