The Truth About A?a?

A?a?, pronounced ah-sigh-ee, is a bitter, purple, grape-sized Brazilian berry, but you likely won't ever see a fresh one at the market. The fruit spoils quickly and has a large pit, so manufacturers turn the flesh into pulp, add sugar and sell it as juice or in other products. A?a? sales boomed 107 percent between 2007 and 2008, according to a report by Spins, a market research company in Schaumburg, Illinois.

What's the buzz about?

Like blueberries, pomegranates and other jewel-colored fruit, a?a? contains anthocyanins, antioxidants that may fight cancer, wrinkles and memory loss. But none of these benefits have been scientifically linked to the purple pulp. A?a? sellers tout the berry's oxygen radical absorbance capacity score, a measure of the fruit's total antioxidants. Yet experts argue that the score doesn't prove how the fruit affects your body. A?a? is also high in healthy monounsaturated fats, like those in avocados.

I've heard a?a? can help me slim down. Is that true?

Nope. "I'm unaware of any scientific evidence that a?a? can help you lose weight," says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., professor at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy at Tufts University in Boston. In fact, its high fat content makes the fruit an energy-rich staple for people in the Amazon Basin. "People eat it to boost their overall calorie intake," says Eduardo Brondizio, author of The Amazonian Caboclo and the A?a? Palm (NYBG Press). And some products containing a?a? are loaded with sugar and calories. Consider the Juice It Up! Ultimate A?a? Bowl smoothie, which delivers 690 calories (more than a Big Mac).

Why the a?a? legal action?

Both Oprah and the FDA have a beef with the berry. In 2007, the FDA chastised an a?a? beverage company for making false health claims in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. And Oprah's company, Harpo, filed a complaint in 2009 when Internet marketers used her name to promote an a?a? product. "A?a? promoters have made outrageous claims for reducing risks of every known chronic disease," Blumberg says.

Can a?a? be harmful?

The berry is benign, but some weight loss supplements and beverages made with it are not. These products may contain stimulants and laxatives, notes a report by in White Plains, New York. The report also found that there's no way to know whether a product contains real a?a?. "There are no quality standards for a?a?," Blumberg says. The craze may also hurt the planet: Demand may spur exporters to turn rain forest land into a?a? plantations.

The Bottom Line

If you like the flavor of a?a?, be a label sleuth when picking products. Keep an eye on total calories and sugar; you should aim to have only six teaspoons (about 25 grams) of added sugar per day. Want health benefits? Avoid a?a? supplements and get antioxidants from safe and tasty fruit such as raspberries and oranges.

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