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Acai: Weight Loss Wonder Fruit?

Can acai berries really help you lose weight? WebMD asked the experts.

Beware 'Free' Trials of Acai Weight Loss Products

Not only has acai not been proven to have the weight loss powers claimed in some of the ads, consumer groups warn that people who sign up for a "free" trial of acai diet products can get burned.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food and nutrition watchdog group, recently issued a warning that many companies offering free trials of acai diet products actually end up charging customers. Customers are asked to supply credit card information for shipping of the "free" sample, and some have immediately been hit with monthly charges of $80-$90.

The Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana offered a similar warning against online ads for acai weight loss products.

What Is the Acai Berry?

Grown in the Amazon River basin in Brazil, acai is a deep purple berry that tastes like a combination of wild berries and chocolate.

The berry's anthocyanin content gives it its rich purple color. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that may protect the body against cancer, inflammation, diabetes, aging, neurological diseases, and bacterial infections.  

A 4-ounce serving of pure acai contains about 100 calories, iron, calcium, fiber, vitamin A, and 6 grams of fat -- but because the berries do not transport well, most food products sold commercially use only a small amount of pure acai. Acai is available in capsules, powdered, as frozen pulp, and in bottled smoothies and other drinks.

If you're considering buying acai products, read the labels, because the drinks may contain lots of added sugars and calories. And, be prepared for sticker shock at the grocery store, as most acai products carry a hefty price.

"Products made from acai are expensive because 95% of the berry is seed, and only 5% is the skin used to make food and beverages," says Grotto.

Keep in mind that you can get similarly antioxidant-rich whole fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the cost of acai, and in their natural form (without extra sugar or calories). Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are more economical choices that deliver similar health benefits, says Grotto.

The Bottom Line on Acai and Weight Loss

The bottom line, experts say, is that acai can be part of a weight loss plan that includes a calorie-controlled diet, but by itself, it's just another fruit. If you really want to lose weight, experts say, choose an eating plan that you can stick with long-term, and be sure to get regular exercise.

If you're looking for a healthy diet with antioxidant benefits, Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer for the Cleveland Clinic, suggests the so-called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

"The DASH diet contains an abundance of richly colored, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables along with low-fat dairy, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, and lean meat that has been proven to promote weight loss and lower blood pressure," Roizen says.

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Reviewed on April 16, 2009

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