Açai berry emerged from the mists of the Amazon rain forest and spread over the internet faster than a kudzu vine. A quick googling of “Açai” and “weight loss” produces millions of web pages promoting “acai berry detox,” “acai burn,” “acai pure” and “acai berry edge,” promising quick weight loss.
Some of the advertising claims “450% more weight loss than dieting and exercise alone.” Acai promoters allege that acai berry’s fiber and fatty acid content give it the unique powers to “burn fat more efficiently, process food more quickly, cut down on cravings, and boost metabolism.” The other claim is that acai detox products “cleanse” your system of fat and rid your body of “toxic buildup.” Dr. Oz, Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray once mentioned the health benefits of acai on their programs, but are today suing some acai promoters for making false endorsement claims. In another telltale sign that the Acai mania has peaked, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently obtained a temporary injunction against one of the largest acai berry supplement promoters, which allegedly bilked consumers out of more than $30 million in 2009 through deceptive advertising and unfair billing practices.
Is There any Science Behind the Acai Berry Hype?
The greater the hype surrounding a weight loss product, the healthier your level of skepticism should be. There is some research showing that Acai berries contain dietary fiber, are rich in antioxidants (anthocyanins) and are one of the few fruit sources, (besides avocados) of monounsaturated fats (MUFAS). Antioxidants are compounds that protect against oxidation, or cellular damage caused by free radicals, and they have been shown to be effective in helping to prevent some diseases such as macular degeneration. Antioxidant activity is measured in ORAC values. Fresh acai berry has a 5,500 ORAC value, while freeze-dried Acai berry has a 102,700 ORAC value. These ORAC values are higher than other fruits, but lower than the ORAC values of common spices like cloves, cinnamon and oregano. Drs. Steve and Susanne Talcott did the first human studies involving acai in 2008. In the study, 12 people who consumed acai pulp and acai juice showed significant absorption of antioxidant anthocyanins into the blood and antioxidant effects, compared to those who consumed apple sauce or a plecebo. Dr. Talcott stated that “acai is naturally low in sugar, and the flavor is described as a mixture of red wine and chocolate, so what more would you want from a fruit?” In June of 2008, Texas A&M University filed a patent application based on the unique phytochemical composition of acai oil, citing the Talcott research.
Beware Anecdotal Acai Weight Loss Stories
There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence that acai supplements, or other antioxidant foods, promote weight loss. What about all those testimonials from people who tried acai and lost weight? That’s not science, it’s more likely to be the power of belief and expectation. Anecdotal evidence is informal, word of mouth evidence that has not been subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny. It ranges from your friend telling you, “This worked for me,” to the ancient wisdom of a people that has been using local plants for healing diseases. Belief and expectation can cause physiological changes in the brain that can interact with drugs, changing their effects. Morphine, for example, is a powerful painkiller. But it becomes even more powerful if your doctor solemnly walks in, announces that he’s going to give you morphine, and injects you. Your beliefs play a role in the drama, and the same holds true for weight loss supplements.
Better Juice Choices than Açai Berry Juice
If you’re interested a detox juice program and want to get more antioxidants in your diet, try these ready-available antioxidant-rich juices instead of açai berry juice. There’s no free trial offer, but also no automatic billing of your credit card.
Vegetable Juice. Drinking your daily veggies is a painless way to include powerful antioxidants and dietary fiber to your diet. The lycopene in tomato juice appears to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Beet juice may help reduce blood pressure. Vegetable juice is also loaded with dietary fiber that can help you feel full and control hunger.
Prune Juice. The original detox remedy, high in potassium, Vitamin E, calcium and iron. Prunes have a laxative because of the high fiber content and high levels of sorbitol, a stool-loosening sugar. Prune juice is high antioxidant activity ( 2,036 ORAC value) and calories (180 calories per 8 oz.)
Pomegranate Juice. A rich source of antioxidants, including anthocyanidins, proanthocyanidins (flavonoids) and ellagic acid. (2,341 ORAC value). The antioxidants in pomegranates appear to protect brain function, lower cholesterol levels, which contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Consumption of a little more than 8.3 ounces of 100% pomegranate juice reduced carotid artery thickness by 35 percent.
Blueberry juice. A good source of vitamins A and C and B1, beta-carotene, potassium, zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. Blueberries and are rich in fiber and contain anthocyanosides (6,552 ORAC value), an anti-bacterial pigment which has a beneficial effect on blood vessels and the treatment of varicose veins. The antioxidants in blueberries appear to improve memory and motor skills and seem to reverse age-related declines in balance and coordination.
Cranberry juice. Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (865 ORAC value) that can prevent the adhesion of bacteria such as E.coli, which is associated with urinary tract infections, and the bacteria associated with gum diseases. Cranberry juice is known for preventing kidney stones and speeding recovery from urinary tract infections.
Concord grape juice. The same flavonoids (2,377 ORAC value) that made red wine a health sensation are present in purple grape juice. The antioxidant polyphenols, resveratrol, and anthocyanins have been shown to prevent the oxidation of so-called bad cholesterol (LDLs, or low-density lipoproteins) that cause plaque in artery walls. The purple flavonoids in Concord grapes seem to help re-grow the neurons involved with memory, cognition, and balance. Another powerful grape juice is 100% dark purple muscadine grape juice, very high in resveratrol.