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Does ‘Super Fruit’ Live Up To The Super Claims?

By Ginger Allen, CBS 11 News
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Experts Question the Claims Made by Super-fruit Products

You can’t walk into the grocery store without noticing a new juice, powder, or bar touting a super-fruit. In just two-years, consumers have spent half-a-billion dollars on products with names like acai, lichi, and goji.

Sherry Johnston of Dallas laughs when asked, “What is a goji berry?”

“I have no clue,” she answers.

The list of what’s being called “super-foods”…specifically “super-fruits” like pomegranates, acais, lichi berries, goes on and on…and so do their “super-claims.”

Jane Smith of Dallas, who works out with Johnston says, “They sound like something that must be better for you because they have better names.”

Smith says she’s heard they can do “everything from burn fat and improve your skin tone to give you energy.”

These are all claims Smith and her work out buddies are questioning. As they get older, they are looking for every new answer to staying young and looking good, but they are also listening closely as scientists and doctors begin weighing in on the alleged “super-powers” of the ever-growing popular fruits.

Registered Dietitian Meridan Zerner says the claims are overstated. Zerner works at the Cooper Aerobics Company in Dallas where nutrition, fitness and healthy lifestyles are a focus. Zerner is often asked about new food and claims by her clients. The biggest questions surrounding the new super-fruits is if he products containing them really can help you lose weight. Some product packaging containing the super-fruits tout “powerful fat burning” ingredients.

“While they might be healthy, and i would encourage people to incorporate them in their diets, don’t expect weight loss magic, ” says Zerner.

On the flip side, Zerner says too much of these products containing pomegranates, nonis and other exotic sugar-filled fruits could have the opposite efftect.

“In  fact, these juices have calories and carboyhdrates..and so might even have more an impact on a weight loss goal than incorporating it…They could actually gain weight.”

Zerner does say choose darker, deeper colored fruits when your shopping and picking. These are healthier for you.

“If you were going to choose between an apple juice and a pomegranate juice, the pomegranate juice is going to give you more in terms of these antioxidants and pytochemicalsbut it’s not magic.”

Zerner also recommends the lesser expensive cranberry juice over some of he higher priced super-fruit juices if you are looking to save money. She says these are cheaper options with the similar health benefits.

In addition to weight loss, recent research on super-fruits also makes cancer claims. Some studies say pomegranatates stop the spread of prostate cancer. Others say goji berries can treat lung and cervical cancer. One study says acai fights cancer naturally.

Oncologist David Euhus at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas says, “I do bristle at all the claims that i see with all of these products.

Dr. Euhus says a balance is the key to good health. Exercise and a good diet is what he stresses to his patients with cancer.

“None of these (super-fruits) have proven to have effects on cancer rates or cancer treatment in well done clincial trials.”

Dr. Euhus says the studies that you read on the internet are most independent studies conducted by the makers of the products containing the super-fruits. He says they are not “peer-reviewed.” Other doctors and health institutions have not reviewed them. He also stresses that most of the studies have been conducted in test tubes and not on humans.

“A lot of times when we translate mouse data to humans, it just doesn’t work.”

Dr. Euhus says these early studies and findings are now misleading consumers…particularly those searching the internet looking for answer and cures.

No matter where you’re searching, on the internet or in the grocery store, you’re likely also seeing claims that these new tropical fruits can improve your heart health.

“Today if you looked up a google search for superfoods, you’d find three- million hits and the first two-million of those would be from folks taht make super-foods,” says Cardiologist Tony Das at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas.

Dr. Das says there is no proof these fruits are any more heart healthy than our old favorites like blueberries, apples and bananas. He says the “oldies” have their benefits as well and the claims regarding the new fruits have been taken out of context.

“These aren’t magic foods. Calling them super foods is probably a bit of a stretch.”

Dr. Das, Zerner, and Dr. Euhus also say the term itself is made up. Allen asked Das, “So the science and medical world do not recognize ‘super-food’ or ‘super-fruit?’”

“That’s correct,” says Dr. Euhus.

“The term superfood is a media developed term…good marketing,” smiles Dr. Das.

According to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm for the Natural Products Industry, products containing acai, bilerry, blueberry, cherry fruit supplements, coconut oil, cranberry supplements, elderberry, goji berry, magosteen, noni or pomegranates made up more than $228-million dollars in U.S. sales from March 20, 2010 to March 19, 2011.

When asked if this should be a multi-million dollar industry, Zerner quickly answered, “No!”

Our experts offer some warnings about the products. While they say most of them harmless, Dr. Das says be careful with wolfberry tea. He says the prodcut can thin your blood. You should be particularly cautious if you’re on bloodthinners.

Dietitian Meredith Zerner says to also be aware that there is sugar in all of these prodcuts and diabetics need to talk to their doctors before consuming them. Zerner also adds that some of these products contain spirulina which has been known to cause gout or kidney stones.

The Federal Drug Administration does not regulate supplemnts but it does regulate produce coming into these country. Because some of these products are supplements containing “super-fruits,” the FDA has stepped in and sent warnings to several companies saying their claims have gone too far. The FDA has warned some companies that their products can not be treated like drugs or make claims relating to cures without undergoing more extensive testing.

In the meantime, SPINS is now predicting that the maqui berry is the next fruit poised to be the trendy go-to grocery of 20-11. Studies claim the maqui berry also has weight loss powers.

Jane Smith and her workout buddies say they’ll be watching and listening but they’ll remain cautiously optimistic as the scientists, doctors and nutritionists continue to separate fact from fiction.

“We’re all looking as women to be fit or look good so we’re going to try anythign that is new and approved,” says Smith.

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