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Berry, Berry Good?

Acai juice may not be as beneficial as we’ve been led to believe

One of the latest “superfoods” to flood the market is known as the acai berry (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”). Celebrity types touting its many miraculous properties include Dr. Nicholas Perricone and Dr. Mehmet Oz, on Oprah. With such impressive endorsements, it’s hard to believe there would not be some truth to the numerous claims. Clever companies are cashing in on this latest craze, so consumers need to be diligent, do their research and pay attention to what they are purchasing.

The acai berry contains concentrated amounts of antioxidants and phytosterols. Manufacturers purport that its many benefits include boosting the immune system; increasing energy levels; fighting cancer and disease; aiding in weight loss by revving the metabolism; improving digestion; decreasing inflammation, maintaining good cholesterol levels; combating premature aging; and removing toxins from the body.

The acai berry is a small blueberry-size fruit that grows in the Amazon rain forest of Brazil. It is very perishable and will spoil within a day of being picked. The whole berry can be freeze-dried to preserve freshness and can be manufactured into products like juices, pills and powders.

There are many tangible benefits from this fruit, but choose carefully when selecting acai products. The juices are generally quite concentrated and are usually mixed with other fruit juices to improve taste. The juices are not pure acai berry, but a blend of juices often sold at a high price (about $40 per bottle). There may not be any additional benefits from drinking this juice as opposed to drinking cranberry, blueberry or cherry juices, all of which provide antioxidants and similar health benefits. The acai berry has been rated for its antioxidant properties on a scale known as the ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity). The freeze-dried form of the acai rates highest on this scale. However, the rating of any freeze-dried product typically produces an artificial result due to the lack of water content. The ORAC score for the actual berry in its natural form falls below blueberries and raspberries.

There are some acai supplements on the market that are better than others. Consumers should check to see that the product has been tested and contains the purest form of acai berry, derived from the pulp and skin of the berry.

Bottom line: Acai berries do provide essential nutrients that can promote good health. However, there is not significant evidence that proves this fruit more beneficial than similar berries, many of which are more accessible, plentiful and less expensive. If you are watching your budget along with your waistlines (like many of us), stock up on a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables at your local grocer or farmers’ market. Remember, simply drinking this juice is not the cure-all to an otherwise unhealthy diet. Unfortunately there isn’t one magical food or pill that cures everything that ails you!

Super Smoothie

This is my favorite, healthy smoothie (meal in one) that includes
protein, carbs, fiber, and an unsaturated source of fat.

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries and strawberries                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1 scoop whey protein powder
1 tsp. ground flaxseed
Approximately 1 cup soymilk or low-fat milk
Ice as needed
Can add a dab of vanilla extract for sweetness