by Marion Nestle
Mar 25 2009

What do I think of Açaí?

I’m often asked about Açaí, the latest miracle fruit that is supposed to cure whatever ails you.

If this is a miracle, it’s one that must be enjoyed by the company that makes MonaVie brand Açaí, which sells for about $40 a bottle.  I had heard about Açaí and was not overly impressed.  But then I got an e-mail from a MonaVie enthsiast who was so convinced of its benefits that he sent me the research.

Here’s one of the studies. It looks formidible but its conclusions are simple.  In translation: MonaVie contains antioxidants.  The antioxidants in MonaVie act like antioxidants in the test tube and in the body, and they work better than potato starch, which has no antioxidants. Why am I not surprised? This is a study sponsored by the manufacturer.

You can read about this study and the rest of fuss over this juice in the March 12 New York Times. It’s in the Style Section (where else?).  The bottom line: all juices have antioxidants and most are a lot cheaper than MonaVie.

As for weight-loss claims: This month’s Nutrition Action Healthletter explains how to analyze Internet advertising, using Açaí as an example of truth-bending.

  • Foodaroo

    Take a look at the compensation plan on the MonaVie site. It’s another pyramid scheme. Acai berries do not contain anymore antioxidants than pomegrantes, so why pay $40?

  • Jon

    Blueberries are also a good source of antioxidants, and locally available.

  • I agree completely. I’m really tired of hearing about “super foods” and their benefits when it is mostly a marketing hype to make money.

    I actually wrote about this situation on my blog after I read an article about Baobab which will probably be the next “super food.” I wish more folks would just eat more of the healthy whole foods around them, much better than eating garbage and then paying huge sums for an over-hyped super food to balance the scale.

  • Daniel Ithaca, NY

    Why does it have to be so complex? Nutritionism. I’m sure the acai is a healthy food and all, but is it magic? are they willing to invest $40/month/person for a juice?

    We could just consume a variety of fruits and vegetables–instead of looking for the exotic berry/supplement extract that will save us–allowing us to continue our Standard American Diets.

    Blueberries: $0.13 per ounce ($1.99 1-lb bag, frozen, no sugar added)
    Acai: $1.20 per ounce ($38.00 32oz bottle with +S&H ~$7 = $1.40/oz )

  • Oh, everyone just wants something fantastical. The benefits of an orange are just not as interesting. Somewhere along the lines Americans were taught that food should bring them constant amazement.

  • Alexander

    I paid $35 membership fee to get discounts of $25 a bottle for this drink. So me and my kids drink 4 bottles a month. Am I a fool? Maybe, but I will be the first to drink something else that is comparible and less expensive. I think because this company uses a stupid MLM to sell it creates a lot of doubt.
    I have tried all the Acai products at Whole foods and Vitamin Shoppe.
    Let me know what drink is better.
    Monavie just seems like a good drink that my kids can Quickly drink with out a fuss. It does taste good.
    No…I do not sell this Monavie. But you can find some Monavie dope to give you a free bottle to try.

    For Daniel in NY… The Acai is a “superfood” idiot. That means I do not have to grab 20 different items. It is like the “ensure” drink for
    old people.

  • Aliza

    Thank you for posting this! I think the main problem is the extent of the hype with acai, and that for some reason people are believing it, even after all these years of diet fads. I was at a “vegeterian festival” a few months ago, where a vendor who was giving out acai samples was claiming that it cures everything, that people don’t need medical treatment for conditions as serious as cancer, and she *swore* that the acai was what saved all of these people she knew, spoken with the tone of medical expertise. I had to drag myself away from the table to prevent myself from yelling things like “double-blind, controlled study” at her, just to see if she knew what they meant. And anyone who knows me knows that I’m often skeptical of the crowd that requires double-blind controlled studies for everything.

  • I believe that the modern culture of curing every ailment with a pill leads people to want to find the magical elixir for health. With each new, exotic (usually tropical or South American) fruit on the market, we’re treated to shrieking headlines touting the latest health benefits. Pomegranates, acai berries, mangosteen juice…the list goes on and on. Most people want to believe that one magic fruit will ward off all evils, when in reality, eating a wide variety seems to be the best way to stay healthy. Grow your own if you can, eat organic if you can afford to, and get a good variety for health and wellness.

  • Jon

    Yeah, well, the whole “superfoods cure cancer” thing has a bizarre history. I mean, if you listen to some of these vegetarian advocates, meat causes AIDS. (These are, of course, the fringe.) But that’s the world of alternative medicine. How bad is it? Matthias Rath and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang are major players in the health food industry. A while back, they had a documentary on superfoods curing cancer on Free Speech TV. (90% of diet and disease links relate to obesity, so portion size is more telling than eating tropical fruit, shunning meat, etc.)

  • Cynthia, TX

    Marion, I trust this site with regards to herbal usages and it’s noted on their site not enough study has been done on this berry on weight loss. Here is a link to their website….

  • Jon

    I just noticed, you forgot the health claim tag. (Even though açaì clearly falls in that category.)

  • Occasionally I drink açaì and I also have a green tea containing the berries.

    I like the taste, but the hype surrounding açaì makes me suspicious.

  • Steve Bridge

    I have been researching Monavie and Xango myself. I’m not a scientist, not even a trained researcher.

    I have found a couple of ‘holes’ in the info that Monavie presents… and some in Xango as well. Rather minor so far.

    My gripe with this guy, Marion Nestle is that he comes across like a self-righteous, pompous “deliverer-of-the-deeper-truth”.

    Here’s my beef with the author here. He poo-poos the study while acknowledging it’s results… but he states, ‘Well, of course they got this result! It was sponsored by Monavie.”

    Monavie didn’t do the study in their labs. They went to an independent, nationally recognized and respected lab. So, two problems with this guy, then. HOW do you do a truly independent study then?! What else could this company have done to prove the veracity of their claims?

    And, it is rather insulting to the lab itself.

    So, MR. Deliverer-of-the-deeper-truth, how do you suggest a company like Monavie conduct a study to come up with independent facts to verify their claims?

    Sorry… just as disgusted with this guy as he is trying to make his readers disgusted with MLMs and Monavie.

  • Ron

    Well Steve, I am a scientist and a trained researcher, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I was doing a little research to see if this berry were indeed all it is cracked up to be when I came across Marion Nestle’s ill-informed review of the study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

    First, JAFC is a peer reviewed journal published by the American Chemical Society. This is the real deal. This is a real scientific journal, not Newsweek, Time or People magazine. This is not where people publish propaganda or lies. (Though it occasionally does happen – see the Cold Fusion debacle in the 80’s)

    Second, you mention it worked better than potato flakes, which contain no anti-oxidants. Do you even have a clue what a placebo is and why it must be used in these types of studies? When you are administering test compounds to a human subject, and that subject knows what they are testing, their mind can do all sorts of little tricks on them which can affect the outcome of the study. To counteract this phenomenon, some people are given placebos (in this case, potato flakes) which will also provide a baseline to see if there really is any physiological affect when using the real test compound.

    Based on the scientific data presented in the JAFC article, the juice does show significant anti-oxidant behavior in the human body. Is it better than other juices from other fruits? I have no idea. That is a study I would love to see. I’ve just started researching this topic, so it may be out there somewhere.

    So Marion Nestle, instead of spewing your slanted propaganda, why don’t you just tell the truth, as in “Yes, this juice is scientifically shown to have anti-oxidant properties. However, I have not seen a study which compares it to other fruits and vegetables, so it’s health benefits when compared to other foods is unknown at this time.” or something like that. Feel free to say that it is sold in an overpriced MLM scheme, but don’t slant the facts….and that is what this journal presents, is facts. If you are not qualified to interpret a “formidable” study, find someone who is to interpret it for you, or don’t write about it at all.

  • Jill

    Steve – Dr. Nestle is a woman. Jon – JAFC publishes favorable peer-reviewed papers on the “safety” of herbicides, pesticides and genetically modified foods. The fact that it is published by the ACS pretty much tells me all I need to know.

    Dr. Nestle’s point, that you two seemed to miss, is that there is no study showing it is any better than any other juice (it’s only better than the control – same trick that pharmaceutical companies use when their patent is about to run out on a drug – they tweak it and get a new patent – but it’s no better than older less expensive drugs.)

    A proper research study would have included not only the control but other juices as well. If it showed it was better than other juices, then perhaps they could justify the high price tag…

  • Jill

    I meant Ron, not Jon (sorry Jon).

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