There is truly no scientific evidence that açai berries carry a secret or miraculous super-power over and above that of other deep colored fresh fruit grown in America. However, the acai berry business is booming thanks to the outlandish advertisements and media hype which claim that the berry aids weight loss, improves sex life, cures baldness, and helps detoxification. For the record, açai berries don’t correct baldness (anyway, who said there was something “wrong” with baldness in the first place?) Registered Dietitian Janet Helm wrote a poignant piece called the “Dirty Dealings of a Brazilian Berry” which helped expose the açai berry scam. Helm’s conclusions were echoed by the American Dietetic Association, and the Better Business Bureau, both of whom spoke out with a cautionary message of the like.
Açai berries are cultivated in the Amazon region of Central and South America. They are round, grape-sized, deep purple berries that are made into juice, eaten raw or dried, and added to other foods and drinks as a colorant. Like most other fruit, they contain vitamins and phytonutrients, like polyphenols and anthocyanins. Açai berries also contain 2-4% protein and 6-12% fats (including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids), depending on the form (juice is lower in both, while the pulp contains more). However, limited research on the nutrient content of açai berries leaves most experts skeptical, particularly those perishable berries that have been processed, pasteurized and traveled long distances to U.S. markets rather than being consumed immediately upon picking.
The good thing is that as far as we can tell, açai berries are not dangerous to your health. They still contain powerful antioxidants, namely vitamins A, C, and E, which may boost immune response, reduce inflammation, and may counteract carcinogens (cancer-causing particles). They also contain other nutrients like thiamin, phosphorus, calcium, and iron, which are essential for basic bodily functions. Just think of them as part of a balanced diet; after all, they are berries.
For example, a study conducted at Ohio State University, showed that seven types of berries – including blueberries, raspberries, and açai berries – were highly, but equally, effective at increasing antioxidant action to protect against tumor growth. So why not eat local, farm-fresh blueberries or raspberries to fight cancer, instead of bank-breaking berries shipped from hundreds (or thousands) of miles away? Our advice: When in the Brazilian rainforest? Nosh on local açai berries. While at home? Stick to your local choices and you’ll save yourself a bundle. During the winter, frozen berries make a great stand-in for the fresh variety, and are terrific in smoothies or pancakes.