Photo: FOODCOLLECTION / age fotostock
Perhaps you've noticed that the acai berry is suddenly everywhere -- as a juice, lurking in your tea, and hawked alongside your Facebook profile as weight-loss supplement. Who had even heard of this fruit ten years ago? And what is it, anyway?
Turns out the acai berry is a product of the acai palm tree, native to Central and South America and a close relative of the blueberry, cranberry, and other dark reddish/purplish fruits. As with those fruits, the acai berry is rich in anthocyanins and flavonoids -- both strong antioxidants that help your body fight against free radical damage, which is essentially what occurs on a cellular level when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. The theory goes that free radical damage can contribute to everything from minor complaints, like wrinkles, all the way up to major ones, like heart disease and cancer. And in the case of acai berries in particular, there's been a lot of hype around weight loss, resulting in numerous acai supplementation products hitting the market.
So, if acai berries have a lot of antioxidants, and antioxidants can potentially protect us from a variety of ills, then no wonder these little purple fruits have landed on superfood lists, right? The jury's still out, though, on whether a diet rich in acai berries will actually lead to real health benefits. Despite the fact that Oprah herself helped fuel the craze for acai, Dr. Mehmet Oz told ABC News that while the berries are indeed wonderful, they're "not better," necessarily, than any other powerful antioxidant. And while pricey, exotic acai berries are now included in the good doctor's "anti-aging checklist," the plain-old, supermarket-variety blueberry is on that list, too.
The take-home: If you like acai berries, there's certainly no harm in adding them to your diet, and possibly some benefit. But the hype is not yet backed up by scientific research, so buyer beware.