The acai berry. You’ve probably heard of it. But what is it? What does it do? And is it a weight-loss wonder, as some people claim?

The purple acai berry (pronounced ah-sah-YEE) is one of a number of berries from the Amazon that recently have become popular outside of South America. Many claims are being made about the acai berry; some of them are true, others not.

Acai Berry: A Healthy Choice?

The acai berry, like other similar berries, has been found to have certain health benefits. “At least a dozen articles in the conventional medical literature talk about the valuable effects of the berry,” says Valencia Porter, MD, director of women’s health at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Calif.

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From a nutritional point of view, the acai berry delivers on two important fronts:

  • Beneficial antioxidant effects. The acai berry contains antioxidants, substances that fight harmful molecules, known as free radicals. Too many free radicals can cause damage to human tissues and lead to a wide variety of medical disorders, including heart disease.The acai berry’s deep purple pigment is responsible for its antioxidant benefits, which are similar to those in other dark berries, such as blueberries and blackberries. The pigment contains anthocyanins (pronounced anth-oh-SIGH-a-nins), a powerful class of phytonutrients — nutritious components of plants — that serve as antioxidants. Foods that contain anthocyanins have strong red, blue, or purple colors.

    The strength of the antioxidant effects in various foods is measured by the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) test. The higher the ORAC score, the stronger the antioxidant effect. “The acai berry scores quite high,” Dr. Porter says.

    It should be noted, however, that in a recent study evaluating the antioxidant effects of certain juices, pomegranate juice, red wine, Concord grape juice, and blueberry juice scored higher, in that order, than acai berry juice.

  • Anti-inflammatory properties. Another advantage of the acai berry is its anti-inflammatory effect. As the name suggests, anti-inflammatories fight inflammation, which has been linked to a number of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. “Many of the over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs work on the same pathway as the acai berry,” Porter notes.

Acai Berry: What About Weight Loss?

On the other hand, the claim that the acai berry is good for weight loss seems to be groundless. “There is no literature in the scientific journals about weight loss and the acai berry,” Porter says. That part of the acai berry story appears to be just another diet scam.

Beyond just the lack of weight-loss stimulus, a recent statement by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a watchdog group, warned consumers not to sign up for free trials of acai diet products online because of complaints about unauthorized credit card charges after the trial is over.

Related: Superfoods For Super Health

Acai Berry: What’s the Bottom Line?

Despite not being a weight-loss miracle, the acai berry, as well as blueberries, blackberries, and other colorful fruits, is good to include in any diet. “ I always advise my patients to get a broad range of color in their diet,” Porter says, “and that dark purple pigment has so many positive health benefits — I tell my patients to ‘eat a rainbow’ because each of the colors of the rainbow has a wide variety of nutrients that provide different health benefits.”