You've likely seen ads touting acai berry as the miracle solution for weight loss and a plethora of other health conditions. Several physicians have discussed it on Oprah, including Dr. Nicholas Perricone, who says acai berry is a superfood that combats aging. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have added the fruit to some of their beverages, while Proctor & Gamble recently fused acai into its Herbal Essences hair-care line. Häagen-Dazs even sells an ice cream favor called Brazilian Acai Berry Sorbet. Acai, once unknown to the general public, is seemingly ubiquitous now -- but is it just another marketing fad or a genuine phenomenon?
Acai berry is a pitted fruit that grows on palm trees in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. It resembles a grape in size and appearance. The nutrients that are so highly touted are found in the skin and pulp (there isn't much of the latter); the seed isn't typically eaten. Acai berry is available to consumers in various forms, including capsules, juices and powders.
Experts seem to agree that the acai berry does indeed have a high nutritional value. Like most berries, acai is rich in antioxidants, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains phytochemicals and flavonoids, which may help prevent certain cancers.
But contrary to the aggressive marketing strategies that tout its amazing healing powers, the acai berry isn't a magic bullet. In March 2009, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a press release debunking many of the false health claims put forth by suppliers. "There is no competent scientific research that demonstrates any of the claimed effects of Acai berry, including weight loss, detoxification and increased energy and vitality," he says.
Consumers should not only be skeptical of health claims, they should be aware of credit card scams involving acai berry as well. Blumenthal and The Federal Trade Commission are currently investigating companies that have lured consumers with free trials of acai berry, and then made unauthorized charges to their credit cards.
The Better Business Bureau also issued a press release warning consumers to be wary of online retailers offering acai-related products. According to this press release, the BBB "has received thousands of complaints from consumers nationwide who thought they were signing up for a free-trial offer of acai berry weight loss products...; in the end, the free trial cost them, month after month."
For more information, see our report on Acai Berry Products.