What Is the Acai Berry Diet?

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acai berry diet
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The açaí berry is widely touted as a natural weight loss and detoxification aid. Although there are different forms of the açaí berry diet, most approaches involve the use of dietary supplements containing açaí and other herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural substances. Proponents claim that the açaí berry diet can speed metabolism, suppress appetite, and "cleanse" the body.

What Experts Say

"The açaí berry diet requires weight loss supplements that include extracts of the açaí berry. Experts agree supplements should be used with caution because they’re not regulated like drugs. This diet is costly and focused on weight loss, not health."

Willow Jarosh, MS, RD

Background

The açaí palm tree is native to Central and South America, where its berries have long been used for medicinal purposes (particularly in Brazil). Like other brightly colored fruits and vegetables, açaí berries are very high in antioxidants, especially anthocyanins.

To date, most of the data on açaí's potential health benefits come from laboratory studies and animal-based research. For instance, a 2010 study found that rats fed açaí for six weeks experienced decreases in oxidative stress and in LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. In addition, test-tube research suggests that açaí may stimulate the immune system and reduce inflammation.

In one of the human-based studies testing the health effects of açaí, researchers found that açaí consumption may increase antioxidant levels. But the study involved only 12 people.

How It Works

In most cases, proponents of the açaí diet advocate using dietary supplements that contain açaí and other natural substances said to aid in weight loss. These substances may include:

While research on açaí is lacking, some preliminary research indicates that other substances included in some açaí berry diet supplements may help promote weight loss. For instance, a 2009 research review determined that catechins (antioxidants found in green tea) may help boost metabolism and have a "small positive effect" on weight loss and weight maintenance. In a 2011 review, meanwhile, researchers found that CLA may be effective for weight loss. (However, since the supporting research is limited, the authors warn that more research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of CLA supplements.)

There's also some evidence that yerba mate, chromium, and hoodia may help promote weight loss. However, there are some safety concerns associated with these substances. For example, yerba mate may trigger anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and headache, while hoodia and chromium may have negative effects on blood sugar levels.

What to Eat

There are no suggested meal plans or food restrictions associated with the açaí berry diet. Simply take the supplements as directed and then eat your normal diet.

Recommended Timing

Supplement instructions may differ, but some may suggest consuming them with a meal.

Modifications

Remember that supplements are unregulated and the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

It's always better to get antioxidants and other nutrients from food, rather than in supplement form. So consider adding açaí berries themselves to your diet to get their superfood benefits. However, whole açaí berries are hard to find and expensive. If you're buying juices or smoothies containing açaí, check the label; these beverages could be high in sugar and calories. Other dark red and purple berries, such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are a less expensive, more readily available substitute for açaí.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Açaí berries supply antioxidants

Cons

  • No scientific evidence for weight loss

  • Supplements are unregulated

Pros

There's no doubt that the açaí berry is an excellent source of antioxidants, and that these antioxidants do have healthful effects.

Even though calling açaí a superfood may be warranted, the berries probably do not have superpowers for weight loss.

Cons

No Scientific Evidence

Due to the lack of scientific support for its effectiveness, no form of the açaí berry diet can be recommended for weight loss. Additionally, more research is needed to determine the safety of the açaí diet.

Also, no studies have tested the weight-loss effects of other substances when taken with açaí. Therefore, claims that the herbs, vitamins, and minerals included in the açaí diet supplements work "synergistically" to promote weight loss and/or cleansing are unwarranted.

Supplements Are Unregulated

Dietary supplements like the açaí berry ones marketed for weight loss haven't been tested for safety. Because they are not regulated, in some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. While consumers face such risks when purchasing any dietary supplement, these risks may be of greater magnitude in the purchase of combination herbal products marketed for weight loss and bodybuilding.

How It Compares

The açaí berry diet is not really an eating plan, but a supplement marketed for weight loss. Like other supplement-based weight loss programs, it does not conform to government guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet.

USDA Recommendations

Food Groups

The dietary guidelines for Americans published by the USDA advise aiming for meals that contain protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Eating this way helps provide the variety of nutrients that our bodies need for healthy living. And nutritionists say the best sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are foods, not supplements.

Calories

The açaí berry diet does not have a calorie goal. But the USDA suggests consuming a range of about 1600 to 2000 calories a day for weight loss, depending on factors such as age, weight, sex, and activity level. To determine a range that's good for you, try this calculator.

Similar Diets

Weight-loss supplements are a popular (if expensive) choice for people who are looking for a different way to lose weight.

Açaí Berry Diet

  • What it is: This is not an eating plan, but various supplements marketed for weight loss, containing açaí extract and other ingredients.
  • Flexibility: Most versions of the açaí diet just call for consuming the supplements, and have no other restrictions or requirements.
  • Safety: Since the supplements are not regulated by the FDA, their safety can't be guaranteed.
  • Sustainability: Given the unreliable nature of the supplements (their labels may not accurately list their ingredients, or the amounts of those ingredients), it is not a good idea to consume them for the long term. These supplements also haven't been shown to be effective for weight loss.

GOLO Diet

  • What it is: GOLO for Life is a weight loss program that includes an eating plan and a supplement. That supplement contains magnesium and chromium (as many açaí diet products do) along with some other minerals and herbal ingredients.
  • Flexibility: The GOLO eating plan suggests consuming 1300 to 1800 calories a day, in three balanced meals. Other than the calorie limits, users have flexibility to eat whatever they prefer.
  • Safety: Like açaí supplements, the GOLO products are not regulated by the FDA. And there is no good-quality scientific research that shows they are effective for weight loss.
  • Sustainability: A low-calorie diet like this is hard to adhere to for any length of time. And the GOLO supplements can be expensive.

Isagenix Diet

  • What it is: Isagenix is a weight-loss plan that works by replacing most meals with Isagenix shakes and other products and supplements.
  • Flexibility: This program restricts calories significantly. Five out of seven days per week, users eat only one meal, and it should be between 400 and 600 calories. What foods make up those calories is up to the user. (On the other two days, Isagenix instructions are to eat only fruit or Isagenix-approved snacks.)
  • Safety: While intermittent fasting is not necessarily dangerous, the Isagenix products are also not regulated by the FDA. Experts say consuming such a low-calorie diet, made up mostly of processed ingredients, is not healthy.
  • Sustainability: Not only is it expensive to purchase Isagenix products, this eating plan doesn't help users learn healthy habits that they could continue after they stop using those products.

Purium Diet

  • What it is: The Purium 10-Day Transformation program is a very low calorie eating plan that includes several supplements and meal replacements. Like the açaí supplements, the Purium products aim to take advantage of the potential weight-loss promotion powers of certain herbs and minerals.
  • Flexibility: Unlike the açaí supplement plan, the Purium diet is very structured. Very few foods outside of the Purium products are allowed.
  • Safety: This diet is too low in calories and too restrictive to be safe. Plus, dietary supplements like Purium's products are not regulated, so they're no guarantee of their safety or effectiveness.
  • Sustainability: The Purium program is short-term, but the company says it can be repeated. Still, it is not practical or healthy to eat this way.

A Word From Verywell

If you're looking to lose weight, the National Institutes of Health recommends following a weight-management plan that pairs healthy eating with regular exercise, instead of untested supplements. If you're considering any form of the açaí berry diet, talk to your doctor first. He or she can help you formulate a safe, healthy eating plan that works for you.

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