Acai – Amazon Wonder Berry or Just Another Craze?

Harvesting the acai berry. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

If you listen to the hype, you may begin to think that the acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE) berry is the wonder food for everything that could possibly ail you. The ads are all over the Internet, in magazines, on television. They lure you in with questionable (if not outright fabricated) celebrity endorsements, “free” sample offers, and broad claims of almost mythical proportions.

Although acai is most commonly advertised as a weight-loss product, marketers also claim that it provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiber content, high antioxidant content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels.

The acai berry has been touted as one of the most highly beneficial dietary supplements on the market. And WalletPop named it the #1 hottest product of 2008, after marketers dubbed the berry a “super food.”

But despite all the hype, groups are challenging acai’s health and weight-loss claims, and warning consumers to beware of acai berry scams. With so much conflicting information, it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction.

What It Is

The acai berry grows in Central and South America on eight different varieties of palm trees, primarily in swamps and floodplains — areas with heavy rainfall or standing water. The berries are small, round and black-purple in color. You might find them similar in appearance to a blueberry, but with a large, inedible seed in the center. Acai palm trees are tall and slender, reaching between 50 to 100 feet. Due to recent demand for their berries, acai palm trees are currently cultivated primarily for their fruit; but their fronds can also be made into hats, mats, baskets, and brooms.

Unripened acai berries and acai palm fronds. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Unripened acai berries and acai palm fronds. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Acai is commercially available in a number of forms, including juice, pulp, powder, and capsules. It has been marketed as an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and an antibacterial. It’s also said to contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to human health.

Acai’s other chemical contents are impressive, too:

  • A concentration of 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes, and 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine, which helps combat premature aging
  • Monounsaturated (healthy) fats, dietary fiber, and phytosterols to help promote cardiovascular and digestive health
  • Anthocyanins and flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent free radicals from forming in the body and starting chain reactions that damage cells
  • Amino acids and trace minerals that are vital to proper muscle contraction and regeneration

Amazon Wonder Berry?

Although some people say they have more energy and feel healthier after taking acai dietary supplements, these claims are not supported by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the medical community does agree that — like the cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry — the acai berry, carries antioxidants.

Acai berries can be blended and mixed with granola. Photo: iStockphoto/Brasil2

Claims of weight loss from acai are unfounded, however, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that acai pills will help shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colons, enhance sexual desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions,” according to a press release from CSPI.

Kristina Conner, a licensed naturopathic physician and Assistant Professor of Naturopathic Medicine at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois, said naturopaths sometimes work with the acai berry, because it is a natural substance. But she agrees that the berry is not a one-stop, quick fix for weight loss or any of the other ailments the companies are claiming the berry can improve.

“It is important to address lifestyle things first. So supplements including something like the acai would be considered beneficial on top of making healthy lifestyle changes — like a good diet, sleep, exercise, all of that stuff. Relying on just one agent like [the acai berry], no matter what it is, is not the wisest course. If you look at things like weight loss or cardiovascular disease, it is never one cause, so it should never be one fix,” Conner said.

According to Conner, the acai berry is a reasonable alternative to drinking red wine, because the two products are both preventive substances. Because many people do not incorporate the acai berry into their normal diets, some people can see positive results where others may not.

“There is probably going to be a percentage of people who do [an acai] diet and are going to respond really well to it, but then there is a larger percentage who probably aren’t. They need to make sure they are not throwing out common sense when they try a new diet or a new product,” Conner said.

A Pricey Alternative

Mark Stibich, a physician specializing in health behavior, has expressed concerns about the sudden and tremendous fame of the acai berry. “A week’s supply of acai berry juice will cost you about $40 (over $2,000 a year). For that much money, there are a lot of more proven things you can do to increase your health.” Yet Stibich said that the fruit did hold at least some promise, commenting, “It is true that the acai berry has about 10 times the antioxidants of grapes and twice the antioxidants of blueberries, but that’s not enough nutritional punch for all the claims.”

Even nutritionists are weary of the numerous health benefit claims associated with the acai berry. I spoke with 10 nutritionists and dieticians, all of whom said they were unfamiliar with the real benefits of the acai berry. None said they would recommend any acai products until they themselves became more familiar with the fruit.

Cancer Fighters?

Although other research studies are reportedly in progress, a recent study by the University of Florida is the only research that has been completed to investigate the benefits of the acai berry. Researchers at the University of Florida found that in a laboratory setting, acai berry extract caused a significant decrease in cultured cancer cells. During the testing, various concentrations of acai extract were applied to the cells. After a period of 24 hours, the results varied from 35 percent to 86 percent of the cancer cells dying. The acai berry stands up well in a lab setting, but this claim has yet to be tested and proven in humans.

“A lot of claims are being made, but most of them haven’t been tested scientifically,” Assistant Professor at the University of Florida Stephen Talcott said in a press release. “We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects.”

The acai berry has just recently become popular, so not all of the claims have been researched. But with time, Talcott said that more nutritional information will be revealed.

“One reason so little is known about acai berries is that they’re perishable and are traditionally used immediately after picking. Products made with processed acai berries have only been available for about five years, so researchers in many parts of the world have had little or no opportunity to study them,” Talcott said.

Beware of Scams

Since the berry’s popularity has exploded in the past few months, offers for free acai berry trials are becoming ubiquitous online.

But remember how your parents told you, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? That warning is certainly applicable to any company claiming it will send you acai products for free. Free trial offers for acai berry supplements are rarely — if ever — free.

The CSPI and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said companies offering free trials of diet pills made with the acai berries have tricked thousands of consumers using fake celebrity endorsements and blogs to lure customers into buying the acai products.

According to the Better Business Bureau, FWM Laboratories, Advanced Wellness Research, AcaiBurn, FX Supplements, and SFL Nutrition all received an F rating, which is the BBB’s lowest rating. The BBB evaluates companies on numerous categories before assigning a grade, such as the number of customer complaints and a company’s ability to adequately resolve issues.

Purchasing acai products like this sauce can be pricey. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Purchasing acai products like this sauce can be pricey. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Central Coast Nutraceuticals, FX Supplements, FWM Laboratories and Advanced Wellness Research are just some of the businesses accused of scamming customers into accepting “free” trials. These companies reportedly hook consumers by advertising a “free” bottle of acai pills, for example, and by claiming that the customer only has to pay for shipping and handling. Many customers neglect to read the terms and conditions pages, which often specify that the total price for the bottle of pills will be charged to the credit card used to pay the shipping and handling fee. Often, the companies will sign consumers up for a monthly subscription of the product and charge them for more bottles of the pills that the customers unwittingly “consented” to receiving each month when agreeing with the fine print. Each of these bottles costs approximately $80 and will be billed to a credit card every month until the customer calls and cancels the subscription.

I signed up for a “free” trial of Acai Berry Edge in order to test the scam claims. For this product, the terms and conditions specified that the customer would “Get two bottles of Acai Berry Edge free for 21 days during the trial period. You invest $3.97 s&h today then $39.95 per bottle at day 21 only if you are satisfied.” I sent both bottles back within the 21 day time frame, yet was still charged $79.90. Upon calling the company, a representative said that they had not received the bottles. Yet I intentionally sent the bottles back with a delivery confirmation receipt from the U.S. Postal Service. With the delivery confirmation number, the representatives could not dispute that the bottles had been returned. Even if you do read the fine print and return the bottles, make sure to send the product back with a confirmation number from the postal service or an express carrier. Those few extra quarters could end up saving you $80 — or more — in the long run.

Connor said people can ask the company for objective information about the product or studies published about the product to determine whether or not any health claims made about products are true. She also recommended asking a health care practitioner who knows about natural products and cautioned consumers to always be skeptical.

“If people find that it is one company offering a particular type of product no one else offers, or if it seems very expensive — more expensive than other products on the market that are like it — that always raises my suspicion level,” she said.

The Jury’s Still Out

Much is still unknown about the acai berry. And, with studies still in progress, health care professionals are understandably cautious about judging the berry’s merits as a “super food.” Nutritionists say that, for most people, taking moderate amounts of acai supplements won’t negatively impact your physical health. But it just might hurt the health of your wallet.

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Green Living Tip – Don’t Store It, Sell It

I’ve learned a lot from 30+ years of being a waste stream management consultant.

We all have stuff, most of us have clutter. Whether it is in our home or at work, things slowly appear around us, filling the open spaces. It’s a mysterious wind that blows chaos into our lives, like snow drifting in around our feet. It leaves us wondering, Where did all this crap come from?

Is your desk an archaeological adventure?

Is your desk an archaeological adventure?

At work, we create a thing I call “cold clutter.” Our clean, organized, work surfaces, like our desks or workbenches, become covered by the day’s business. Then, because time is short, we create another archaeological layer of the next day’s work on top of the previous one. And so on, and so on. It’s like this paper creature multiplies by itself, asexually. At some point, we open our eyes and realize we have lost control of our desks. Like a scene from cheap monster movie, “It’s alive!”

We do the same thing at home. But here, we keep the “warm clutter,” the things we’re emotionally attached to. If we tend to be insecure, we keep everything. We love stuff. In return, it accepts us, unconditionally. It doesn’t talk back. It’s non-confrontational. It’s dependable, always there when we need it. Our clutter becomes an extension of ourselves.

We Help You Clean Up Your Act

As an energy and waste stream consultant, I enter homes, businesses, and factories that are stifled almost to a halt by stuff.  I see the investment that has been made to buy it, and the lack of investment in controlling it. Storerooms and closets are so full, no one knows what’s in there. No one can find it. No one can get to it.

So, we invest in buying more. We over-buy. We waste more energy. We waste more space. We waste more resources. The equipment in our storerooms has to be heated and cooled. We move a hundred things to get one thing out. We buy containers to put stuff in. We move stuff from one container or shelf to another, handling each piece over and over again. Every time something is moved, it risks getting damaged. We inventory it. We keep it on the books, filling computer space and ledger entries. We hire more people to manage the tonnage, or the data, or we rent more space to store more stuff. We spend money to waste money.

Even kids have too much stuff.

Even kids have too much stuff. Time for an intervention!

So, what do you do when you have to walk sideways down corridors of stuff packed to the ceiling in your home or business? (If you haven’t seen it, trust me; it happens.) That’s when families and CEOs call me. By the time I get involved, things are usually out of control. It’s time for an intervention. When you wait this long, it costs a lot more than if you had just controlled everything from the start. By this time, most of what you have stored is no longer an asset, it’s a liability. Adding up all the costs through the life of a single stored item, you easily may have spent ten times your original investment.

A common practice of old school management was to just “dump it all,” and start over. Managers who practice this autocratic “flushing the toilet” mentality should be flushed as well. Nothing should be thrown away. Dumping does not correct the problem, it makes the problem worse. Every item I pull out of storage needs to be evaluated to see if it is recyclable, reusable, or resalable. Every electronic item needs to have its memory erased, and every item needs to be evaluated for toxicity. “Dumping” places your company at a huge liability risk.

Avoid the Landfill Like the Plague

The key term here is “Landfill Avoidance.” Someday, it will be the responsibility of every manufacturer to take back everything it produces once the buyer is done with it. This will force designers to create simple, cost effective ways to separate materials for recycling. If a manufacturer is forced to handle everything they build from “cradle to cradle,” less oil will be needed, less ore will be mined. And we’ll be that much closer to achieving sustainability.

Until then, it is our responsibility. We buyers have to make sure items get to licensed de-manufacturers, that everything gets reused, and nothing, or very little, goes to the landfill. It’s not just because the landfills are filing up; it’s not just because using raw materials produces much more carbon dioxide; it is simply because our planet is running out of resources.

At home, it’s the responsibility of every shopper to evaluate the full life of what you buy. How am I going to recycle this when I am done with it? How many years will I be able to use this? Should I buy cheap or spend more and have it last longer? Or better yet, can I do without this item all together? Essentially, stop buying so much crap. One good thing about this new failing economy is that it is making us all live more simply. You can stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. The Jones are unemployed too. The old adage, “Shop till you drop” is reserved for executives at AIG.

Imagine what it takes in energy and materials to produce something. I apologize that I cannot find the reference source of something I recently read. It stated that it takes 2,000 times the volume, in weight and mass, in resources, to make a single car. And that over the life of that car, it will take 4,000 times its volume in weight and mass to operate it. Remember, everything you buy exponentially takes away from the earth.

This is most true of businesses. The purchasing agent for your business should begin requesting “End Cycle” terms in the purchase contracts for everything you buy. More and more producers are going in that direction. Dell, Apple and IBM will all be offering return programs for their computers next year. When I approach a business, I suggest that the Inventory Specialist keep a running tally of the resale values of every item their company is depreciating on its books. This can be done in a few seconds by going to eBay.

Don't forget to calculate the cost of retrieving the stuff from storage. Photo: Joe Hennager

Don't forget to calculate the cost of retrieving the stuff from storage. Photo: Joe Hennager

Most accounting formulas do not take into account that electronic, medical and research equipment is outdated almost the day you buy it. If your business is, say a hospital, and you are required to use only the most up-to-date medical and research equipment, you need to have a full-time staff person checking the daily resale values of that equipment. Three of my rules are: “Buy Quality,” “Sell before it costs,” and “Never store electronic equipment.”

The only products that an average business office should store are toilet paper and typing paper (and maybe some janitorial equipment). Space is too expensive to waste on anything else. “People space” is more valuable than storage space. And data should not be stored on paper, it should be stored digitally.

This also means businesses should look seriously at what they are storing. Today, “Out of Sight, Out of mind,” means “Money Out of Pocket.” I inevitably run into managers who say, “Don’t sell that, I might need it.” I ask them how many dollars could be made from that same square footage if it were put into production.

A few years ago, the rule of thumb in storage was, “If you haven’t used it for a year, get rid of it.” Today, if you wait a year before you sell it, it may not have any value at all and may even cost you to get rid of it. I’ve recently consulted with manufacturers who were still storing equipment from the 1980s. Because they didn’t sell valuable equipment while it still had value, and because they kept equipment “they might need someday,” some of that equipment became too costly to get rid of. They stored their businesses almost into bankruptcy.

Evaluate Your Options

If you haven't used it in more than a year, get rid of it. Photo: Joe Hennager

Warehousing unused equipment is a waste of money. Photo: Joe Hennager

With the economy the way it is, no home, business, or factory can afford to waste a thing, especially space. At your home, sell or recycle what you have not used or worn for a year. Yes, you have to pull everything out of your closets and separate the things you know you can live without. But nothing gets dumped. Take good clothing to resellers. Have a yard sale. What you can’t sell, give away on Freecycle or  the charity of your choice. If nobody wants it, put it on the curb with a $100.00 sign on it; odds are, it will disappear. If you haven’t waited too long, the ratio of what’s resaleable-to-reusable-to-trash should be 50-45-5%.

At your business, evaluate the resale value of electronic equipment every six months. Evaluate desks and furniture every year, and manufacturing equipment every two years. Go to e-Bay and see how much those things are selling for. Check out LabX for scientific equipment. If the cash gained from selling your stored inventory will help you buy something you actually need, you’ve gained twofold.

If you’re storing enough to fill a room, check the cost per square foot for the space you are using against the cost of a storage facility. If you really need to keep that stuff, a storage facility is likely to be less expensive than the prime business space the stuff occupies now. But don’t forget to add the cost of moving and retrieval. In general, storage facilities are a money drain. It’s almost always more cost effective to sell what you are storing. Capitalize your unused equipment; don’t store it.

During hard times, people tend to hoard. It’s a security thing. But, this is also the time when people are looking for bargains. New stuff isn’t selling. Used stuff is. This is the time to stay very aware of what you have, what you need to keep, and what you can liquidate. Every dollar counts. Live lighter. Clean out your your closets and your storerooms. Shop conservatively, and sell wisely.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint

Roothaan demonstrates that reducing your footprint can be as easy as composting leftovers from a backyard barbecue. Photo: Courtesy Susan Roothaan

Roothaan demonstrates that reducing your footprint can be as easy as composting leftovers from a backyard barbecue. Photo: Courtesy Susan Roothaan

Of the three terms most associated with environmentalism at the consumer level — Rethink, Reuse, Recycle — the first one is probably the most overlooked. Yet, according to Susan Roothaan, founder and executive director of A Nurtured World, rethinking how we spend our money can have a huge impact on the environment. It can also increase our quality of life.

It might be surprising to learn how easily the average person in an industrialized nation can make changes to reduce our carbon footprints. Want to learn how to reduce yours? Roothaan’s workshop teaches how to improve your quality of life and save money all while reducing your impact on the planet.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) talked with Roothaan from her home office in Austin, Texas, and later met her at the Bears/Packers tailgate I wrote about yesterday (see Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose). What follows is part one of a two-part series. — Publisher


BPGL: Your environmental work combines ecology and economy. How did you get interested in the combination of the two?

ROOTHAAN: For 20 years, I worked to help businesses, industries, and the military reduce their waste output. They call it “pollution prevention.” You’re reducing something at its source versus cleaning up at the end. This is also being a good businessperson.

So I did a lot of thinking about how this would apply to the consumer sector. When I first started this nonprofit, consumer environmentalism was in its infancy. I realized that the model of environmentalism for the consumer is that it’s saving money. Most people think it’s just going and buying a more expensive product [to reduce energy use]. But if you’re really going to be green, it’s about being frugal — how to get more fulfillment out of fewer resources and less waste.

Then I started to think about what was the mission, or product, of an individual. One of the things we do — and this is what started A Nurtured World — we developed a workshop that caused people to fundamentally change their behavior. It caused them to look at what’s important to them, as well as how they’re spending their money.

BPGL: What do participants learn in your workshops?

ROOTHAAN: In the workshops, we teach that the top three consumer impacts on the environment are transportation, food consumption, and home energy use. If you’re going to change your behavior, it’s good to know what the big impacts are. And, according to the US Consumer Bureau Statistics, the top areas of spending are transportation, home, and eating. So, if you want to protect the environment, then be cheap.

Workshop participants checking in.

Workshop participants checking in.

We partnered with the military and gave a series of three workshops at Fort Hood with the soldiers and their spouses. Most of the people were not environmentalists, but it was really great. We measured the results of our workshop, and the average participant is saving $1,500 per year.

On average, Americans produce about 20 tons of carbon per person per year. If you remember, a couple years ago, Sting did a concert to raise awareness and tried to get everyone to reduce their carbon footprints by a ton and a half a year. Our workshop participants each reduced their footprint by two tons per year.

BPGL: How do you get people to make such a big shift in behavior?

ROOTHAAN: A lot of the footprint reduction we see is the result of being more conscious about what you’re choosing to do and asking if it’s leading to what you really want in life. It’s all about cost vs. payoff. We look at what’s important to them. Mostly we hear them say family and religion, God, and faith. These are two areas that are really important to people.

We get them to look at how they spend their money. A lot of spending is not done consciously. We work with people to let go of things that don’t lead to fulfillment.

It’s moving to me to see the results some of these people make. I’ve heard comments like, “I’m saving $50 a month now, and I wasn’t saving anything before.” That kind of money makes a difference to soldiers. Another attendee remarked, “Things are much more harmonious [in my home].” She indicated that her family was finally paying off debt and had money now for family vacations.

We didn’t start with the intention to help people save money, but that really is very meaningful for people on a day-to-day basis.

BPGL: That’s interesting, to approach environmentalism through personal finances. It sounds like a very positive way to make behavioral change.

ROOTHAAN: In 2002, when I started this, we hadn’t had [Hurricane] Katrina or Al Gore’s movie. Now the consciousness is changing; people really care about the environment. But they were always pushed back by [environmental leaders] saying, “You’re bad and wrong.” There was not a lot of space for someone who had never done anything to start doing something about the environment. People may not know what to do, but the desire to do something is really strong.

Roothaan asks participants to consider their purpose, then make changes accordingly.

Roothaan asks participants to consider their purpose, then make changes accordingly.

BPGL: So, your approach requires people to look at the way they spend money. Anything else?

ROOTHAAN: We’re hitting on three things: commitment to the environment, saving money, and having a life that’s more fulfilling. Different people are motivated by different things. If we’re teaching a higher-income person, money may not be their motivation. Their motivation might be that they want to leave a better place for their kids. Or they may decide that harming the environment is inconsistent with their faith.

BPGL: Recently, we ran an article about Rays of Hope (see Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity), which is one of the projects under the umbrella of A Nurtured World. How does the Rays of Hope project tie in with your workshops?

ROOTHAAN: In Rays of Hope, we upgrade low-income homes. What we’ve done is to take ideas from the workshop and build them into the retrofit. We’re not doing just a physical retrofit, but also teaching the homeowners to make behavioral changes with information from our workshop.

My interest is in shifting behavior for all people in a way that gives them great lives. Months to years after the workshop, some of the participants have told me, “I’m spending more time with my family than I did before.” Because they’ve got their money under control, they now have more time for what matters to them.

In some cases, they realize that instead of spending their time working for the money to acquire things, then spending time maintaining those things, they’re now spending time “being” with their family. It could be that, through the workshop, they got clear on what’s most important to them: their family, not their stuff.

Part 1: Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint (Top of Page)
Part 2: Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century