Dear Lucy: I’ve recently begun seeing lots of ads for acai berry supplements. Is this safe, and does it work? —Berry good?
Dear Berry: Lucy has also seen advertisements for this miracle berry from South America that promises to flatten stomachs, cure diabetes and cancer, and enhance sexual performance—all while making the pounds drop off like magic. Unfortunately, says MIT Medical nutritionist, Anna Jasonides, R.D., most of the claims made for this “super-food” are likely to fall squarely into the “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t” category.
There have been no controlled studies of the berry’s supposed benefits, Jasonides says, which should make one instantly suspicious of marketers’ claims. But this is not to say that acai berries have no potential benefits. “Like all fruits, acai berries have vitamins and antioxidants,” she notes, “but no more than most commercially available—and less expensive—fruit juices.” In fact, a 2008 UCLA comparison of antioxidant levels in 10 beverages ranked acai berry juice sixth, behind red pomegranate juice, Concord grape juice, blueberry juice, black cherry juice, and red wine.
“Regarding safety,” Jasonides continues, “taken as a juice beverage, it’s probably safe.” However, she notes, it’s likely to be mixed with other juices, so consumers should read labels carefully. And she warns against acai berry supplements sold as capsules, powders, or elixirs. “Products sold as supplements are not required to be tested for safety as drugs are,” she cautions. “Nor are they subject to the precise ingredient-listing requirements of foods.” Acai berry supplements may contain varying amounts of the berry, she says, and the berry extract is usually combined with something else that may produce unwanted side effects or actual harm.
Bottom line? “If you like acai berry juice, drink it,” Jasonides says, “But watch the calories—all fruit juices are relatively high in calories—and don’t expect any miracles.” And she adds, “If you magically lose weight, call me!” —Lucy