Dirty Dealings of a Brazilian Berry

It’s getting ugly.  The insanely popular berry from the Amazon rainforest known as acai (pronounced ah-sigh-EE) appears to be hitting new lows. Involved in everything from bogus blogs and fake ads to pyramid schemes, the acai berry has become the Bernie Madoff of nutrition. Maybe you read my earlier rant about the sly allure of  super juices that included MonaVie, the $40 bottle of acai juice and 18 other fruits that is sold by enthusiastic distributors.  But this pyramid scheme is only the tip of the iceberg.

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Earlier this year, the Better Business Bureau warned consumers about dozens of online companies that operate scams for acai berry weight loss supplements. Some owners of acai Web sites have even been indicted for consumer fraud by a federal grand jury and are slated to go on trial, according to  Nutrition Action, which has done an excellent job reviewing the full scope of the acai Internet scams. 

The tactics of these unscrupulous marketers were revealed by a tremendous blog called waffesatnoon (It’s time to wake up”), which is written by an ad guy who is dedicated to exposing Internet scams and questionable advertising practices. 

If you have a Facebook account or simply go online to shop, there is no way you’ve missed the ads touting the purported weight loss benefits of acai — many of them featuring Oprah and Rachael Ray. But rest assured, neither is associated with these products or have authorized the use of their name.  Learn more at ABC News.

Contrary to the aggressive testimonials, there is no evidence to suggest acai supplements have any weight loss benefits — despite the claims “flush pounds of waste and toxins from your body.”  No studies have looked at the weight loss potential of acai and there’s no good reason to think the berry might help.


A few of the fraudulent tactics:dietingaid_081212_mn1

  • “Free” trials. Companies are trying to entice people with “free” trials of acai products in Internet ads and emails.  After sharing credit card information to cover shipping and handling, people are being hit by surprise monthly charges, often before they even receive their trial shipment.  For many, it’s been difficult to get the charges to stop.
  • Product reviews.  Don’t trust Web sites that claim to review acai products or warn against acai berry scams.  They may try to instill confidence with names like Acai Berry Report and Consumer Best Deals, but they’re simply trying to sell products. All of these acai supplements are basically the same, and none of them are worth the money. 
  • Bogus blogs. Beyond the fake celebrity endorsements, the acai marketers have set up more than 75 different diet blogs that feature women documenting their weight loss success with acai.  Trouble is, they’re all fake.  You can see the same woman with a dozen different names and the same “before” and “after” photos.  The blog scam was uncovered by waffesatnoon,

Yes, acai berries are high in antioxidants, but so are other less expensive “local” berries.  Higher is not necessarily better.  The actual number in a test tube is not a true indication of the health benefits.  You’re better off eating whole fruits…and it’s tough to do with acai.  Nearly all acai is shipped as pulp and turned into pills, juice or added as flavorings.

I’m not sure why acai has captured America’s imagination the way it did, but I’m hoping the frenzy will soon be over and the fraudulent Web sites shut down.  And I hope people will be just as enthusiastic in discovering the array of fruits found in their own backyard in produce aisles and farmers’ markets.

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