By this point, you’ve probably heard a lot about acai berries. They’ve been in the news a lot, are all over the Internet, and have even appeared on Oprah. However, some pretty fantastic claims are also being made for these berries. Can acai actually give you energy, improve sexual performance, and even help you lose weight or get over an illness? Let’s take a look at what an acai berry actually is, and the scientific evidence for and against these miracle claims.
These berries come from the acai palm, a tree-like grass native to Central and South America which grows in tropical climates. They get about fifteen to thirty meters tall, and have leaves up to three meters long. The plants grow quickly, and are farmed both for the berries and for palm hearts. The recent increase in demand means that more of these palms are being grown to supply it. Acai berries themselves are about the same size and look as a grape. However, there’s less pulp to them, and they grow in groups of seven to nine hundred at once. Each year, an acai palm produces two crops of fruit. There’s one large quarter to half inch seed inside each one.
Acai fruit have a deep purple or green skim and a thin pulp. The acai berry is mostly seed. It’s eaten by a number of peoples native to Brazil, including the Caboclo, whose diet is nearly half acai. It’s also used in smoothies, sodas, juice blends and other drinks, and may be served with tapioca in norther Brazil. It’s also a popular ice cream flavor. However, as tasty as acai may be, is it really the wonder fruit that people say it is?
Acai berries have recently been marketed as an extremely helpful supplement, and is sold powdered, as juice, in tablet form, and as whole fruit, as well as a number of other products. Marketers say that consumers of acai have higher energy levels, better digestion, more attractive skin, better sleep, lower cholesterol, and better sexual performance. The fruit is said to have many antioxidants and to be high in fiber. Some people even go to the extremes of saying that acai can reverse chronic illnesses like diabetes, increase penis size, and cause significant weight loss.
At this time, no controlled studies are available to back these claims up. The United States FDA has not yet evaluated the fruit, and its effectiveness is debatable, particularly in the cases of the most extreme claims. Currently, most research that does exist has been done on powdered freeze dried acai fruit skin and pulp.
One hundred grams of this extract contains over five hundred calories, thirty-two grams of fat, and fifty-two grams of carbohydrates, with around eight grams of protein. Forty-four grams of the acai carbohydrates in this powder were fiber. These freeze dried, powdered berries are around seven and a half percent amino acids, and contain a negligible amount of vitamin C, as well as some calcium, glutamic acid, iron, vitamin A and aspartic acid.
Antioxidant potency analysis of acai suggests it is intermediate, scoring below grapes, strawberries and mangoes. In juice form, it’s antioxidant capacity is equivalent to cranberry or black cherry, but lower than concord grape, blueberry, pomegranate and red wine.
So what’s that mean in regards to the effectiveness of acai berry as a supplement? The statistics tell us that while it’s a tasty exotic fruit (unless you live in South or Central America), it’s not really any more of a miracle than the average high-antioxidant food. It might not be a bad way to get your fruits, but you shouldn’t pay top dollar for it, expecting impressive cures or significant weight loss.