The Goji Berry and Goji Juice

Monday, November 5, 2007 - 3:38pm

By Erica Lesperance, RD, LD

It is no secret that berries are among the healthiest foods known to man, containing a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that fight disease and prevent aging. While you are likely familiar with the most common varieties, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, there is one little-known berry that has recently taken center stage--the goji berry.

What are goji berries?

Also known as Wolfberries, goji berries are native to northwestern China. Naturally bright red in color, the berries are shade-dried, resulting in a burnt-red fruit that looks similar to a raisin. Their taste is a tangy sweet-and-sour, often described as a cross between a cherry, a cranberry, and a raisin.

Goji berry: an impressive nutrition profile

For thousands of years, goji berries have been highly regarded by the Chinese for their nutritional and therapeutic properties. In recent years, international awareness about the health benefits of goji berries has exploded, making many wonder about all the fuss. Based on its nutrient profile, the goji berry is clearly a nutritional powerhouse. Nutrient analysis of the goji berry reveals that this fruit contains at least the following:

  • More beta carotene than carrots
  • More vitamin C than oranges
  • More iron and antioxidants than spinach
  • 13% protein, which is higher than that of whole wheat (fruit normally contains only traces of protein)
  • 18 amino acids
  • 21 trace minerals (including zinc, copper, iron, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus)
  • Vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B6
  • High levels of polysaccharides that are thought to stimulate the immune system

Reported health benefits of goji berries

Chinese herbalists use goji berries to protect the liver, promote healthy eyesight, slow the aging process, improve sexual function, increase fertility, boost immune function, and improve circulation. It is difficult to know how effective goji berry consumption is at improving health in all of these ways, but its nutrient profile supports many of these claims. For example, the goji berry is rich in the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which protects the retina of the eye, supporting the claim that goji berries promote healthy eyesight. Test tube and mice studies also suggest that the antioxidants in goji berries support the immune system, protect the liver from toxins, prevent tumor growth, reduce blood glucose, and lower total cholesterol. Unfortunately, research on humans is lacking. However, of the two published human studies, one found that 79 cancer patients responded better when goji was added to their treatment regimen.

Where to find goji berries

Based on all the positive information about the goji berry, you may want to add it to your dietary regimen. Where do you find this exotic fruit? Most goji berry sales occur online from Internet health food sites, but you can also find them at Whole Foods Markets or health food stores. You will find the whole fruit as well as goji juices and goji teas. It is becoming more common to find the dried fruit form added to trail mix, granola bars, and cereals in place of raisins or other dried fruit.

Once you have them, what do you do with them?

Goji berries are great in hot and cold cereals, blender drinks, fruit juice blends, teas, trail mixes, soups, whole fruit & nut bars, all baked goods, and salads. Or just eat them by the handful.

Don't eat goji berries to the exclusion of other nutrient rich berries

Marketers know that you will pay more for something that you think is going to improve your health, and they charge you accordingly. Therefore, goji berries and goji juice do not come cheap. While adding goji berries to your dietary regimen may be well worth the expense, keep in mind that the goji is not the only berry with an extremely impressive nutrient profile. In fact, the entire class of berries is extraordinary. When it comes to antioxidant power, four of the top 10 fruits and vegetables are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, with blueberries ranking number one. Furthermore, blueberries, bilberries, and raspberries contain lutein, which is important for healthy vision; and raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries contain ellagic acid, which research suggests may help to prevent certain types of cancer.

The best way to consume goji berries

To get the maximum benefit of any berry, including goji berries, you should consume the whole fruit. Juices and teas are a close second, as they likely contain some vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, but they will not provide the protein and fiber that the whole berries offer. Beware of goji supplements and extracts, as they are almost never all they claim to be, despite a hefty price tag. It is impossible to bottle the benefits of berries, so skip the supplement aisle and head for the fresh produce.

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Bloch, A. et al. 1995. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Phytochemicals and functional foods. JADA. 95: 493-496.