Monday, November 3, 2008

What's the deal with acai?

I'm sure you've seen something about it somewhere. The acai berry is considered by many to be a super hot, super food these days, and this is exactly why as a Registered Dietitian, I get asked many, many questions about this fruit or the products that contain it. Native to Central and South America, tests on this berry truly have deemed it a potential 'power food' primarily due to its antioxidant capcity. Depending on what study you look at, it rates among the highest, if not {the} highest in antioxidant capacity (aka, ORAC). So, what's my take on it? Well, based on the evidence I've read (and I have read actual research articles on this), I'd agree that it appears to be chock full of antioxidants as well as other beneficial nutrients. However, you will not find the actual acai berry in the produce section of your market. Most of what I've seen on the market is the freeze-dried version alone or in a juice blend since the fat content of the acai berry makes it decompose more readily.

Are you thinking there's a catch here? Well, yes, there are a few. One is that these products tend to be quite pricey, if you ask me. Mona Vie distributes an acai berry blend juice at about $40 a bottle (possibly lower depending on who you talk to), and based on the daily recommended servings one would need about 1 bottle/week (~$160/month). Oh, wait...let me put it another interesting way. At ~25 oz per bottle, this juice runs approximately $205/gallon!!!! You read that right, $205/gallon. the price of gas is looking better already, right? I also have a problem with the way it's distributed (MLM). While the company highly touts its acai berry content, the juice also contains a "exclusive blend" of 18 other fruits, including apple and grape juice. I'm very curious as to how much of this is apple and grape juice vs the freeze-dried acai berry and/or the other "super fruits". Could it be that one could get similar health benefits by simply purchasing and consuming a much less expensive bottle of apple or grape juice? Hmmm... I wonder if that $40/week could be more wisely spent on a variety of many other valuable vegetables and fruits that are also rich in antioxidants as well as other vital nutrients? I don't mean to pick on Mona Vie alone. It's just that this is the product that I'm asked about almost on a weekly basis lately...honest! Other companies sell the freeze-dried acai alone or in juice blends, too, and they're all very expensive as well. The problem with the freeze-dried acai or supplements is that when taken alone (not in the fresh, whole fruit form), one doesn't get the benefit of feeling satisfied by consuming an actual whole food. Also, there could be additional benefits to consuming this food in its whole form...the antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients could work together synergistically to produce even greater benefits.

As for the weight loss claims, I disagree with them. Consuming acai berry will not yield weight loss. One will get more bang for his/her buck by modifying food intake to lower calorie consumption and increasing physical activity for more successful and long-term weight management. So this is not a magic bullet.

So, is this harmful? Not really from a health and nutrition standpoint, but it could be a major drain on the pocket book! And one can still consume a wide variety of other foods that are very high in antioxidant capacity as well as many vital nutrients and still achieve similar health benefits.

Here's to your health...


elleshort said...[Reply to comment]

totally agree. wouldn't blueberries be cheaper and just as good...

Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD said...[Reply to comment]

@elleshort They, along with a variety of other very nutritious produce options, certainly would!

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