There have been a lot of talks lately about an unusual berry called acai (pronounced as ah-sah-ee). It is claimed to be a very healthy fruit which promotes weight loss. Is it a miraculously good berry or acai has simply been advertised too much?
The berries come from acai palm or aqai which is native to Central and South America, especially to Brazil and Peru. They grow in swamps and floodplains which explains the origin of the name: acai is a European adaptation of a Tupian word iwasai which means “fruit that cries or expels water”. It has been mainly cultivated for fruit and high quality hearts of the palm used in salads. Since the demand on the berries increased recently, the acai palms are saved from cutting and closely related species, jucara is the source of palm heart instead of acai.
The berries are small, round black-purple which reminds grapes, but with less pulp. THey have a big seed which takes up to 80% of the fruit. The trees produce clusters of 500 to 900 berries at each crop and there are usually two crops in a year.
The researchers say that acai is very high in antioxidants which protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and help fighting such diseases as cancer and heart disease. The statistics shows that Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (the measurement for antioxidants) is the highest in acai berries:
• Acai Berry – 18,400
• Pomegranate – 10,500
• Blueberry – 3,200
• Strawberry – 2,600
• Peach – 1,300
• Broccoli – 900
The nutritional studies have also shown that the berries have high amounts of fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and a little of vitamin C.
Acai shows great amount of minerals, but there is nothing miraculous about weight loss in them. There have not been many researches made, and those which took place did not show any significant results as some of the advertisements say: “lose up to 20 pounds in one week” or “450% more weight loss than dieting and exercise alone”.
Although the researches have not shown much benefit, the reasoning of the companies that offer acai as daily supplement is wise: they say that acai berries have essential fatty acids, fiber, amino acids and phytosterols which work together to help the body burn fat quicker. These ingredients are important for weight loss: Omega fatty acids help to increase metabolism which promotes energy and fat-burning, fiber expands the stomach making the person feel full quicker and reduce the amounts of meals, amino acids build protein and turn fat into muscle mass, and phytosterols strengthen digestive system and move waste materials out of the body quickly.
The ads might make really good points, but it is still important to understand there is not much difference between acai and any other fruit or berry. With the great nutritious benefits they can be a part of a calorie-controlled diet, but acai cannot provide weight loss by itself.
There are a lot off offers to try Acai products for free. The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns against such programs because many of them require credit card information and the customers get charged $80-$90 monthly ay right after they receive “free” samples.
It is also important to point out that due to big seed there has to be a lot of berries collected to make even one small serving. This is the reason why products with high concentration of acai are very expensive. If the person wants to try the berries as daily supplement for their high antioxidant value, there should be enough of antioxidants in a lot of usual vegetables and fruits bought for the same amount of money.
Jackie Hogan, MS, RD is a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles. She is a member of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (CAND-LAD) and the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Practice Group and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Jackie has been featured on Women’s Health, Fitness Magazine, Women’s Fitness, and Men’s Fitness magazine.