Once upon a time, in the deep, remote areas of the Brazilian rain forest, grew a tree called the acai that caused fat to literally melt away in those who ate from its fruits. If this sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale for adults struggling with weight loss, that’s because it is. The truth about acai diet pills isn’t too pretty–nor is it likely to be encouraging to consumers who put their belief in this tiny purple berry that came to us from afar.
Marketing the Acai
A string of innocuous television mentions in early 2008 is responsible for acai berry diet supplements, says the Center for Science in Public Interest. Dr. Mehmet Oz mentioned the acai berry on Oprah’s talk show. A guest on Rachel Ray’s cooking show also made mention of an acai drink. A rash of Internet ads for acai berry diet supplements erupted on search engine results, social networking sites and even reputable news media sites, often linking the product to the names and likenesses of Winfrey, Oz and Ray. Phony blogs sprung up where faux “dieters” proclaimed the fat-melting magic of the acai.
Too Good to Be True
The low-down on acai berry supplements is that there’s no clinical evidence backing them up as a weight loss aid, according to the CSPI, which released a consumer warning in March 2009. It’s highly unlikely that acai berry supplements will get rid of your belly fat, cleanse your colon, increase your libido or give you energy. According to a statement on Winfrey’s website, “Neither Ms. Winfrey nor Dr. Oz has ever sponsored or endorsed any acai … dietary supplement product … It is our intention to put an end to these companies’ false claims and increasingly deceptive practices.” While acai diet products have no connection to weight loss, they are synonymous with two other words: Internet fraud.
Acai Berry Scams
In January 2009, the Better Business Bureau released an online statement warning consumers of shady Internet acai peddlers. At that time, the BBB had received “thousands” of consumer complaints from all over the country from people who signed up for a “free trial” only to discover that their credit card was charged month after month. According to the BBB, Internet marketing claims paid off: In 2008, sale of acai products shot up to $15 million from more modest sales figures in previous years. Complaints lodged with the Federal Trade Commission indicate that consumers were charged excessive shipping fees and were refused refunds after returning unordered products. Some had to cancel credit cards to avoid ongoing charges. Of acai berry diet pills, CSPI nutritionist David Schardt said, “If Bernard Madoff were in the food business, he’d be offering ‘free’ trials of açai-based weight-loss products.”
The Real Science
What we know about the acai berry is that it’s an antioxidant–but not one of the best given your other options, according to the CSPI. Other fruits are richer in antioxidants, namely Concord grapes, blueberries and cherries. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reports that the acai’s antioxidant properties have been studied largely in vitro (test tube), but not on people. No clinical trials have been conducted to see if acai berries have an effect on cancer, cholesterol or heart disease in humans. Nor is there evidence that antioxidants can help you lose weight, states the CSPI.
Yet More Acai
The acai’s reputation as a super food among hasn’t yet withered among true believers. The magical berry from Brazil continues to be blended into consumer beverages, made into nutritional supplements marketed by celebrity dermatologists and even whipped into niche brand face creams. In early 2010, medical experts were still being queried about the acai berry’s potential in the battle against the bulge. Dr. Melina Jampolis, CNN.com’s nutritional specialist states that antioxidants such as the acai may “combat the low-grade inflammation that is often associated with obesity, but they will not help you lose weight.” You’ll get the same results from other berries, she says, or consuming a diet rich in “deeply colored fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
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