Goji Berries: Should You Eat This Chinese Wonder Fruit?

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goji berriesFor thousands of year, the goji berry has been used in Chinese medicine. However, the goji berry was usually referred to as the wolfberry. The wolfberry/goji berry was first highlighted in Chinese medicine in 200 BCE, and for centuries its health benefits have been connected to improved eye health, skin health, curing cancer, testosterone promotion, curing diabetes, hypertension and prolonging life. This little raisin sized berry certainly packs a ton of nutritional value, but how accurate are these claims? Will you really unlock the medical wonders it is believed to have? Has modern medicine debunked the myth of the goji berry? [1]  

It’s time to evaluate this little berry and see how sweet it really is.

There’s tons of fruits and vegetables that promise improved health. But the true reality of it is, fruits are in fact healthy. They are dense with vitamins and minerals, but the one thing that sets the goji berry a part is the fountain of antioxidants it contains. Well, that’s the reputation of the goji berry. But is superior to other more common foods?

When you eat goji berries you consume healing benefits from the plethora of antioxidants contained in the berries. It doesn’t matter if the berry is dried or not, the antioxidants are present. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of a goji berry sits at a score of 3,290. I’m sure that number means absolutely nothing, but let’s look at some other common fruits that are widely known for their impressive antioxidant-rich properties. [2]

But first, what the heck is the big deal about antioxidants?

Ingesting foods rich in antioxidants are imperative to having a healthy and functioning body. Antioxidants can be found in various vitamins, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Goji berries are very dense in Vitamin C, which means when you eat goji berries you are ingesting a food that fights against cellular damage. Antioxidants nullify free radicals in the body, and in the process they help repair, revitalize and rejuvenate cells. [3] The higher the ORAC score the better the absorbency of antioxidants.

Other common ORAC rich fruits [4]:

  • Granny Smith Apples: 3898
  • Gala Apples: 2828
  • Red Delicious Apples: 4275
  • Dried Apricots: 3234
  • Avocados: 1922
  • Bananas: 795
  • Blackberries: 5905
  • Blueberries: 9621
  • Cherries (raw): 3747
  • Cranberries (raw): 9090
  • Grapefruit: 1640
  • Grapes (red): 1837
  • Grapes (green): 1018
  • Mangos: 1300
  • Oranges: 2103
  • Plums: 6100
  • Prunes: 8059
  • Pomegranates: 4479
  • Golden Raisins: 10450
  • Black Raspberries: 19220
  • Red Raspberries: 5065
  • Strawberries: 4302

Wait a second, there’s some foods high on the ORAC list that are way more common than goji berries. So what’s with all the hype about this Chinese wonder fruit? It’s the kind of antioxidants that make this little berry potent. The zeaxanthin is a carotenoid in goji berries that have been connected to strengthening and improving retina health. So if you eat goji berries you will improve your eye health. [5] Moreover, the zeaxanthin has been connected to protecting your skin against sun’s damaging UV rays also. [6] But you know what other common natural food does this too? Carrots. And you can get a bag of carrots at the grocery store for a lot less than a cup of goji berries.

Okay, so I guess that characteristic of the goji berry isn’t all that special. So what does make it a super food and why should someone incorporate and eat goji berries? Some health benefits of goji berries are hidden in the 18 amino acids it contains. [7]

This is little nugget can provide tremendous cellular building blocks for muscular tissues. And in men that might be connected to testosterone levels too. One research on rats definitely support that hypothesis. But more importantly, for the population that abstain from eating animal products, the value in goji berries just skyrocketed. There’s not a tremendous amount of plant-based foods out there that can add essential amino acids to the diet. Though quinoa also receives the notoriety of being a complete plant-based protein. Eating quinoa topped with goji berries could really fuel your body and get it ready for some strong muscle and strength building sessions.

When you eat goji berries there’s also a sense of improved energy levels too. And it’s not that surprising because fruits are considered natural and good forms of carbohydrates. But it’s the unique sugar chain in goji berries that separates them from blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. [8]

When you eat dried goji berries you’ll notice they have a chewy consistency, somewhat similar to raisins or prunes. But this chewiness can be attributed to the polysaccharides which are a long chain of simple sugars bonded together. Because of this chain, goji berries are a great snack for those who are insulin resistant or diabetic. Goji berries do not impact the blood sugar levels and though testing has not been performed on humans, there is evidence that goji berries lower cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels. Which is connected to improved overall cardiovascular health. [9]

Though modern Chinese medicine has linked goji berries to treating diabetes, but it also has a connection to curing some forms of cancer. However, there is very little supporting scientific research and data that back up this theory. A large part of this myth is connected to the abundance of vitamin A in goji berries.

When you eat goji berries, during the digestion process the beta-carotene in the berry gets broken down and converted into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is known to offer substantial heal benefits to eye and skin health. But the conversion to Vitamin A occurs in the liver, and because of that, goji berries are linked to detoxifying the body. The antioxidants play a vital role in this as well. It helps slow down and nullifies free radicals in the body, and promotes cellular health. More specifically it nourishes your kidneys and liver. [10] There is a study that was performed on mice, which exhibited the anti-cancer properties of eating goji berries. The one compound that was associated with the anti-cancer properties besides Vitamin A was Physalin. Physalin is a natural compound which is connected to slowing down tumor growth and fighting against some type of leukemia. Moreover, Physalin is often times used to treat Hepatitis B, a disease within the liver. [11]

With all the information, should you eat goji berries? It certainly would be bad for your health, but it appears that a lot of the information regarding this super food might be myth passed down for centuries. But at the end of the day, there has to be a kernel of truth to all of it.

Somewhere along the timeline doctors have seen significant improvements in an individuals health by adding goji berries to the diet. However, much of the current data and research on goji berries seems to point in a direction that these berries are not too dissimilar to its fruit sisters of blueberries, raspberries and pomegranate seeds. [12] But if you’re looking for a topping for your yogurt, or a little sweetness to add to your oatmeal, I definitely wouldn’t stray too far away from the goji berry. It does have a plethora of amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants and has shown to have staggering benefits to your eye and skin health. So eat those goji berries, and you never know what other research might come out in the future about the overall benefits of this unique berry. Maybe the Chinese doctors had it right all along. I mean, they have been utilized in medicine since 200 BCE.

 

References:

[1] National Center of Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92756/
[2] Natural News: http://www.naturalnews.com/044316_goji_berries_superfoods_antioxidants.html
[3] Authority Nutrition: https://authoritynutrition.com/antioxidants-explained/
[4] USDA Database for ORAC: http://www.orac-info-portal.de/download/ORAC_R2.pdf
[5] National Center of Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21169874
[6] SF Gate: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/essential-amino-acids-goji-berries-2252.html
[7] Bodybuilding.com: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/goji-berry-benefit-secrets.htm
[8] Healthy Blog: https://foodtolive.com/healthy-blog/goji-berries-antioxidants-amino-acids-minerals/
[9] Livestrong.com: http://www.livestrong.com/article/474677-do-goji-berries-lower-blood-sugar/
[10] National Center of Biotechnology Information: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92756/
[11] Pure Healing Food: http://www.purehealingfoods.com/gojiInfo.php
[12] NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/superfoods/Pages/are-goji-berries-a-superfood.aspx


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About the Author Emily Robinson

Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children.

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