Maqui Berry: Is Maqui the Ultimate Superfruit?
By now you’ve undoubtedly seen a number of ads, “informational” articles and blog posts touting the amazing virtues of the maqui berry. According to “The University of Google,” maqui berry products can miraculously help you shed excess weight and detoxify your body. Radiant health is just a few swallows (and dollars!) away!
What’s the truth behind the hype?
“Maqui” is Aristotelia chilensis*: an evergreen shrub that produces small, edible dark purple berries. Also known as “Chilean Wineberry,” the species is sacred to the Mapuche people of Chile, who see it as a symbol of benevolence. “Maqui” is the Mapuche name for the plant, which means “black berry.”
Maqui berries are rich in anthocyanins and other antioxidant polyphenols. In fact, a 2002 study suggested that, overall, maqui had a “higher phenol content” and…total antioxidant reactivity” than several other commercial berries. In keeping with their traditional use, maqui berries also appear to have strong anti-inflammatory activity.
So far, so good.
While there are no human studies on maqui (the few studies available are either in-vitro or use mice/rats), research strongly suggests that including polyphenol-rich vegetables and fruits in your diet may reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.
Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that the potential health benefits of maqui are at least on a par with better-known/researched “superfruits” such as blueberry or pomegranate.
Of course, that’s not good enough for some marketers, who claim (or imply) that maqui leaves the competition in the dust—including the last “best” superfruit, acai.
These claims are based on maqui’s polyphenol content and ORAC score, which are alleged to be much higher than the values for other “superfruits.”
For the record, maqui’s numbers do look good, based on data from Novelle International, the manufacturer of “Maqui Superberry” juice. I chose this product as an example because it was analyzed by Brunswick Laboratories, an industry leader in ORAC testing.
According to the company web site, “Maqui Superberry” has an ORAC score of 4396 umolesTE/oz. The closest competing product tested, POM Wonderful, has a score of 993 umolesTE/oz. (TE = “Trolox Equivalents”).
Novelle also provides a product comparison chart of total phenols. Maqui Superberry weighs in at 8.36mg/ml, vs. 3.8mg/ml, 3.5mg/ml and 2.3mg/ml for pomegranate juice, red wine and blueberry juice, respectively.
So maqui is clearly the winner! The ads are right… right?
Well… not so fast. Let’s take a look at what those numbers really mean… and don’t mean.
To begin with, ORAC is an in-vitro (benchtop) test, and may not accurately predict what happens inside the body.
In addition, there’s no consensus on what an “optimal” ORAC intake is, nor the best way to achieve it. Is a single serving of a high-ORAC supplement the equivalent of 5–9 servings of more ordinary vegetables and fruits? Is consuming the equivalent of—say—15000 units “better” than consuming 10,000 units?
No one knows… which is why ORAC is still more of a marketing term, than an informative one for consumers.
Secondly, amounts matter.
For example, the recommended dose for Maqui Superberry is 2 tbsp. (1 fl. oz.) per day. And since it’s on the pricey side (I paid $29.99 US for a 16 oz. bottle at Vitamin Shoppe), an ounce is all most people will realistically consume. However, most people drinking pomegranate juice or red wine will likely consume more: at least 4 fl. oz. at a time.
Thus, they could consume at least as much—if not more—antioxidant polyphenols using standard servings of readily available supermarket products.
So if you’re trying to boost your polyphenol intake, there are plenty of alternatives to maqui… at best, it’s a more concentrated source. Time… AND more research will tell whether maqui actually provides any unique health benefits.
In the meantime, if you’re curious to try maqui, look for products…
- that are manufactured/marketed by established companies with good reputations;
- that aren’t being sold by multi-level marketing (MLM) companies;
- that aren’t being “oversold” with over-the-top, unsupported claims. There is NO proof that maqui will help anyone lose weight, eliminate “toxins” from their bodies or prevent/treat any disease.
In North America, maqui is available in capsules, powder or juice form. Read labels carefully to make sure the products you’re considering are pure (or mostly pure) maqui (we recommend iHerb.com—and use the coupon code FAT259 to receive $5 off your first order).
In addition, be mindful of the recent acai product scams. If you’re buying online, carefully read any “Terms and Conditions” (usually a small link at the bottom of the product page) to make sure you’re not unknowingly signing up for an “autoship” program. If the retailer is offering any sort of free trial program, you can bet participating in it will enroll you in such a program.
Finding a reputable brand is especially important because there are no standards in place for authenticating maqui products. This is a situation that invites “cheating,” aka “Economically Motivated Adulteration.”
The FDA considers superfruit juices and supplements to be “ripe for adulteration,” as do industry trade groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Bilberry is just one example… there are others.
The bottom line is that maqui—like acai, goji, mangosteen and other exotic “superfruits”—is a healthy and nutritious food.
But it’s certainly not the only way to “spike” your diet with antioxidant phytochemicals; nor is it clearly superior—from a human health/fitness perspective—to more conventional (and less expensive) choices. And it certainly won’t detoxify your body, eliminate dangerous waste materials, or magically melt pounds of unsightly fat from your body.
In the end, the research still tells us that it’s vegetables and fruits, NOT “superfruit” supplements, that offer the biggest health “bang for your buck.”
*The full botanical name is “Aristotelia chilensis (Molina) Stuntz” – in honor of the botanists who originally named and described the plant.