Acai Berry: Super Food or Super Fad?

You have probably seen them on your supermarket shelves: acai berry drinks, shakes and even frozen acai popcicles.  These acai products usually have bold purple packaging and exotic names alluding to elusive benefits.  In 2008, sales of acai products soared to well over $100 million with big companies like Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch getting on the acai bandwagon.  The reason that the acai bandwagon is growing so fast is because it is being called the “super food” and, amongst its many benefits, is purported to help weight loss.

What is Acai?

Acai (pronounced AH-sigh-EE) is a berry-like fruit which grows on açaí palm tree which is indigenous to South and Central America.  In parts of Brazil, acai is a staple food, eaten in various ways including raw, savory, or sweetened.  The juice of acai is also very commonly drunk in Brazil.

Even though acai has been consumed for hundreds of years, it has just recently gotten the attention of westerners.  The surge of acai’s popularity began in 2004 when a company began marketing acai juice as a dietary supplement.  Because acai has high levels of antioxidants, manufacturers made various claims that acai could help weight loss, fight heart disease, prevent cancer, and decrease the signs of aging.

Is Acai Really a Super Food?

The powerhouse behind acai berry is antioxidants – compounds which fight against free radicals in our bodies.  Free radicals are harmful molecules which can damage cells, resulting in health conditions ranging from wrinkles to cancer.  The primary antioxidants found in acai berry are anthocyanins and flavonoids.  Anthocyanins are the antioxidants notorious for being found in red wine whereas flavonoids are known for being found in green and black tea.

While the different types of antioxidants have varying functions, they all essentially help the body in the same way.  They stop the process of oxidization which can occur when oxygen reacts with other molecules.  The oxidized molecules form into free radicals which can unleash havoc on cells.  Free radicals can alter DNA of cells and lead to mutations which cause cancer.  You can read more about antioxidants (can antioxidants really help weight loss?) here.

Antioxidants have been proven to have numerous health benefits, including fighting and preventing disease, reducing inflammation, and reducing signs of aging.  However, antioxidants are not known to directly help weight loss.  Dieters should be very skeptical of any acai supplement which claims it can help weight loss. There are currently no significant medical studies which support acai berry for this purpose.

Just because acai may not directly help weight loss, it does not mean it isn’t an important supplement for your diet and exercise weight loss plan. Toxins are stored throughout the body but mainly in fatty tissues.  When you lose weight, the toxins are released into your body. Even though the immune system makes its own antioxidants, it may not be capable of handling the surge in toxins and they could be turned into free radicals.  The damage from these free radicals could leave you feeling sore, tired, or sick.   By supplementing your weight loss plan with a potent antioxidant source like acai, you can prevent harm to your body while losing weight and also improving your overall health.

How Do Acai Antioxidants Compare?

There have been a few studies about the levels of antioxidants in acai compared to other antioxidant-rich foods.  Acai berry has been shown to have more anthocyanin antioxidants than red wine.  However, acai does not have as many polyphenol antioxidants as mango, strawberries or grapes. It is also important to consider that the freshness and preparation of acai will affect its antioxidant levels.  In cases where acai berry is bottled with heat, it could even cause the formation of the toxic chemical benzene. Many acai products may also contain additives like preservatives which can counteract any antioxidant benefits from acai.

As far as acai beverages and foods go, it is always best to go with the freshest.  Opt for concoctions of 100% organic acai with no additives or the frozen fresh fruit.  Acai supplements can be found in pill form but it is very difficult to ascertain the quality of the product and how much of the beneficial compounds have been preserved in manufacturing.  Freeze dried acai powders can be made to preserve antioxidant integrity though consumers should be cautious to chose a reputable brand.

Is Acai Worth it for Weight Loss?

While there are some studies which allude to the benefits of acai for weight loss, much more research is needed before this fruit can live up to its moniker of “super food” for weight loss.  There are proven benefits of acai berry including for supporting healthy weight loss.  However, acai berry is an expensive supplement when there are other antioxidant-rich solutions available.  If you don’t mind paying for the extra costs, then there is no harm in taking acai berry – just don’t be disappointed if the acai berry doesn’t like up to its hype.


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