Health & Medicine

Acai 'super-fruit' not so great

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story was originally reported by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Marketers may claim that the acai berry can help you loose weight, look younger, feel healthier, and may even be able to cure cancer. Some call it a "super-fruit," now being harnessed by companies like Odwalla, Whole Foods and Jamba Juice. Many Brazilians living near the Amazon rainforest, where acai has been part of the diet for many years, are baffled by such claims.

"Acai to lose weight? No way," Gabriela Santana, a 20-year-old lawyer told The World. "If you drink or eat acai every week you'll end up gaining weight." Santana eats acai only once each month because it is so fattening.

"I eat a lot of acai after lifting weights because it's got a lot of calories and because I like the flavor," says 26-year-old Bruno Camozzata.

Acai took off in Brazil's larger cities after athletes discovered it. But in the impoverished Amazon, people depend on acai as a staple of their diet and they have for a long time. It is easy to eat acai there, because the berry grows wild along the Amazon River.

That association with the Amazon may be one of the reasons the berry is taking off in the rest of the world. "It is from the Amazon and it's exotic and it carries these really strong nutritional properties to it," Ryan Black co-founder of the American acai company Sambazon, told The World. "Unfortunately that has been sort of hijacked. Acai has nothing to do with take a pill and you're going to sit on the couch and lose weight. It's a whole food found in nature."

In fact, scientists believe the jury is still out on acai. Dr. John Swarzberg, head of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, told The World, "There's not a lot of real hard science in terms of what the properties of this berry are." He says acai berries do have antioxidants and fiber, and they do have a lot of calories, but his advice to those interested is:

Ignore those ads and ignore any of the hype. Try acai, and if you like it, fabulous. And that's the criteria I'd use.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."