Goji berry is a superfood that has been prized in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. In fact, the Chinese region where they are grown and eaten on a daily basis boasts far more people living to the age of 100 than elsewhere in the country, and many say it is because they eat the berries every day. Goji berries have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers that help fight disease and improve energy levels while at the same time providing a sense of well-being and calm.
What Are Goji Berries?
Goji berries are tangy, small red berries that have a tangy, sweet and sour taste that has been compared to cranberries. They are also known as wolfberries, and grow on a small, evergreen shrub that grows in the Himalayan valleys of China, Tibet and Mongolia. The bush generally grows about 3 feet tall, and the berries are so delicate that rather than being picked they need to be shaken off of the vines that they grow on.
The berries have long been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine to treat a wide range of ailments, including kidney and liver problems, high cholesterol and blood pressure, skin rashes, allergies, insomnia, and depression. Tibetan monks are said to have eaten them and used them to make tea that helped them to achieve greater levels of inner peace. They are thought to be integral to longevity and overall health, and there is good reason for that.
Goji berries are low in calorie, have no fat, and are a rich source of fiber and anti-oxidant nutrients. The berries can be eaten fresh or dried, and they are also available as powders or liquids that can be added to other foods. People have said that they offer a wide range of benefits, including boosting energy levels and performance, increasing levels of calm and focus, elevating happiness and sleep quality, and eliminating stress and fatigue. From a health perspective, their nutritional density provides improved digestion, fights cancer, prevents diabetes and fights the damaging effects of free radicals on heart health, eye health, skin and more.
1. Goji Berries Contain Extremely High Levels of Vitamins, Minerals and Antioxidants
A good way to gauge how nutrient dense goji berries are is to compare them to other foods that are known to be healthy. They are higher in vitamin C by weight than oranges and have more beta carotene by weight than carrots. Their iron content is higher than that of steak and they have one of the highest rankings on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale of antioxidant activity of all foods. They are high in amino acids and minerals, contain protein and vitamins, and even provide essential fatty acids that promote body fat loss. All this in a tiny low-calorie, high-fiber, flavorful package. Just one half cup of goji berries contains:
Calories – 83
Fat – 0 grams
Fiber – 8 grams
Protein – 11 grams
Vitamin A – 9000 IU (180% of RDV)
Copper – 2.0 mg (100% of RDV)
Selenium – 63.7 mcg (91% of RDV)
Riboflavin – 1.3 mg (75% of RDV)
Iron – 9.0 mg (50% of RDV)
Vitamin C – 19.2 mg (32% of RDV)
Potassium – 840 mg (24% of RDV)
Zinc – 2.7 mg (18% of RDV)
Thiamin – 0.1 mg (10% of RDV)
Calcium – 100 mg (10% of RDV)
The vitamins, minerals and amino acids found in goji berries have powerful antioxidant properties that are vital for health and longevity.
2. Goji Berries Can Improve Your Eyesight
Among the antioxidants that are found in goji berries, two are particularly important to eye health. Both “zeaxanthin” and “lutein” fight the age-related damage caused by free radicals that attack the eyes, as well as the harmful effects of UV light rays. These two compounds tend to concentrate within the cells of the retina, where they protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
Bottom Line: Goji berries decrease the risks of macular degeneration and cataracts, the two leading causes of vision loss as we age.
3. Goji Berries Fight Cancer
One of the most touted benefits of eating goji berries is the power that its antioxidants give it in fighting cancer. Tests have shown that extracts from goji berry cause cell death in human cancer cells. Additionally, they boost the immune system, helping it prevent cancer cells from migrating throughout the body, while the selenium and germanium found in the fruit protects against free radical damage that has been linked to genetic mutations that lead to cancer developing. Goji berries are also said to provide therapeutic benefits for patients who are being treated for cancer with chemotherapy. One study showed that when cancer patients were given goji berries, they responded better to the traditional treatment that they were receiving. And another study showed that the compounds in goji berries make cancer tumors more vulnerable to radiation therapy.
Bottom Line: The compounds and nutrients found in goji berries make them a powerful accompaniment to conventional cancer treatments, as well as a dietary addition that can help prevent DNA damage that can lead to cancerous mutations.
4. Goji Berries Help Control Cholesterol Levels and Improve Circulation
Heart and cardiovascular disease is caused by many different factors, but the plaque that forms in arteries and blood vessels is a major contributor. These plaques form when LDL cholesterol levels are high, and this in turn requires the heart to pump blood with greater force. Goji berries boost our bodies’ production of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase, or SOD, which cuts cholesterol oxidation and helps control blood pressure. The berries also contain beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol that cuts the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines by half, leading to more of it being excreted and less circulating throughout the body.
Bottom Line: Goji berries are a heart healthy addition to your diet that helps cut bad cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.
5. Goji Berries are Weight Loss Boosters
Goji berries are weight loss aid that helps you achieve your diet goals in multiple ways. They help to stabilize blood sugar, which prevents cravings. They have a low glycemic index, which means that they are able to satisfy you in a way that sugary or starchy foods do without a quick return of hunger pangs. They are high in fiber, which helps keep you full while also providing chromium, which controls blood sugar levels and preserves lean muscle as you are losing weight. And it contains thiamine that supports a healthy metabolism and helps you convert carbohydrates into energy more efficiently. Beyond that, goji berries have been shown to improve our ability to manage stress and increases overall energy, making it more likely that we will have the stamina needed to add rigorous exercise to our daily schedule.
Bottom Line: Goji berries give us extra energy to exercise, preserve lean muscle, while helping us to stay full and avoid snacking and high calorie foods while trying to lose weight.
6. Goji Berries Help Strengthen Your Immune System
There’s a reason why traditional Chinese practitioners called the goji berry the “longevity fruit.” The polysaccharides found in these tiny berries help the body fight off disease and keep your immune system healthy. The goji berry also contains vitamin C and zinc, both of which have been shown to fight viruses and boost the growth and health of human tissue. They have been found to help protect against allergies and autoimmune disorders, and they also promote the growth of good bacteria in our digestive system that helps guard against infection and stomach disorders.
Tips for Buying Goji Berries and Adding them to Your Diet
Goji berries may not be available at your local grocery store, but you can buy them fresh and in dried form at health food stores and Asian markets. The best way to include them in your diet is in the same way that you would any other berry or dried fruit: add them to your cereal or yogurt, or top a salad or even a dessert with them. You can add fresh goji berries to baked goods in the same way that you would blueberries and dried berries in the same way that you would raisins. You can also purchase them in a concentrated liquid form or as a powder that can be added to your smoothie.
One note of caution about goji berries: they do have blood thinning properties, so if you are taking anti-coagulant medications, do mot eat them in large quantities.