Adzuki beans, acai berries, goji berries, reap the health benefits of these superfoods and lose up to 20 pounds, TODAY! This probably sounds familiar to even those of us that go online on a semi-regular basis. Banner and ads fill the top, sides, and bottom of the pages, flashing at us with these superfoods that can supposedly magically shrink our waists, give us a six pack, help us win the lottery, and obtain immortality (okay I made up the last two).
There’s no doubt that certain foods are considered “superfoods” for a reason. We don’t see deep-fried twinkie burger or donut-coned ice cream in the same category. So these superfoods does have evidence to back up why it’s labeled as such.
The way they are being pitched as products make it sound like they are newly discovered and are the next best thing. Some go as far as to say that these superfoods were the secret ingredients in the success of fitness models and Olympic athletes, and now for the first time, the cat is out of the bag and you can have a chance to be like them! Marketing aside, a lot of these foods have actually been around for ages.
Today, we’re going to consider just one of these, the Goji Berry.
Do the Goji Berry actually carry through on all the benefits that are claimed? Or is it just another hyped up marketing scam? If I do decide to use it, how do I go about preparing it? Is there such a thing as too much with this berry or any of the superfoods? Before we answer these questions, let’s take a look at the history and background of this fruit.
Background Of The Goji Berry
Place of Origin
The Goji Berry can be traced back to Tibet to almost 2,000 years ago. Some claim that it’s been used in China for over 6,000 years. Not just a food, it was used as medicine as well in different forms. Since the origin of this fruit is dated so far back, there’s really no concrete evidence on how it was discovered and by whom. In case you’re interested however, there is a legend behind on how it was found.
A doctor was supposedly traveling in the Himalayan regions when he stumbled upon a village. The villagers were all in vibrant health, include those that were over 100 years old. No physical illness, disease, gray hair, missing teeth or other abnormalities were found among any of the villagers.
Through talking with the villagers, the doctor found out that all the villagers drink from a single well. Upon further investigation, the doctor saw that the well was filled with a certain red fruit dropped from the overhanging vines. He concluded that the resultant health of the villagers must be from the well water full of this red fruit, having its nutrients dissolved in the water.
This red fruit came to be known as the goji berry.
As mentioned, this fruit wasn’t used only as a food, it also served as medicine. A variety of illnesses and diseases were treated with this fruit: skin rashes, vision problems, liver problems and allergies just to name a few. Nowadays, it has been used for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, treating depression and diabetes and more.
So from the sound of it, goji berries really deserve to be called a superfood doesn’t it? With all its usages, how do we consume this fruit?
Methods Of Preparing Goji Berries
As mentioned before, the villagers in the Himalayan region drank water with goji fruit soaked in. This is similar to how tea is prepared and the water absorbed the nutrients from the berries the same way it absorbs nutrients from tea leaves. This is certainly one way to prepare goji berries, raw. There are other methods of preparing it as well.
This is how I purchase them from the markets. They are in dried form and have shrunk from their original size. They are usually sun-dried and packaged in sealed plastic bags. If you decide to grow these berries yourself, you can simply pick them when they’re ripe and dry them out yourself.
The obvious method that most people think of when it comes to food is cooking it. Goji berry is no different. If cooking is the preferred method, it is usually boiled in hot water for a few minutes until soft. They are usually in the dried form before boiling, not the “full” form like when they’ve just been picked.
As you can see, cooking goji berry is not necessary for consumption. Although it can be prepared in different forms, it doesn’t mean that we should do it a certain way. If the boiling method is used, it’s best to
drink the water as well as the berry’s nutrients have been dissolved into the water during the boiling process.
Benefits Of The Goji Berry
We talked about the obvious benefits of this fruit, but most of them are by word of mouth or just legends it so seems. Can we really rely on these claims without seeing hard evidence? Let’s discuss some of the known benefits that have been studied.
A study was conducted in 2008 that included 34 participants and lasted for 2 weeks. Each of them drank 120 ml of goji berry juice each day for the duration of the study. Feelings of well-being, athletic performance, calmness, mental acuity, and focus are
just a few of the parameters that were reported to have improved by the participants¹. This was only done for a handful of people so it’s not conclusive that it applies to the general population.
Another study, although of poorer quality, was conducted on a group of cancer patients at advanced stages in 1994. The study stated that goji berries were used in conjunction with medical therapy. The cancer in each of the patients were observed to have regressed². However, the application of the goji berries, the amount, the duration of the study and other important factors were not revealed. It’s not conclusive to say that goji berries have any effect on cancer just from this one study.
As far as conclusive studies go, there doesn’t seem to be any for this fruit. But that doesn’t mean that we should dismiss it. Let’s take a look at its nutritional value.
So what’s actually in a goji berry? Here are a few of the major nutrients and mineral in 1 ounce of goji berries.
- Vitamin A: 2520 IU (50% of Daily Recommended Value)
- Vitamin C: 5.4 mg (9% of Daily Recommended Value)
- Riboflavin: 0.4 mg (21% of Daily Recommended Value)
- Iron: 2.5 mg (14% of Daily Recommended Value)
- Copper: 0.6 mg (28% of Daily Recommended Value)
- Selenium: 17.8 mcg (25% of Daily Recommended Value)
Some sources indicate that goji berries also contain 18 different amino acids, including the all the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot synthesize and must obtain from outside sources such as food. I did not include them as part of the nutritional value because the amount of these amino acids are so small that you’d have to ingest a large amount in order to detect any trace of them.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the benefits of the nutrients mentioned above, here are just a few of things they do for us.
Vitamin A keeps our skin, teeth, mucus lining, and soft tissues in a healthy state. Vitamin C plays a significant role in keeping our immune system in order, combating cardiovascular diseases, possible cancer prevention (sound familiar), and treatment of infections.
Riboflavin helps regulate cellular metabolism and other cellular processes such as energy production. Iron in our blood helps carry oxygen to our organs, muscles, and everywhere else in our body. It also helps with pregnancy since blood loss can be severe and iron levels may drop below the safe threshold. On an interesting note, a deficiency in Vitamin C has been linked with iron deficiency also.
Copper promotes the growth of hair, connective tissues, enzymatic reactions, and interestingly, the utilization of iron. Selenium has a wh0le host of benefits like increasing blood flow, regulating hormones, boost immunity, fights cancer (sound familiar? again?), and my favorite, creates enzymes required for testosterone production.
It seems that even without conclusive evidence from clinical trials, it’s safe to say that goji berries definitely keeps you healthy. And we can see that the different mineral and nutrients act together to create total health for us, not just being healthy in one aspect but lacking in another.
We’ve went over a good amount of cases where vibrant health, increased physical and mental performance, treatment of diseases, and other benefits have been attributed to the goji berry. Although anecdotal and not scientific, these cases have been present long before marketers tried to get rich off their goji berry products.
Consider the case of Li-Ching Yun, a chinese herbalists who died in 1933. Given this is anecdotal evidence, none of the claims he made had any hard evidence to back it up. But claims were made that he was born in the year 1736. This would make him 197 years old at his time of death. Regardless if the exact age is accurate or not, many in his village gave claims of his longevity.
The goji berry was one of the fruits that Li claimed to have eaten everyday. Granted, he also lived in the mountains for years
and had regular exercise and practiced martial arts. There was also a lot less pollution then compared to today.
With all that said, some claims one of the factors which attributed to Li’s longevity was his daily consumption of the goji berry, among other herbs and fruits. With the marketing aside, this was in no way a promotion for the goji berry in particular but more about the type of food he ate on a regular basis, and goji berries happen to be one of them.
Regardless if this proves anything or not, the goji berry carries definite benefits.
Extracts Vs. Berries
In a lot of the products that are being marketed, goji berries are sold in the form of an extract. Whether it’s in capsule or liquid form, the products claim to have all the benefits of typical goji berries but concentrated at whatever the multiple is. The claim is that the benefits from just eating regular goji berries aren’t enough to make a significant difference, so a supplement was made to enhance the dosage.
Some studies have been conducted based on goji berry extracts. One such study showed that consumption of extracts have shown potent antioxidant effects in mice³. Other studies show the extracts carry the same benefits as those that were described in the previous sections.
From my experience, when a certain food has a good track record, it’s usually the best option. It’s not so much “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” but more so that real foods are typically better for our health than synthesized food products. I have nothing against extracts and in the case of either extracts or nothing, I’d happily take the extract. But for goji berries, not only is this fruit easily available, it is also much more affordable than the extracts.
Try your local Asian food market or herbal store. They come in the dried form most of the time and are quite cheap. If you can’t find any goji berries for sale in your region, then definite try this goji powder. Or you can try growing your own if you’re in the right region and have the time and materials for it, although you won’t be able to have any until harvest time.
Incorporating Into Your Diet
As far as ways to incorporate this fruit into your diet, there are many different ways. As discussed, you can simply put it in water and let it soak, then drink the water along with the berries. Or you can boil it and have it as tea. And as you may have
guessed, you can also eat it raw. Make sure you wash it first. Here are a few other ways to include goji berries into your everyday foods:
- Juice: Juice the berries in a juicer (I recommend adding water, see next section)
- Smoothie: Blend them along with your favorite ingredients
- Oatmeal/Soups: Simply sprinkle them on
- It’s common to include this in porridge in Asian cultures
- Trail Mix: Add it to your favorite mix
These are just a few possibilities of what you can do with goji berries. They are a great addition to any eating plan and can only provide benefits.
More Isn’t Exactly Better
In the case of this superfood, or arguably any food in general, more definitely isn’t better. The clinche saying rings true here that moderation is key. Too much of a good thing, in this case goji berries, can turn those aforementioned benefits into unwanted side effects. Just to give you an idea, some of these include:
- Restlessness due to high energy levels
- Hemophiliac due to increased blood flow
- Abnormal sperm production due to excess selenium
- Excess selenium in pregnant women also affects the fetus, increasing risk of birth defects
Since the dosage makes the poison, and the goji berry is no exception, make sure you keep the amount in check. If you do decide to incorporate this into your regular diet, then have no more than a handful or two per day. And no, by handful I don’t mean a mountain of berries that would crumble with one more berry added to it.
As far as making pure goji berry juice, the reason I recommend adding water is that we won’t get much out of just 2 handfuls of berries. It’s probably more feasible to add goji berries into the juicer along with other ingredients. The flavor from goji berries are not strong (in my opinion anyway) so it shouldn’t change the flavor of our favorite drink.
I like to leave you with this quote from Hippocrates:
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
I hope this has proven helpful for those of us that have wondered about this superfood. Goji berries for the win!
Product Listed in Article:
- Li XM, Ma YL, Liu XJ. Effect of the Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on age-related oxidative stress in aged mice. J Ethnopharmacol . 2007;111(3):504-511.