The New Berry on the Street: Goji Berries
Goji berries are quickly making a name for themselves as a very popular part of the berry family but what exactly are these bright orange-red “miracle workers”? Why are they considered a superfood? How can we benefit from eating them? And do they really prevent chronic illness? Well… let’s take a look and find out the answers to these questions for ourselves!
Over the years research has shown the definite health benefits of eating berries of all sorts- strawberries, acai berries, blueberries and cherries. Goji berries are no different as they pack a concentrated dose of antioxidants and vitamins. The goji berry has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years as an overall health stimulant, an immune system enhancer and liver protector. They have also been known to improve circulation and sperm production and act as a remedy for diabetes, anemia, tinnitus and lung diseases.
All of the recorded benefits of consuming goji berries can be linked to their important phytochemicals, or biologically active compounds. The first of these phytochemicals is one that you are probably familiar with, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid pigment in orange-red foods and it plays a very significant role in the process of making vitamin A in our bodies. Vitamin A is needed for normal cell growth, good vision and a healthy immune system.
Another key phytochemical found in goji berries is zeaxanthin, an antioxidant in the carotenoid family. Antioxidants from the carotenoid family play a vital role in supporting the immune system, but zeaxanthin is especially well known as being a powerful vision protector. Zeaxanthin accumulates in the macula of the eye, which is at the center of the retina and allows you to distinguish fine details. According to a study published in the Journal of Ophthalmology, because the concentration of zeaxanthin is so high in the macula of the eye it may be a potent defense against macular degeneration and may delay the aging of the lens, protecting cataracts from forming.
Goji berries also fall into the class of polysaccharides, which are long-chain sugar molecules. Polysaccarides are an excellent source of fiber and when they are broken down they act as potent antioxidants, anti-tumor and immune-stimulating compounds. A clinical study in China showed that when goji berries were combined with the cancer drug, LAK/IL-2, the response rate was 40.9%, while the response rate of patients treated with just the cancer drug was 16.5%. Sounds like a miracle worker to me!
Just to brag a little bit more, this superfood contains 18 amino acids, including all 8 essential amino acids, up to 21 trace minerals, iron and vitamins B & E! Now that we have answered all of our questions and have come to the conclusion that goji berries are indeed all that they are made out to be it’s time to quickly talk about how you can incorporate them into your diet. They can be eaten raw, dried or in the form of juice. Personally I like to add them to my homemade granola and cookies as a sweet, chewy addition. They are also great in oatmeal, as a topping for salads or after soaking at the bottom of a cup of tea, a traditional Chinese practice. Whichever way you choose to eat them start soon because the health benefits of this superfood are just too good to pass up!
Nutrition Coach, Paige Hilken
Snellen EL, Verbeek AL, Van Den Hoogen GW, Cruysberg JR, Hoyng CB. Neovascular age-related macular degeneration and its relationship to antioxidant intake. Acta Ophthalmol Scand 2002 Aug;80(4):368-71.
Cao GW, Yang WG, Du P. [Observation of the effects of LAK/IL-2 therapy combining with Lycium barbarum polysaccharides in the treatment of 75 cancer patients] Zhonghua Zhong Liu Za Zhi. 1994 Nov;16(6):428-31. [Article in Chinese]