BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. – The popular Brazilian acai berry has been touted as a superfood that can promote weight loss, reduce wrinkles, cleanse colons and bolster the immune system. Consumers should be skeptical of these claims, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

“The success of the acai berry demonstrates a marketing triumph rather than scientific research,” said Lynda Johnson. “According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a search of the National Institutes of Health database, there are no human or animal research studies to support acai berry health claims.”

Acai products come in various forms, including capsule, powder, pulp and juice. The products can be rather expensive, Johnson said. A 25-ounce bottle of acai juice concentrate sells for about $40. Spins, a market research firm for the natural-foods industry, reports that Americans spent more than $108 million on acai products in the year ending Feb. 21, 2009, compared with $62 million the year before.

The Better Business Bureau and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have warned consumers about online vendors of acai products offering pricey monthly subscriptions that are difficult to cancel.

Acai berries are not a miracle food, although they can be part of a well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, Johnson said. Most berries are naturally rich in antioxidants and contribute health benefits that reduce risk for chronic disease.

Instead of acai berries, consider eating more fresh or frozen blueberries and strawberries, which are readily available and less expensive. Eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day delivers plenty of antioxidants.

“The extra antioxidants derived from concentrated forms of acai berries may be unnecessary and a drain on the food budget during these challenging economic times,” Johnson said. “Don’t rely on one highly advertised, ‘silver bullet’ food to improve your health or help you lose weight. There are no miracle foods.”