The Internet, TV and magazines continue to be awash with adverts and features about the so-called "superfood" of herbal supplements, acai berries. But there are so many myths and misinformation about acai berry pills and juices that it is important to distinguish the myths from the truth.
Here's a few facts that you may not know:
What are acai berries?
Quite simply, they are the deep purple-coloured, grape-like fruit of the Acai Palm, a species of palm native to Central and South America. They are packed full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids and a chemical called Anthocyanin. This is also the chemical in red wine, one reason why health experts suggest drinking red wine.
The health benefits of these berries have led to a recent explosion in the marketing of acai-based dietary supplements in the form of pills, capsules, tablets, juice, smoothies, yogurt and instant drink powders.
The health benefits of acai berries
The fruit is known to have a number of health-giving qualities, including:
1. a high concentration of antioxidants that help to fight premature aging. It is said to have 10 times the antioxidants that red grapes have, and as much as 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine. Anthocyanins are believed to help fight cancer, diabetes, and bacterial infection.
2. an amino acid complex and trace minerals that combine to help promote muscular health.
3. body-detoxing, pH balancing and energy-increasing qualities.
4. lots of monounsaturated fats, dietary fibre and phytosterols that combine to help cardiovascular and digestive health.
Acai berry scams
Unfortunately, the hype around this "superfood" has led to a host of scams being perpetrated - all in the name of making a fast buck. Here are the most common ones:
1. The health benefit claims: Despite the undoubted health-improving potential of the original fruit, manufacturers continue to make a number of unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of the acai berry products including false claims of the reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses and the increasing of sexual virility.
In addition, the wide range of products sold on the market all vary in the concentration of the active ingredients and the presence of (sometimes) a long list of other ingredients, so the effectiveness of many of these products is often questionable.
2. Free Acai Berry Pills: A number of websites have sprung up on the Internet offering free trials of Acai berry supplements for just a small charge to cover shipping and handling.
This sounds like a great idea, but read the small print! You may not realise it, but you may actually be signing up to continue receiving the product - at full price - on a ongoing basis. Many people have experienced difficulties in cancelling their credit card payments and have racked up hundreds of dollars worth of charges.
3. Acai Berry Pyramid Schemes: Although there are legitimate MLM schemes involving acai-based products, there are also a few that have become popular whilst peddling extremely expensive products and requiring new recruits to invest a lot of money upfront to get into the program - creating huge profits for the those at the top of the pyramid.
4. The celebrity endorsement: A common scam in the marketing of acai berry products is the "celebrity endorsement claim, often involving Oprah, Dr Oz and superstars such as Britney Spears. Many of these claims are bogus and Oprah Winfrey's company has filed lawsuits against acai supplement suppliers in a bid to put an end to these devious practices.
The Acai weight loss scam
Despite the undoubted health benefits of acai berries and the probable usefulness of some of the products manufactured using this fruit, there is one particular scam being perpetrated on desperate and vulnerable people that is creating millions of dollars of revenue for the manufacturers - and that is the weight loss scam.
There are many shelves full of expensive acai-based products that are being marketed as weight loss supplements. Whilst the high fibre composition of the fruit may help to curb appetite, the stark reality is that - up to July 2010 - there is no scientific evidence to prove that consumption of these products will affect body weight or promote weight loss.