Hidden Dangers of Cheap Acai Products

It all sounds too good to be true! On reading the labels of some acai berry products you’d think one product is a lot more expensive than another, or one product contains a lot more acai berries than another. In some cases you’d be right. In others it’s down to the small print, ingredient labels or chemical process that the truth is hidden. I hope to clarify a few things to help you, when choosing to buy acai berry products, to compare like with like.

Freeze Drying

If a freeze-dried substance is sealed to prevent the reabsorption of moisture, the substance may be stored at room temperature without refrigeration, and be protected against spoilage for many years. Preservation is possible because the greatly reduced water content inhibits the action of enzymes that would normally spoil or degrade the substance.

Freeze-drying also causes less damage to the substance than other dehydration methods using higher temperatures. In addition, flavours, smells and nutritional content generally remain unchanged, making the process popular for preserving food.

Without going indepth into the scientific process of how fruit is freeze dried the process is quite simple. The fruit is placed in a sealed container and then frozen to its triple point (a temperature and pressure at which water can exist as a solid(ice), liquid(water) and gas(steam) all at the same time). This is usually between -50°C and −80 °C. The water vapour is constantly removed from the container under a vacuum. When all the water content has gone the process is complete.

As fruit is mainly liquid less than 10% of solid is left after freeze drying. However, this dried solid contains exactly the same nutrients as the original fruit, perfectly preserved. The only item missing from the original fresh fruit is water.

As freeze drying requires industrial freezers, vacuums and precision measuring and monitoring it is a very expensive process. However, the rewards are that the fruit is perfectly preserved. A piece of fruit freeze dried the moment it is picked and then stored properly has the same nutritional benefits 1 year later as the same fruit picked straight off the tree.

Extraction

This is when the majority of natural essences are obtained by extracting the essential oil from the, fruit, roots, etc., or the whole plants, through various techniques. This can involve crushing or pressing the fruit, steeping it in a liquid to extract chemicals or using distillation to separate chemical components.

Whichever process is used the final product contains different properties to the original fruit. Unlike freeze drying, extraction involves ‘destroying’ the original fruit. During this process degeneration of some of the nutrients can occur as the fruit gets older depending on how long the process takes. Also, in some cases, as other chemicals are added during the extraction process, the final product may include some of these chemicals.

Extraction however is a very popular process used in the fruit and drinks industry. Often it is the first step of a production process, e.g. the production of beer or spirits, or the production a spray dried prodcut (see below). Suffice it to say, it is a lot cheaper process than freeze drying, but does not maintain fully the rich nutrient composition that freeze drying obtains.

Spray Drying

Spray drying is a method of producing a dry powder from a liquid or slurry by rapidly drying with a hot gas. A liquid stream is passed into a spray dryer which separates the solute or suspension as a solid and the solvent into a vapor. The solid is usually collected in a drum or cyclone. The liquid input stream is sprayed through a nozzle into a hot vapor stream and vaporised. Solids form as moisture quickly leaves the droplets. Spray dryers can dry a product very quickly compared to other methods of drying. They also turn a solution, or slurry into a dried powder in a single step.

Spray drying often is used as an encapsulation technique by the food and other industries. A substance to be encapsulated (the load) and an amphipathic carrier (usually some sort of modified starch, e.g. maltodextrin) are homogenized as a suspension in water (the slurry). The slurry is then fed into a spray drier, usually a tower heated to temperatures well over the boiling point of water.

The application of the spray drying encapsulation technique is to prepare “dehydrated” powders of substances which do not have any water to dehydrate. For example, instant drink mixes are spray dries of the various chemicals which make up the beverage. The technique was once used to remove water from food products; for instance, in the preparation of dehydrated milk. Because the milk was not being encapsulated and because spray drying causes thermal degradation, milk dehydration and similar processes have been replaced by other dehydration techniques. Skim milk powders are still widely produced using spray drying technology around the world, typically at high solids concentration for maximum drying efficiency.

One of the problems of spray drying fruit is that it requires heating the fruit to very high temperatures. These high temperatures degrade the fruit removing many of the nutrients. The second problem is that the spray dried process involves using a carrier agent, such as maltodextrin (see below), to dry the fruit. So for example, with the production of spray dried acai berry, 40% of the “acai powder” is actually maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin is a highly processed ingredient. It is a nonsweet nutritive saccharide polymer (complex sugar) that consists of D-glucose units. It is prepared as a white powder or concentrated solution by partial hydrolysis of vegetable starch with suitable acids and enzymes. It is used in food with no limitation other than current good manufacturing practice.

Maltodextrin is a major ingredient in weight gain products. It causes insulin production in your body which puts your body into fat storing mode. This is because maltodextrin has a glycemic index of 105. This is 5 Points higher than glucose and 44 points higher than sucrose.

Another side effect of Maltodextrin is that it gives you wind. Many weight gain products contain Maltodextrin which is why many body builders suffer from wind. Maltodextrin hasn’t gained the title, “fart maker of all fart makers”, for no reason!

If maltodextrin is used in the spray drying process (see above) then it is not listed as an ingredient on the product label. Because it is added during the manufacturing process, it technically does not need to be listed as an ingredient, due to a loophole in the FDA labeling laws.

This can have very adverse side-effects to anyone purchasing a spray dried acai berry suppliment for slimming. The reason being that if the major ingredient in spray dried acai berry is maltodextrin the product will increase weight (i.e. insulin production) not decrease it. Any of the highly beneficial dieting attributes associated with the acai berry will be far outweighed by the concentration of fat producing maltodextrin.

5:1, 10:1, 20:1 Extract

This is where the maths comes in. Basically the n:1 ration means that for every nkg of raw material 1kg is produced. i.e. (n-1) kg of product is thrown away.

For example, if we have 1kg extract of acia berries from a 20:1 extract it means that we started with 20kg of acai berries, put them through an extraction process and what we had left after this process is 1kg.

Unlike freeze drying this 20:1 extract does not contain the same nutrients as the original fresh fruit. We have lost 95% of the original fruit along the way. Most of this is probably water, but the extraction process has potentially degraded or lost some of the other nutrients.

“Contains 500mg of acai berries”

This is often quoted on labels. But if you read the ingredients it will tell a different story, “from 50mg of a 10:1 extract”.

Because a 10:1 extract is 1 tenth of the original fruit content then logically 50mg of extract is equivalent to 500mg of fruit. What this fails to explain (or reveal) is that ‘extract’ is not the same as the original fruit. It is derived from the fruit but it is not the same as the fruit. As is explained above it is the poor relation of the fresh fruit. Various nutrients could have been lost or altered so the extract is similar to the fruit, but how much similar is anyone’s guess. If the extract contained exactly the same nutrients as the original fruit it would nolonger be an extract but would infact be a freeze dried product instead.

So “contains 500mg of acai berries” is misinformation because what it actually contains is 50mg of 10:1 acai berry extract. It would be better saying: “500mg of acia berries were used in the manaufacture of one caspule.” Whether all the 500mg of acai berries actually made it into the final capsule is no way guaranteed and highly unlikely that they ever did.

“Contains 500mg of acai freeze dried”

This means that 500mg of acia berries were used. The freeze drying process has removed the water content but what is left is pure acai berry with 100% of nutrients in exactly the same structure and composition as the original fruit.

What’s the Difference?

When you extract, you take away a lot of the supporting benefits that come with that plant. Some plants have great supporting properties, but when they are extracted they are gone and some of the extracts do not work as well without them. Freeze drying does not suffer from this.

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