Health Claims of ‘Superfruits’ – Fantasy

December 8, 2009 in Antioxidants, Foodland Chronicles, Health Claims, Immune System, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Hype! That’s what I see.  If I’m doing research on nutrition-related issues, up come unwelcome articles about exotic juices -- açai berries and its buddies -- and their fantastical health claims.

Note to self: Don’t ever get ‘sucked in’ again on the internet with something that looks like new research questioning exotic berries, which is really a promotional trap. I had to ask Dr. Grandpa to help me get the dang advertisement off my computer. It was an extremely annoying set up.  If you push the button, it looks as though you’re buying it, and there seems to be no other way out. I really dislike that type of on-line entrapment marketing.

I believe that the exotic factor is the most important part of the so-called ‘superfruit’s’ allure. POM Wonderful juice (pomegranate Native of Iran and Afghanistan), mangosteen (Indonesia), goji berries (China), noni berries (Tahiti), and açai (Brazil, Amazon River); it seems as though to be a ‘superfruit,’ it must be both exotic and novel – then it can command the ‘super price.’ For about $400.00 you can get a book on the subject; "Successful Superfruit Strategy: How to Build a Superfruit Business."

The hype is growing; there are more than 53 new food and drink products containing the açai berry alone in the United States; including Naked Juice (Pepsi-owned) and Jamba Juice. Many of the companies that market them are multi-level marketing companies.

People don’t seem to mind spending $4.50 for an açai smoothie or $6.50 for a special bowl of cold mushy fruit salad containing the exotic berries. I guess many can’t spell recession. I’m glad that they’re doing so well, but I’d prefer to spend my money where real value exists.

I have no doubt that açai has nutritional benefits, as almost every fruit does. One of the big differences is that the companies that sell it hype the fact that there are omega-3 fatty acids in it. The snag is that you’d have to drink about 2 ½ gallons to equal a 3-ounce serving of salmon. We’re back to the ‘recession’ word or ‘budget’ or ‘common sense’. How many calories do you have to consume to obtain the omega 3s in a small serving of salmon (99 to 140 calories in 3 oz.)? (Between 4,400 to 6,000 calories depending on the juice manufacturer for 2 ½ gallons.)

The Sambazon company advertises the omega 9s (oleic acid) in the berry – it takes about six 8-ounce servings of the açai juice (660 to 900 calories) to equal the omega 9s found in a single tablespoon of olive oil (120 calories).

Sambazon also chats about the fiber of açai (1 gram per 8 ounce serving). For the same 4 grams of fiber, you can eat two yummy Dr. Grandma’s 100% Whole Wheat Pancakes or drink an entire quart of the Sambazon açai juice – four 8 ounce servings (440 to 600 calories for the juice, depending on the manufacturer) or 200 calories in the pancakes.

Antioxidants, the beautiful little compounds that ‘gobble up’ free radicals (harmful bad guys that damage your cells) are found naturally in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. One of the issues that are reported about açai and other superfruit is their ORAC score (oxygen radical absorbance capacity). Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the USDA antioxidants research laboratory at Tufts University, says, “These kinds of tests are of some use – but they don’t reflect what happens in the body.” Blumberg says that there’s no evidence that the exotic berries are any better than ‘regular’ fruits. Blumberg hates the word ‘superfruit,’ "It suggests that there are somehow meek, mild-mannered fruits that you shouldn't bother to eat."

In addition, some of the so called ORAC tests were conducted using fresh fruit, right off the plant, not a cooked, processed version in a bottle (Note: Heat can have a huge effect on nutrients and antioxidants.) Also, what nutrients do in a test tube may not be what happens in a human body.

No one fruit or berry, no matter what its ORAC score, is the perfect antioxidant. There are many different antioxidants (often very different in color) that perform different functions in the management of the health of the body’s cells. Anthocyanins and carotenoids (there are already 800 different carotenoids identified) are two large groups of antioxidants that do different things. If you were really striving to nourish your body and be healthy, I’d say to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors.

Nothing has been published yet showing that the exotic berries are better than oranges, cranberries, kiwi, strawberries, blackberries and other readily available fresh fruits. Remember that drinking juice does not satisfy hunger the way solid food does either. (See Juice Is Not a Freebee Health Food  in the Dr. Grandma’s Newsletter.)

I wonder when we (consumers) will stop paying our money for legends like Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth promise – immortality. This nutrition hype is not a new quest; think of the entertaining western American traveling hucksters called ‘medicine men’ – their craft began thousands of years ago.

I grew up with pomegranate trees in Southern California; there were more pomegranates  than a family could easily use by themselves. Yes, we made pomegranate jelly – what a mess.  I never in my wildest imagination thought that someone would make it into a super fruit.  I think that the POM people are especially marvelous; taking something that grows in the U.S. and making it somewhat exotic and novel. I guess it is like another fruit that grew all around my Southern California home as a child – oranges. People in the eastern states thought that oranges were a special treat; they were even given as gifts for the winter holidays. Now because of shipping we have them all over the country all year long. Kiwi fruit is yet another Southern California example of exotic becoming ordinary, though a little more recent. Maybe one day, the exotic will be taken out of the foreign berries and the food marketers will have to find something new to make their ‘superfruit.’

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of our Internet Meeting

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of our Internet Meeting

Real 'superfruits' blackberries and pomegranate

Real 'superfruits'-- whole blackberries and pomegranate-- teamed with the best omega-3 source -- wild salmon

A close-up of colorful antioxidants

A close-up of colorful antioxidant-filled whole-fruits instead of processed juices from costly exotic fruits