Not All Acai Products Are Created Equal

It's happened to so many stars before, a sweetheart is discovered, she succeeds on her merit and talents, but then eager to get a piece of her success, some build her up so high she can only help but fall (in someone's eyes) and she often loses fans as people are left wondering was she ever really "all that." Is this the story of a Hollywood starlet or that of a Brazilian berry? For me, this is the story of my relationship with the Brazilian berry -- açai.

I remember several years ago when açai came to the U.S. I thought that the little berry with big flavor offered a great option for antioxidants and noticed that it also contained fiber and an array of omega fatty acids. Was it more olive than blueberry, I wondered? When I saw that it was organic and fair trade, I decided it was worthy of my recommendation and added it to a coconut water smoothie recipe in my first cookbook ("The ProHydrator" Recipes for IBS) to provide antioxidants to athletes and those suffering from digestive inflammation, and all those in between. I played with frozen plain açai and found that its lack of sweetness (minimal fruit sugar natural to the berry) allowed me to use it for savory and sweet dishes. And all was açai berry sweet in the world.

Fast forward a few years and I saw açai-flavored jelly beans at a natural products expo; I saw followers of a media mogul clamor to purchase supplements and beverages that touted açai as a miracle weight loss ingredient; I watched as clients gained weight or struggled with blood sugar issues consuming upwards of 15 ounces of sugar-based beverages daily all the while noting their reason for purchase as the mix of antioxidant-rich berries that were in the drink -- weren't they? And somewhere in the battle for which of nature's fruit was the best in terms of its antioxidant content, I turned a deaf ear to these foods, supplements, and drinks and used sign language to say to my clients "eat whole foods, enjoy organic berries and consume a variety of colors for optimal health."

And then in the last two years, on my pursuit of a Qualitarian nutrition plan which includes evaluation of over 7,500 foods, supplements, and accessories to date to identify which ones are better quality, and thus deserving of Ashley Koff Approved (AKA) status, I found myself back in the world of açai products wondering where they all fit.

A funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store. I also ran into a colleague who raised some questions for me about açai: Was / is it safe? Why should we consume it when we have blueberries and olives and other nutrient-rich foods? And are all açai products created equal? I had my answers. I thought I knew where I stood, but these questions got me thinking. And never one to make an uniformed nutrition choice, I set out to get my answers.

What I learned I want to share with you -- well, in terms of my Ashley Koff Approved list, I've actually already shared it with you because I think it will help you make the Qualitarian choice when it comes to açai.

1. Açai is rich in antioxidants which makes it healthy for the heart, your immune system and for disease prevention.
2. The Brazilian government (not the U.S.) has standards for products that contain açai: The juice products should have 3g of fat per 8 ounce serving to prove it contains whole food açai; the frozen products should be closer to 5g per 3.5oz (100g).
3. The benefits of being rich in antioxidants can't be enough to outweigh the risks of chemicals or genetic modification so I recommend only choose organic açai (this also ensures that any of the other ingredients including additives in the product aren't genetically modified as certified organic doesn't allow for GM soy (i.e. soy lecithin) that can be used as a binder in some açai products).
4. Organic açai ensures traceability which ensures that a company be invested in where and how the berries are being harvested.
5. Actual açai should be lower glycemic than many other fruits and fruit juices due to its fiber and fatty acid content and because the berry is low in natural fruit sugar; the products that add sugar, other sweeteners, or other fruit juices will not necessarily have the same lower glycemic level.
6. The immune supporting benefits of açai's antioxidants won't stand up against high levels of added sugar which is known to suppress the immune system so steer clear of sodas, smoothies and products containing several grams of added sugars.

So net, net. Some açai products are AKA as I believe that açai can be part of a healthy diet. A note of disclosure: As you can read on my website - the AKA stamp is one that cannot be bought (a company cannot pay me to use my logo or to approve their products), it's earned. For AKA products, I may choose to work with them as a paid spokesperson (I won't do this for non-AKA products or companies). As I concluded my research about açai and approved different products including some of Sambazon's, I decided to collaborate with them as a spokesperson for their Real Deal Açai campaign because it allows me the opportunity to teach consumers, the media and health care practitioners about the true difference in açai products on the market today.