Superfruits: myth and fact
By Elena South
Junior Natalie Grossman walks up to the counter at Tropical Smoothie Café and orders her usual smoothie with an added shot of Goji berry for energy.
She admits to not knowing much about the small deep red fruit.
“Oh yeah, Goji berries,” she said. “It supposedly has a lot of nutrients. I mean the smoothie tastes the same so why not have the extra energy right?”
Goji, acai, berries and pomegranates are everywhere now, in 7-Up, cosmetics that swear they’ll stop the aging process, and on TV commercials that boast about their products ability to make you lose weight, fast. Even Oprah endorses these superfruits on her show.
The superfruit craze caught on so fast and appeared in stores and restaurants faster than people could question why.
Goji berries, which come from the Himalayas have been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years, but has just recently earned the title of superfruit in the Western world.
Goji berries have been said to help with fevers, diabetes, heart problems and macular degeneration, But, like acai, has not been studied enough for there to be concrete evidence to back these claims up.
What is known about the berry is that it too is loaded with powerful antioxidants that may help prevent cancer and other illnesses including heart disease according to WebMd.
Goji berries also have compounds rich in vitamin A which boosts immune function and protects vision. The berry extracts may boost brain health and may protect against age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s (WebMd).
Like acai, it has a lot of potential but it still unclear how it will really affect the body.
One side effect of Goji berry is that it is a blood thinner. Because of this, too much Goji in the diet can be dangerous, especially for those already on blood thinners, diabetes medication, or heart medication.
According to WebMD and Natural Medicine journal, Goji berry supplements may not be as beneficial as eating the actual berry, and once converted into Goji tea, loses all of its nutritional properties.
Another proclaimed superfruit, the acai berry, comes from palm trees in the Amazon.
According to multiple sources, including WebMD and Natural Medicines Journal these small dark blue fruits have ten times the amounts of antioxidants than blue berries.
Acai contain flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are two powerful antioxidants that “help defend the body against life’s stressors…such as free radicals [which] are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may interfere with aging and the disease process by neutralizing free radicals (WebMd).”
Though all of these properties are attributed to the acai berries, there have been no conclusive studies to prove that ingesting acai is better than eating a lot of blueberries, raspberries or blackberries.
“People eat acai berries to address various health conditions. But so far, acai berries have no known health benefit that’s different than that of other similar fruits.” (WebMD)
This berry might be loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers but “researchers do not know how they affect healthy human subjects or how well the compounds are absorbed in the bloodstream,” according to University Florida News
The University of Florida conducted a study in 2006, where Acai’s antioxidants “destroyed cultured human cancer cells…the berries triggered a self destruct response in 86 percent of the leukemia cells tested. (University of Florida News)”
Even though the berry is showing great promise and has potential to be an amazing nutritional asset for the future, “[it] is not the first fruit to have killed cancer cells, other fruits including grapes, guavas, and mangoes, contain antioxidants shown to kill cancer cells in similar studies.” (University of Florida News)
As with most consumable products, there are side effects. Those with pollen allergies or who are allergic to fruits similar to acai such as blueberries then you probably should not ingest or use acai.
Acai is also not a magical weight lose panacea. Many products state directly or indirectly that acai will help you shed pounds in weeks or days, and most of these product’s statements such as 24 Hour Hollywood Diet or Acai Blast are not approved by the FDA.
Not only are those statements misleading, but the products themselves frequently contain other ingredients that can have harmful side effects.
The 24 Hour Hollywood Diet, is a juice that actually contains very little acai and a lot of other fruits, fibers, and chemicals that actually work as a laxative, so the weight you do lose is mostly water weight.
Acai Blast supposedly gives you energy through the berries’ natural properties, but if you read the ingredient label it mostly contains: sugar, corn syrup, palm oil, soy lecithin, corn starch, and finally Acai.
The product basically gives you energy through a sugar high. Yet, these products range from expensive to more expensive, the Acai Blast ( a small pack of 3 oz) costs 10.99, while the Acai juice can cost up to $50.
Though most of Acai products seem to be overpriced or misleading, its oil does seem to be truly remarkable.
“[Acai oil] may be stored for a long time… its antioxidants levels remain high, making it a great and “safe alternative to other tropical oils used in beauty products, such as facials, body creams, and anti-aging skin therapies.” (WebMd)
Junior Hoang Phong remembers seeing tons of commercials promoting another kind of superfruit: the pomegranate during his senior year of high school.
“After seeing all those commercials I had to try one,” she said. “I did and now I love them. Pomegranates are healthy and delicious.”
Pomegranates, in addition to being popular, are used to treat many different diseases from the flu, diarrhea, tapeworm, conditions of the heart and blood disease, gum disease, erectile dysfunction and even HIV. (WebMd)
Though they have been used for medicinal purposes dating back to the ancient Greeks, pomegranates have just recently been “discovered” by the scientific world.
Despite its history of being used medicinally, most of the studies that it has undergone have comeback with inclusive or insufficient evidence that it can prevent or cure any of the conditions listed above.
Though it is filled with antioxidants and other “chemicals [that] might slow the progression of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and possibly fight cancer cells.” (WebMd) Very little is known about its effect on body on healthy humans.
Pomegranates, like Goji and acai berries have a dark side. It may be dangerous to those with plant allergies or if the root or stem is ingested since the root contains a poison.
Also, it is harmful to ingest the fruit if you are going into surgery.
“[Acai] might interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery. Stop taking pomegranate at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.” (WebMd)
But like all the supposed superfruits and most fruits, if taken in moderation pomegranates are good source of vitamin C, safe.