One of the newest health trends is to take dietary supplements made of acai berries. These supplements are commercially available in the form of tablets, drinks and whole fruit. Claims made by marketers of these supplements range from promoters who simply call attention to the antioxidants in the berries to those who claim that the berries can increase weight loss and help to detoxify the body.
Acai is the fruit of the acai palm, a family of palm trees that live in the swamps and floodplains of South America. The acai palm has been commercially used as a source for hearts of palm, which is treated as a vegetable in cooking. The leaves have been used to make mats, baskets, hats, brooms and roof thatching. The acai fruit composes approximately 40 percent of the diet of the native people of the Brazil and Amazon regions, as well as a dietary source for native livestock.
The acai berries are produced twice yearly on the acai palm in clusters that contain up to 900 berries. These berries are round and dark with a single seed, similar in texture to grapes, but produce less pulp. In Brazil, the berry has been commercially used as a flavor for soda and tapioca pudding as well as ice cream. Currently, some conservationists promote the use of acai berries to help slow the destruction of palm trees that comes with the harvesting of hearts of palm.
Thanks largely to the claims made by acai salesmen, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding acai berries. Some companies that market acai juice as a remedy have inflated the claims of the juice's abilities. Some companies that market the juice state that it can be used to help improve the appearance of the skin, as well as aid digestion, improve heart health and increase sexual function. According to the website Quackwatch, these claims have not been evaluated by the FDA. While acai berries do have antioxidants in them, there are more antioxidants in concord grapes and blueberries than in acai berries.
According to Susan Donaldson James of ABC News, even though acai berries have been used by many to lose weight, the salesmen promoting the juice has also used it for a more sinister purpose--to lighten the wallet. Donaldson James and thousands of consumers like her accepted a 14-day free trial of acai berry and in the process, unknowingly signed up for a number of unrelated fitness services that levied hidden charges.
Despite the hype, preliminary studies do state that acai berries have some beneficial effects. The berries have been mentioned by frequent Oprah Winfrey show guest Dr. Mehmet Oz, alongside fruits such as blueberries as an antioxidant-laden fruit. Beverage companies including Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are both adding the fruit to their beverage offerings, as is ice cream maker Haggen Daas and shampoo company, Herbal Essences.