Acai: Weight Loss Wonder Fruit?
Surely by now you have seen the ads; Acai Berries are being marketed as one of the newest, latest and greatest cure-alls. The high antioxidant content and plausible benefits seen in relatively new study data has led to a host of claims for acai, including a role as an anti-aging agent, anti-diabetic, anti-toxin and even as a cure for weight loss. Researchers recognize that the acai berry, similar to blueberries, blackberries, and many other berries, contains antioxidants that help protect cells from reactive oxygen species, or "free radicals” formed in the body in association with oxygen and other environmental agents. Some studies suggest that the acai berry may hold additional benefits that aid in the prevention of coronary artery disease (CAD) as well as some cancers. The most marketable of all the claims, weight loss, does not demonstrate the same level of research evidence and any claim related to its efficacy is lacking scholarly support.
Certainly a healthy fruit source like acai berries will supply low calorie nutrients and the benefits of antioxidants, similarly to many other fruits. But to suggest a fruit, by itself, is a cure for weight loss is ridiculous; recall the grapefruit claims of the eighties. No single natural food source, when added to a regular diet, presents the potential for heightened lipid oxidation or energy wasting that would equate to the practices of routine caloric restriction and exercise. Advertisers recognize this fact and accordingly create a deceptive, and based on sales, surprisingly believable product mixture, often referred to as a “proprietary blend.” Products with namesakes of the popular berry including “acai berryslim”, "acai berry detox", "acai burn", "acai berry cleanse" and "acai berry edge" all claim to provide rapid weight loss. The claims present astonishing results in very short periods of time – a telltale sign of a bogus health product.
Rationalizing with the scientific, claims suggest acai's fiber and essential fatty acid content are key contributors to the product’s amazing ability to oxidize fat. Other claims that the chemical composition invoke energy wasting, reduce hunger, and increase metabolism are far from substantiated. Even better are the ever popular detox or cleansing Acai based products which promise to actually cleanse your bodily systems of fat, and of course, rid the body of its incredible “toxic buildup”, which as one would expect from the claims, is literally weighing you down.
Looking at the nation’s bulging midline, it is painfully obvious that a quick and effective weight loss product does not exist. Supplements, diet books, and even popular celebrity endorsements have demonstrated advertising and marketing is far more effective than the actual products being pushed and certainly does not equate to the time tested mixture of caloric restriction and appropriate levels of exercise and physical activity. The bottom line is the Acai berry products are questionable at best and not deserving of the weight loss claims. To underscore the buyer-beware risks with these products, in a recent case report published in the American Journal of Medical Science (2011) a young male was hospitalized due to an Acai cleanse – which interestingly contain no Acai.
Acai berries though should not be scorned due simply to association with these questionable products. Acai berries, like others, certainly present a viable source of nutrients including antioxidants. In addition to its natural health benefits, the Acai berry is one of the few fruits, besides avocados, that contain monounsaturated fats. These fats are likely the reason for the claims of high satiety, but are not in high enough quantities in the berries to likely support calorie control. The nutrient mixture may positively affect health, but getting an adequate amount would be costly as the berries do not travel well to market and 95% of the whole berry is seed. For this reason Acai products are normally presented as capsules or powders, or in bottled smoothies and other drinks. A more costly form is frozen pulp where 4 oz. provides approximately 100 calories of energy. The pulp though has been used in several studies with some positive outcomes.
A study published in the Nutritional Journal (2011) stated that Acai pulp showed promise as a potential metabolic stabilizer. Overweight subjects consumed Acai pulp and experienced reduced levels of selected markers of metabolic disease risk. Although researchers were motivated by the results the study did not use controls and researchers cited further studies are warranted before a serious conclusion could be reached. In a second 2011 study published in Atherosclerosis, researchers found that Acai juice demonstrated athero-protective effects on rats. They theorized the underlying mechanisms were a boost of antioxidant enzymes and inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokines. A 2010 study published in Pharmaceutical Research analyzed the effects of berry antioxidants on cancer progression in mice. All berry types investigated including black or red raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, noni, açaí or wolfberry were found to be about equally capable of inhibiting tumor progression in the rats in spite of known differences in levels of anthocyanins and ellagitannins (antioxidant flavonoids). It seems the ingestion of antioxidant-rich berries, regardless of type, provide health benefits. Until more research is done a prudent course for health attainment is to ensure antioxidant-rich whole fruits and vegetables in their natural form are consumed on a regular basis. When compared to Acai berries, locally grown fruits like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries likely offer similar health benefits without the scam risk or price tag. Personal preference and in-season products may be a more relevant consideration than specific berry type. Regardless, a variety of fruits and vegetables provide a balance in nutrition.