by Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N.
Have you been tempted by the incredible health benefits of superfruits like açai or goji berries? Find out whether these miracle fruits are worth the big bucks.
Hi Monica. I’m really curious about the açai berry and the goji berry. I see them all over the place in these super-expensive drinks; like $50 for 32 ounces. I’m wondering if this is just marketing hype or if they’re really that good for you. Can you set the record straight?
Remember when the pomegranate was king of the hill? Well, you don’t stay on top for long, at least not where there are millions of dollars to be made by marketers who can develop compelling story lines around exotic fruits that no-one’s ever heard of.
Pomegranates are so 2005. Since then, the exotic mangosteen had a brief run for glory. And now, goji and açai are taking up most of the oxygen. Goji is the stage name for the Chinese wolfberry. Apparently, marketers felt that goji would be a more appealing name. Açai, which is also a berry, hails from Brazil. Both are being hyped as miracle foods and being hawked for big bucks. Should you get on the bandwagon?
A Closer Look
Let’s take a closer look at some of the claims.
They’re super-nutritious. Nutrient analysis reveals that goji and açai both contain many valuable vitamins and minerals. You know what? So do most fruits and vegetables. In fact, goji and açai have nutrient profiles are similar to other types of berries, grapes, and cherries.
They contain unique health-promoting compounds. Most plants contain phytochemicals that are unique to that plant or family of plants and many have demonstrable health benefits. Eggplants, for example, contain a compound called nasunin, which helps reduce cholesterol. Fennel contains a compound called anethole, which reduces inflammation.
Not surprisingly, these super-fruits have also been found to have unique phytonutrients, some of which no doubt have beneficial properties. But I doubt that any single compound in any of these fruits will turn out to be a silver bullet against disease and aging.
They're higher in antioxidants than other fruits. Actually, these super-fruits are really not that exceptional in terms of their antioxidant capacity. They’re better than some and not as good as others. But even if they were exceptionally high in antioxidants, that’s not as important as it might sound.
In general, antioxidants are good. They help to neutralize free radicals, which can otherwise get up to mischief, rioting in your arteries, setting tires on fire, lobbing Molotov cocktails through your cell walls and looting stores. You want to have plenty of antioxidants around to police the streets. That’s why I’m always nagging you to eat your fruits and vegetables. Getting those five servings of veggies and two to four servings of fruits every day helps to ensure that you have enough cops on the beat.
But there’s no evidence that tons of extra antioxidants are going to do you any additional good. Once all the free radicals are neutralized, there’s not a whole lot for all of those extra antioxidants to do besides hang around the coffee shops and eat donuts.
You also need a variety of different antioxidants to get the job done right. So, you’re much better off eating a lot of different fresh fruits and vegetables than a ton of any one thing. Funny how it always seems to come down to that.
They have miraculous curative properties. You’ve probably seen some of the claims. Superfruit juices are supposed to improve your energy, your sex life, your IQ, and your hairline. You’ll sleep better, lose weight, have clearer skin, and live to be 252. (No, really, one of the arguments for Goji juice is that a guy supposedly ate them every day and reportedly lived to be 252 years old.)
Not bad for fruit juice. No wonder it costs two bucks an ounce.
Now, notice that most of these claims made by people selling you the products. Although I think it has been adequately proven that these products have vastly improved the financial health of those selling them, there is very little research to support any of the health claims made by the manufacturers.
In fact, a recent search of the medical literature turned up just one study— a double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by a goji juice manufacturer. The researchers found that people consuming their product experienced “increased feelings of general well-being.” Personally, I think I could increase my feeling of general well-being more effectively by investing that extra $4 a day into my retirement fund.
The Bottom Line
I’ve tried açai juice and had goji berries. They’re perfectly tasty and I’m sure they’re good for you. But I’m not convinced any of these superfruits offer anything you can’t get from a healthy diet. In fact, because of the way antioxidants and phytonutrients work together, I think you’d be significantly better off eating a variety of fruits and vegetables (including goji and açai, if you like) than you would doing a daily shot of overpriced fruit juice.
But if the testimonials have convinced you and you have money to burn, you can make some Internet and multi-level marketers very happy. Then again, you could also send me a check for $120 every month. I bet it’ll make you feel better than you have in years. It’s worth a try, isn’t it
This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, with your quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.
These tips are provided for your information and entertainment and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.
Visit nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com for a transcript of this episode, along with links to more information on today’s topic. If you have a nutrition question for me, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a voice mail at 206-203-1438. I can also, as always, be reached on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks for listening today and remember to eat something good for me!
Acai Berries Anti-Aging Claims; Fact or Fiction? (Mark Stibich, PhD)
What are Goji Berries? (Cathy Wong)
Getting Juiced (CBC Expose on Multi-level marketing of Goji)
What’s the special nutritional power of phytonutrients? (George Mateljan Foundation)
Can you get too many antioxidants? George Mateljan Foundation
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice, GoChi. (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine)