For the last few years, everywhere you turn, you see products containing the acai (ah-SIGH-ee) berry, a fruit harvested from a type of palm tree common in the rainforests of Brazil. It’s in supplement form…in juices… smoothies…soft drinks…and even ice cream. This purple berry, slightly larger than a blueberry, is an antioxidant powerhouse. Products with acai berry claim to promote weight loss, increase energy, reduce cholesterol, lessen the effects of aging and more. What many people want to know: Is the acai berry more healthful than other berries? And what, exactly, can it do for you? Our editors asked Dr. Mark Stengler, founder and medical director of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas, California, what he thinks about the acai berry. Here’s what he had to say…
ABOUT THE BERRY
Acai berries spoil quickly and are best used right after picking. For this reason, they generally are available outside Brazil only as juice or in a powder, capsule or frozen pulp form, not as a fresh berry.
An acai berry’s antioxidant content is higher than that of other fruits, such as cranberries and blueberries. The berries’ powerful phytonutrients protect our cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. This is due in large part to a high level of anthocyanins, flavonoid pigments found in red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables, including raspberries, purple grapes and beets. Acai berries also may provide anticancer effects. A preliminary study at a University of Florida laboratory found that various strengths of acai berry extract killed leukemia cells, although this has not been shown in human studies.
IS IT WORTH IT?
While the acai berry has great antioxidant capabilities and anti-inflammatory effects, there isn’t enough of the berry in many of the products marketed in the US to produce these benefits. Much of the commercial processing that takes place dilutes the berry’s nutritional content. In addition, there are no reliable human studies on products that contain acai berry to substantiate manufacturers’ claims for weight loss, lowering cholesterol and preventing disease.
Acai berry is certainly not the only way to get antioxidants. They are costly. It can cost $35 for 32 ounces of organic acai juice. You can get antioxidants in a more cost-effective way by eating blueberries and/or raspberries. But acai berry is popular, and some people might buy it regardless of its price.
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