Although you’re not likely to find the acai berry itself on store shelves, you can’t seem to escape hearing about it. The dark purple berry is tops on many so-called superfood lists. It has previouslybeen featured on Oprah Winfrey’s and Rachel Ray’s TV shows.
Grown in Central and South America, the acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) berry is the fruit of the Amazon palm tree. Because the fruit, which is the size of a small grape, is delicate, transporting it is difficult. That’s why you are most likely to find the acai berry as an ingredient in smoothies or as juice in the refrigerated or freezer section of natural food stores, says registered dietitian Keri Gans, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. It’s also sold as a powder and in capsules. “It’s put in a lot of products because it is touted as a superfood,” she says.
Is the Acai Berry Really That Special?
The acai berry is a good source of fiber, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats. “Antioxidants strengthen our immune system and protect against cancers,” Gans says. For that reason, berries should be part of a healthy diet. Still, she says, despite claims to the contrary, no one has proven that the acai berry has any more antioxidants than other berries.
Many say the acai berry can perform assorted wonders, from preventing aging effects to lowering cholesterol to increasing energy. “[We hear] ‘the acai berry can do these amazing things,’ but there’s no research to prove any of these claims,” Gans says. “We wish it was a magical berry, but there is no one superfood. It’s a case of ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it is.’”
The same can be said of the hype surrounding the acai berry diet — the fruit doesn’t have any special powers to help people lose weight. Most berries are low in calories and high in nutrients and fiber, making them filling — raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, just to name a few. That’s how they might help promote weight loss, Gans says. Yes, acai berries are high in antioxidants, which may help flush unwanted fat from the body. Still, there’s no scientific proof that the acai berry, the main ingredient in the acai berry diet, has any special ability to help you lose weight, she says. “Losing weight requires a commitment to watching your diet and being active — not just eating acai berries,” warns Gans.
You also may see the oil of the acai berry listed as an ingredient in some beauty products such as body creams, shampoos, and conditioners. That’s because acai oil can be processed and stored without losing its antioxidant benefits. While a safe alternative, acai oils haven’t been found any more beneficial than other oils, says Gans.
Putting Acai in Perspective
Is there a downside to the acai berry? “When eaten in moderation, the acai berry is safe,” Gans says. However, people who have allergies to pollen or berries should avoid this fruit because it can trigger an allergic reaction. Also, Gans points out, if you enjoy the acai berry in drinks that contain a lot of sugar and calories or in fat-laden ice cream, consuming them could cause weight gain.
If you would like to add this tasty fruit to your diet, Gans recommends shopping for acai berries at local farmer’s markets or grocery stores that sell local produce. But if you can’t find them, remember that you can get the same health benefits from blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and raspberries — and you won’t have to pay exorbitant shipping charges. And, Gans adds, you can eat the other berries plain, without any added fat or calories.