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Acai Has Become Popular, but Some Experts Question Claims About the Berries
In any case, the mere presence of antioxidants in a food doesn't tell us much about that food's health benefits. Vitamin E and beta carotene are both antioxidants whose presumed utility in preventing disease has been called into question by major studies. Because we haven't made a dent in identifying all the compounds contained in fruits and vegetables -- much less assessed the value of those we do know about -- we don't know whether there's anything special about acai compared to other berries, Reinagel observes.
Mark Kantor, an associate professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland, says he's scanned the scientific literature and hasn't found reputable research to support any of the health claims acai's marketers are making.
"Unfortunately," Kantor says, "lots of Americans like to take the easy way out. They're looking for a miracle food. But they'll have to keep looking, because I don't think one exists."
Having said that, acai's not likely to do harm. Except to your credit card, that is.
The questionable health benefits attributed to acai are only half the story. As CSPI warned at a press conference last week, consumers using credit cards to enroll in "free" trials of acai products advertised via e-mail and on the Internet are being bilked big time.
After sharing credit-card information to cover shipping and handling, consumers are being hit by surprise monthly charges, often before they even receive their trial shipment. Those charges, ranging from $59 to $89, are extremely hard to contest with the companies, whom CSPI reports are difficult to reach by telephone and otherwise uncooperative.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is working with CSPI to shed light on acai Internet scams. Sambazon, which sells its products in health food stores and on its own Web site, is not among the companies accused of dirty dealings and in fact helps scammed customers find their way to the Better Business Bureau.
If you're still keen on trying acai, better to buy products in person at your local health food store. Or you could skip the acai and stick with blueberries instead. They're packed with antioxidants, relatively inexpensive and available year-round; frozen's just as good as fresh.
And I've yet to hear of anyone's being bilked by a blueberry scam.
Check out today's Checkup blog post, in which Jennifer shares her adventures in yogurt-making and reminds readers to vote for a new MisFit. Subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to http:/