Acai Berry Scams: What They Are and How to Avoid Them
Acai berry supplements are the latest craze sweeping the internet, with many websites proclaiming the amazing weight loss benefits of this supposed ‘superfood.’
Often, these benefits are wildly exaggerated by scammers offering bogus ‘free trials’ of acai supplements, which end up costing customers hundreds of dollars. This article will help you cut through the hype surrounding this particular health-food fad, giving you the lowdown on scams that have cost thousands of consumers their hard-earned cash.
Acai berries explained
Firstly, what are acai berries? Originally from South America, these berries are making a name for themselves as a superfood with a range of health benefits including weight loss and anti-ageing powers. While they are a good source of antioxidants, so far there has been no scientific evidence to back up claims of weight-loss and anti-ageing properties. “Acai is a nutrient-rich source of antioxidants, much like many other fruits, but there is nothing magical about the fruit to cause weight loss,” according to David Grotto, RD, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Antioxidants are chemicals which protect cells from being damaged by harmful molecules called ‘free radicals,’ and including more antioxidants in your diet will lessen the risk of developing cancer or heart disease. Yet acai berries and supplements are often exorbitantly expensive when purchased either online or from health food shops, and there are other berries out there such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries which offer the same health benefits at a much lower price.
While there are some benefits of the acai berry which are scientifically acknowledged, online websites often make extravagant claims about the berry which are unverified by science. Websites have been known to claim that acai supplements “burn fat more efficiently, process food more quickly, cut down on cravings, and boost metabolism.” Some online ads promise “450% more weight loss than dieting and exercise alone,” and others claim the berry will help you shed up to 20 pounds in one week. “There is no literature in the scientific journals about weight loss and the acai berry,” says Valencia Porter, MD, director of women’s health at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Calif. In other words, it would be a good idea to think twice before taking these sites seriously.
Caution: scam alert
As with many other slimming pills and supplements, acai berry supplements are often used by scammers as a way to get hold of customers’ credit card details. Coming across exaggerated claims like the ones above is often a sign that you are in scam territory. There have been so many of these scams lately that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit health group, has released a statement warning consumers against them. The CSPI noted that many of these companies were offering so-called ‘free trials’ which required customers’ credit card details in order to deduct shipping costs. Customers are then charged the full amount, often around $80 or $90 dollars, for this supposedly free trial. In theory, it is possible to return the supplements and get a refund, but in practice customers often find this impossible. Upon finishing the free trial customers will find themselves automatically enrolled in monthly payment plans which are difficult to get out of, a fact which is usually not made clear when they sign up.
A few years ago the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a case against one of the companies responsible for these scams, exposing the way they trick consumers into giving up financial information. The case was against a company called Central Coast Nutraceuticals (CCN), who were accused of offering bogus free trials, making false claims and using false endorsements. The lawsuit cited one of the company’s claims: “WARNING! AcaiPure Is Fast Weight Loss That Works. It Was Not CreatedFor Those People Who Only Want To Lose A Few Measly Pounds. AcaiPure was created to help you achieve the incredible body you have always wanted … USE WITH CAUTION! Major weight loss in short periods of time may occur.” The company stated that their weight loss claims were backed up by “ironclad, double-blind, placebo-controlled weight loss studies from the medical establishment,” but the FTC found no evidence for this. In fact, when the FTC had expert scientists examine the supplements, they found the main ingredients to be laxatives.
In order to give credibility to their fanciful claims about acai’s fat-burning and metabolism-boosting qualities, websites have often turned to spurious celebrity endorsements. Both Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray have denied ever endorsing or approving these companies’ claims, despite what you might read online. Companies first started using these celebrities to sell their products after acai berries appeared in a list of healthy foods given by a doctor on the Oprah Winfrey show last year, and after a guest on Rachel Ray’s cooking show mentioned the fruit; however, both women have released statements publically disassociating themselves from any involvement with the websites peddling acai supplements.
The bottom line
It is easy to get carried away by the latest fad or food that promises instant weight loss, anti-ageing, detoxification or any other health benefit. Many slimming pills and supplements promise the world, but the only thing that some of them will lighten is your wallet. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, investigating complaints against companies selling acai berry supplements, remarked that “There are no magical berries from the Brazilian rain forest that cure obesity, only painfully real credit card charges and empty weight loss promises.” Acai berries can have a positive effect on health, but only when eaten as part of a balanced diet that includes fruit, veg and whole grains, as well as regular exercise. “If you’re going on the Internet to find them and paying shipping fees, you should go to a market and buy local vegetables and fruits,” says Keri Gans, dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. This advice does not just go for acai, but for any other ‘miracle food’ which claims to offer a shortcut to better health: “If [people] hope to find answers in one food for longevity, I would say they’re mistaken,” Gans says.
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