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Hangry August 31, 2020 Health claims questioned

Acai berries are in the news again. Yesterday, CTV news reporter Avis Favaro told us “Canadian clinical trial looks to acai berries in hopes of preventing severe cases of COVID-19.” The health food store clerk and I discussed this as I bought my “Organic Traditions Acai Berry Powder,” in the hopes it would help me with some inflammatory issues I’m having.

Googling around, I found a fascinating study, a sociology of the acai berry, particularly the health claims on its packaging. Christine Parker et al (2019) lay it out for us.

“Acai berries originate from two types of palms that grow along the Amazon River from Bolivia to Brazil. Originally consumed largely by rural, floodplain groups called Amazonian ribeirinhos, acai became popular throughout Brazil by the early 1990s due to internal migration of these people to provincial cities. Western tourists exported the berry to Los Angeles in the later 1990s. The two most common acai products on the market are frozen smoothie packs and acai powders, which are both used in various beverages or, for the powders, in baking.  When first imported into the US, acai was a niche product described as ‘[a] cult phenomenon, popular mostly among young, male extreme-sport enthusiasts… skaters, surfers, snowboarders.’

“It became widely popular after Dr. Nicholas Perricone, a New York dermatologist and ‘anti-ageing expert,’ presented acai as a ‘superfood’ for its ‘anti-ageing properties’ in his book that was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2003 and 2004. By 2013, ‘acai-laced products grossed nearly $200 million in the United States’.”

The packaging makes largely unsubstantiated health claims, that are allowed in the US and Australian markets, but not in the EU, where authorities demand evidence. The labels also romanticize the fruit, saying it is “wild-picked,” and “grows naturally,” whereas the ribeirinhos have been carefully cultivating, weeding, and transplanting the tall palm trees (mainly for construction) for generations.

And far from being a natural, simply freeze-dried product, it needs modern technology to get from jungle to retail. “Because acai berries begin to spoil within 24 hours of being harvested, export of the berries to a broader consumer base was only made possible by advances in food processing, preservation and transportation technologies. They are 1 to 2 cm in diameter and contain a large seed that makes up about 80 to 90% of the fruit in both size and weight. The seeds are covered in a thin, oily coat, which is the edible pulp layer, and tough, fibrous outer layers. Generally, the manufacturing of acai juice entails the acai berries being soaked in (often, hot and/or chlorinated followed by potable) water, added to a rotation device that separates the seeds, pulped and sieved in a machine, mixed with citric acid, pasteurized and then frozen for and throughout transportation. The juice produced is then subject to further processing to make either smoothie or powder packs. Both products require costly and complex machinery to create the right kind of environment, texture and color.”

My food label says, “Acai berries have long been revered by indigenous cultures of the Amazon. Considered to be one of South Americas most important superfruits, they were traditionally used in the daily diet and in both ceremonial and medicinal preparations.”

Christine Parker’s team looks a little closer at the “traditional” uses of the fruit by the ribeirinhos. “The Western way of eating acai is commonly viewed within the key acai production region as disrespectful and inappropriate. According to traditional beliefs, acai has a reputation for being ‘a heavy food that weighs you down and makes you lethargic.’  Traditional beliefs in Brazil also associate the inter-mixing of acai with other vegetables and fruits with indigestion. Yet, western marketing claims that acai is a ‘natural energy boost,’ an ‘energizing superfood,’ [offering] a sustained energy boost’.”

Well, I haven’t tried my acai berry powder yet and don’t know if will be anti-inflammatory or energizing. Now I wonder if it will make me lethargic and give me indigestion. I also bought blueberries, and I have been eating them.


Favaro, A. (2020.) “Canadian clinical trial looks to acai berries in hopes of preventing severe cases of COVID-19.” From

Parker, C. et al (2019.) “Consumer Power to Change the Food System: A Critical Reading of Food Labels as Governance Spaces: The Case of Acai Berry Superfoods.” From

A handful of studies that really like acai’s possibilities:

“Role of antioxidants in food.” From

“An Anthocyanin-Rich Mixed-Berry Intervention May Improve Insulin Sensitivity in a Randomized Trial of Overweight and Obese Adults.” From

“The value of the Brazilian açai fruit as a therapeutic nutrition strategy for chronic kidney disease patients.” From


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