Goji and Açai: Can these exotic berries improve your health?

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
4-minute read
Episode #19

Have you been tempted by the incredible health benefits of superfruits like açai or goji berries? Find out whether these miracle fruits are worth the big bucks.

"I’m really curious about the açai berry and the goji berry. I see them all over the place in these super-expensive drinks; like $50 for 32 ounces. I’m wondering if this is just marketing hype or if they’re really that good for you. Can you set the record straight?"

Remember when the pomegranate was king of the hill? Well, you don’t stay on top for long, at least not where there are millions of dollars to be made by marketers who can develop compelling story lines around exotic fruits that no-one’s ever heard of.

Pomegranates are so 2005. Since then, the exotic mangosteen had a brief run for glory. And now, goji and açai are taking up most of the oxygen. Goji is the stage name for the Chinese wolfberry. Apparently, marketers felt that goji would be a more appealing name. Açai, which is also a berry, hails from Brazil. Both are being hyped as miracle foods and being hawked for big bucks. Should you get on the bandwagon?

A Closer Look

Let’s take a closer look at some of the claims.

They’re super-nutritious. Nutrient analysis reveals that goji and açai both contain many valuable vitamins and minerals. You know what? So do most fruits and vegetables. In fact, goji and açai have nutrient profiles are similar to other types of berries, grapes, and cherries.

They contain unique health-promoting compounds. Most plants contain phytochemicals that are unique to that plant or family of plants and many have demonstrable health benefits. Eggplants, for example, contain a compound called nasunin, which helps reduce cholesterol. Fennel contains a compound called anethole, which reduces inflammation.

Not surprisingly, these super-fruits have also been found to have unique phytonutrients, some of which no doubt have beneficial properties. But I doubt that any single compound in any of these fruits will turn out to be a silver bullet against disease and aging.

They're higher in antioxidants than other fruits.  Actually, these super-fruits are really not that exceptional in terms of their antioxidant capacity. They’re better than some and not as good as others. But even if they were exceptionally high in antioxidants, that’s not as important as it might sound.

In general, antioxidants are good. They help to neutralize free radicals, which can otherwise get up to mischief, rioting in your arteries, setting tires on fire, lobbing Molotov cocktails through your cell walls and looting stores. You want to have plenty of antioxidants around to police the streets. That’s why I’m always nagging you to eat your fruits and vegetables. Getting those five servings of veggies and two to four servings of fruits every day helps to ensure that you have enough cops on the beat.

But there’s no evidence that tons of extra antioxidants are going to do you any additional good. Once all the free radicals are neutralized, there’s not a whole lot for all of those extra antioxidants to do besides hang around the coffee shops and eat donuts.

You also need a variety of different antioxidants to get the job done right. So, you’re much better off eating a lot of different fresh fruits and vegetables than a ton of any one thing. Funny how it always seems to come down to that.