Açai: Superfood or Super Scam?

With your busy schedule, wouldn’t it be nice if a drink or a pill could help you lose those extra pounds? And what if the main ingredient could also keep your body youthful and cancer free? You’d probably buy this magical food in every form possible and eat it everyday, no matter what the cost. That’s exactly why açai has become so popular, but this so called “superfruit” might not be so super after all.

Açai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is a fruit native to rainforests in Central and South America. It looks like a dark grape and has a tart berry taste with a hint of chocolate. It can be found frozen, powdered and in pill form in natural markets and gourmet stores around the country, and has become a popular ingredient in breakfasts and beverages due to health claims.

Açai is packed with antioxidants, amino acids, trace minerals, fiber, phytosterols, anthocyanins and flavonoids. Marketers say that the fruit can help with weight loss, metabolism, cancer, heart disease, immunity, eyesight, arthritis, high cholesterol, digestion, erectile dysfunction, detoxification, muscular regeneration and thinking clearly. Wow – it certainly sounds magical, so no wonder it’s always flying off the shelves!

Hate to put a damper on this, but most of the above health claims remain to be proved because scientific research on açai berries is limited, and many experts believe that it’s no healthier than other similar fruits. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission recently filed suit against several companies that have been using fake news websites to market açai as weight-loss products, and it turns out many of the listed testimonials were made up. The sites collectively have paid over $10 million to advertise, which convinced consumers to pay between $70 to $100 for the supposed weight-loss products – the FTC has asked that they all receive refunds. This isn’t the first time the FTC has accused a company of falsely marketing açai; it happened in 2010 as well. 

It’s too bad that açai’s reputation has been tainted by shady marketing, especially since research has yet to discover if it is as beneficial to our health as claimed. While you as a consumer should be skeptical, you don’t have to forgo açai altogether – just don’t think of it as a cure all (unless reputable research tells you otherwise). You can certainly enjoy it’s tart, refreshing taste in granola bowls, smoothies and sorbets – it’s wonderful on a hot day.

If you would like to purchase açai, here are some tips to make sure you’re buying a reputable product:

  • be cautious of companies touting over-the-top endorsements – if they seem fake they probably are
  • read the fine print (disclaimers at the bottom of a website or on the product’s label)
  • buy organic whenever possible
  • make sure the product has a high percentage of açai (it’s often watered down)
  • like anything, if it’s mixed with lots of sugar this will negate the health benefits

image: Zach Zalium