Deep, bright red and full of unique antioxidants, goji berries are the newest health craze. Native to the Asian continent, goji berries (Lycium barbarum) are an important element in traditional Chinese medicine which depicts them as a sort of fountain of youth. Although the Chinese have been consuming goji berries for about 2.000 years now, the West has only recently been introduced to this fruit, hence its popularity. But are goji berries really worth this much fuss? Are they this incredibly healthy? Let’s see.
The goji berry is a small, elongated, bright red berry, also known as goji or wolfberry. Goji berries are native to the Asian continent and wild varieties can be found from Mongolia to the Plateau of Tibet. Fresh goji berries are very juicy, but they are usually sold in dry form and have a trademark bittersweet flavor. China is the largest producer of goji berries with plantations that surpass hundreds of thousands of acres.
It is believed that goji berries owe their unique antioxidant content and nutritional value to the quality of the soil they are grown in. It would appear that fertile, alkaline soils and high altitudes make great goji berries. If you have some garden space available and can get your hands on some seeds, you can easily grow your own goji plants. For better storing, you can either freeze them or sun-dry them.
Goji berries are believed to be one of the healthiest foods in the world. Although nutritional values may differ slightly according to the place of origin of the fruit, if you purchase goji berries from reliable producers or grow them yourselves, you will certainly enjoy highly nutritious fruit.
Goji have a rather impressive phytochemical content: beta-sitosterol, cyperone, germanium, solavetivone, physalin, zeaxanthin and lutein are only a part of the unique phytonutrients found in goji berries. Zeaxanthin and lutein, for instance, have potent antioxidant properties and can protect against free radical damage caused by blue light.
Eating foods rich in zeaxanthin and lutein such as goji berries, carrots or spinach protects the retina and prevents macular degeneration, also known as loss of central vision as a result of old age. Moreover, goji berries are an excellent source of vitamin C. As incredible as it may sound, goji berries have approximately 6 times more vitamin C than oranges. Even more, 100 g of goji contains more beta-carotene than 100 g of carrots and more iron than a regular-sized steak.
However, it’s important to make a distinction between the iron in plant-based foods and the iron in animal food sources. Plants like goji contain a type of iron called non-heme iron, whilst animal food source have heme iron. Usually, heme iron is the one with the highest bioavailability, whole non-heme iron is poorly absorbed. Fortunately, vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron in general, including non-heme iron. And since goji berries are a great source of both iron and vitamin C, you get to absorb plenty of iron from them. As such, they make a great food for managing anemia and restoring vitality.
In addition to this, goji berries are famous for their incredible polysaccharides content. The polysaccharides found in goji were found to induce apoptosis (or programmed cell death) in cancer cells, supporting the claims that goji are one of the most potent antioxidant foods known to us.
Studies show eating the fresh berries or drinking goji juice daily boosts energy levels, supports physical effort and provides benefits for mental health such improved mood, better concentration and sleep quality, reduced brain fog and improved mental clarity, benefits for digestive health such as improved transit time and motility and overall reduced fatigue (A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice).
After researching international nutrition databases, consulting biology and medicine books and browsing through science and nutrition articles from reputable journals, I have managed to comprise a rather accurate nutritional table for the famous goji berries. However, the overall nutritional facts on goji are rather scarce. But let’s give the benefit of the doubt here: goji berries remain a novelty and researchers may need some time to uncover the secrets of this highly prized fruit.
Goji berries contain impressive amounts of vitamin C and iron. As you may already know, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, while iron prevents anemia. But the wonderful properties and health benefits of goji berries come as a result of their unique polysaccharides content which has shown strong anti-cancer activity. Goji berries are also a great source of potassium, zinc and selenium. For further information on minerals and their health benefits, see the vitamins and minerals page.
Overall, the berries make a wonderful addition to any diet. They are highly nutritious and have a strong antioxidant content. However, one food is not going to make or break your health. Good overall lifestyle habits and a healthy, natural, balanced diet constitute the best prevention. Eating just one fruit or seed or vegetable is not an instant solution to getting healthy and fit and reversing years of poor eating. It takes time, effort and, why not, skepticism. You need to document yourselves and, based on your own research and knowledge of your body, make the choices you feel are right for you.
The same goes for goji berries: read more, much more and only after you’ve grown sick and tired of reading and asking, try them and see if they work for you. Yes, according to present nutritional standards, goji berries are extremely healthy, much healthier than your regular apples, for example.
And the fact that they come from the somewhat untouched land of the Himalayas may contribute to their out of the ordinary antioxidant properties and nutritional value. Overall, regular consumption has been shown to have real health benefits for most consumers. But are goji berries good for you? Read, learn, try and be the judge of what makes you feel good and live better.