Smart Fuel: Goji Berries

Also know as lycium barbarum, lyceum fruit, fructus lycii, wolfberry and gou qi zi, type Goji berries into a search engine and your computer screen will quickly fill with warnings about how not to be scammed by this fruit.

A fruit con artist? We were intrigued…

But before we dig into the sordid world of Goji berries, let’s first learn a little more about them:

The berries – which are typically found dried and closely resemble the appearance of raisins – hail from an evergreen shrub popular in China, Mongolia and in the Himalaya Mountains in Tibet. However, wolfberries – and remember, the names can, and frequently are, used interchangeably – can be found in many climates and actually grow wild in several countries.

According to some reports, Goji berries have been used in Chinese Medicine for 6,000 years to treat maladies ranging from liver damage to poor circulation. In addition, it is also thought to promote longevity – with some Web sites suggesting that daily Goji berry consumption can increase longevity by 20 years! – and boost sexual function and fertility. The mechanisms behind these claims? Well, Goji berries are thought to contain some 18 aminos as well as Vitamin A, B1, B2, B6 and Vitamin E (which is not all that common in fruits). Rounding out its vitamin profile, certain Goji berry varieties also provide more Vitamin C by weight than an orange. In addition, Gojis contain 21 trace minerals and are an excellent source of iron, packing more iron than spinach!

However, Goji berries are perhaps more revered for their antioxidants, polysaccharide and phytonutrient properties. Specifically, the berries contain high levels of the carotenoid zeaxanthin, which is thought to ensure the health of the eye and in one study. It was found to reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, an eye condition that is currently considered the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in adults over age 65.

But the good work of the antioxidants doesn’t stop there: A study of 79 cancer patients published in a 1994 edition of the Chinese Journal of Oncology* suggests that patients responded more favorably to treatment when Goji berries were added to their regimens. A second study appearing in the journal Life Sciences, meanwhile, suggested that the berries might contain compounds that can stem cancer activity by causing cell apoptosis (cell death) as well as interfere with cancer cell proliferation rate and cycle distribution. Another study also published in Life Sciences suggested that Goji berry extracts could “significantly reduce blood glucose levels and serum total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations” in rabbit models.

As a result of these findings, Goji berries have taken off as something of a wonder fruit and are now advertised on the internet – and even on the Oprah Winfrey show – as a compound that can transform your life and your health! And this is where the scams start in: Purveyors, looking to cash a quick buck on America’s obsession with the fountain of youth, are shilling Goji berries – which they often contend have been enhanced or somehow made more powerful – by selling them on the internet, with prices hovering at around $60 per bag of berries on some sites and bottles of juice fetching nearly $35!

Our advice? Look at the Goji berry not as a solution to all your health problems – or as one internet site claimed, a source of happiness that would have a cumulative affect so that you could eventually be left smiling all day – and instead scoop up Goji berries as part of a healthy diet just as you would any other berries. We can recommend them as Smart Fuel but don’t buy into the hype of $60-a-bag miracle food. They’re just berries!

You can find whole Goji berries at Chinese herbal shops and select health food stores and supermarkets – with grocery chain Trader Joes currently selling a trail mix that includes Goji berries. Goji juice, meanwhile, might be slightly harder to find, but is generally available at health food stores and through online retailers.

* Unfortunately, this study is published by a Chinese organization that does not maintain an English Web site so we are unable to link to this study at this time.

What do you think of the Goji berry craze? Hit us up with a comment!

Vic, miheco Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

What is ORAC?

Antioxidant Powerhouse: Cranberries

diet blog: Don’t Believe the Hype

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