Berry, Berry Everywhere

By Jenny Stamos, "Berry, Berry Everywhere ," June/July 2006

The açai makes the scene.

Direct from the Brazilian Amazon, dark purple açai berries (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) seem poised to be The Next Big Thing in health-food additives. Touted on Oprah, highlighted in The Wall Street Journal, the berries appear to possess all the right nutritional attributes: rich in anthocyanins and other antioxidants and even a bit of omega-6 fatty acids. Already, the juice, pulp and concentrated capsules are turning up in juice bars and health-food stores, as an extract or supplement.

But does it measure up to the hype?

“The açai berry is loaded with good things,” says Nicholas Perricone, M.D., adjunct professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. A well-known name in skin care, Perricone is also a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He lists the fruit, along with barley, hot peppers, nuts and seeds, as one of his “Top 10 Superfoods.” “It contains 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine, plus fiber, essential fatty acids and amino acids,” he says.

Chang Yong Lee, Ph.D., professor of food science and technology at Cornell University cautions that no human studies have been done on the berry, but Perricone, at least, believes “we can extrapolate from the data of what has been done” in laboratory test tubes. And the data, albeit limited, is impressive. In research from the University of Florida, anthocyanins and other antioxidants isolated from the berry were able to kill human leukemia cells.

Time—and more studies—will tell of course, but in the meantime fans of the rain-forest berry say it’s already got a head start; its taste is generally described as “berry, with a hint of chocolate.” Sounds more tempting than, say, wheatgrass.

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