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What are goji berries?

The goji berry fruit.
The goji berry fruit.
Wikipedia

Goji berries, also called wolfberries, are a fruit native to China. Within their red-orange raisin appearance resides an impressive history of health benefits. In Tibetan medicine, goji berries or Lycium barbarum have been used for about 2,000 years to treat kidney, eye, skin, allergy, and sleep problems; diabetes; cancer; sexual dysfunction; and chronic liver disease.

Goji berries have become very popular in the past five years. For having been around for such a long time, there is a surprising lack of quality research on many of the health claims. Still, enough of their benefits have been substantiated to earn them the "superfood" title. As to their therapeutic value, we seem to have only scratched the surface of the polysaccharide, phytochemical, carotenoid, and antioxidant properties.

Goji berry health benefits

  • The goji berry is an adaptogen, a term used to describe a property in compounds that increase the body's ability to deal with stress, trauma, fatigue and anxiety. Due to its adaptogenic nature, the goji berry is believed to aid in digestion, weight loss (stress is well known to contribute to weight gain and prevent weight loss), energy levels and heart health.
  • Supports the endocrine glands responsible for muscle repair and generating energy, specifically the thymus, adrenal, thyroid and pituitary. Also, the polysaccharides in goji berries have been found to reduce muscle soreness by aiding the removal of lactic acid and other toxins that can build up during exercise.
  • Low glycemic effect. Goji berries are only 29 on the Glycemic Index (anything below 50 is considered to be low glycemic), so they aren't likely to spike blood sugar.
  • Contains the phytochemicals Betain (assists in breaking down fats stored in liver), Zeaxanthin (protects the retinas in our eyes), Physalin (helps fight off certain cancers like leukemia), Solavetivone (powerful anti-fungal and anti-bacterial), Cyperone (lowers blood pressure and has cancer fighting properties, especially good for preventing cervical cancer), and Beta Sitoserol (anti-inflammatory and increases virility).
  • Almost a complete protein. Many websites say that it contains "all 8 essential amino acids", but there are actually 9 essential amino acids (still, pretty good for a berry) and contains 18 amino acids total. Two amino acids in particular, l-arginine and l-glutamine, when combined with potassium (which is also high in goji berries) help your body to produce more growth hormone. Growth hormone helps your body retain lean muscle tissue.
  • High in fiber: They are 21% fiber by weight.
  • Nutrient density: Ounce for ounce, goji berries have more vitamin C than oranges, four-times the potassium of bananas, more beta-carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach, are high in zinc (a mineral essential for a healthy immune system), an array of B vitamins, and the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin E.
  • Supports eye health. The antioxidant zeaxanthin absorbs blue light.
  • Strengthens the immune system and promotes friendly gut bacteria, impacting other areas of health including reducing inflammation, allergies, symptoms of autoimmunity disease, and increased cancer cell destruction.
  • Higher in antioxidants than blueberries (5-10 times depending on who you ask). Goji berries are rated #1 on the ORAC scale (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), which measures the antioxidant level in foods.
  • Because of their powerful ability to protect cells against free radical damage, goji berries are considered the world's most anti-aging food.

5 easy ways to use goji berries in your diet

Integrating goji berries into your diet is easy! They can certainly be eaten frozen or dried by themselves, but here are some other ways to enjoy them.

  1. In yogurt
  2. Trail mix
  3. Paleo cereal or in cooked cereal (as you would with raisins)
  4. Salads (instead of cranberries)
  5. Protein pancakes (as a topping or mixed in the batter)

As with any food, some people will feel better eating goji berries than others. So even though goji berries have an impressive nutritional profile, if you notice that they don't agree with your body (cause gas, bloating, sugar cravings, foggy thinking, increased hunger, energy tanking, etc.), find another superfood that does.

Goji berries are carried in most health food stores in Santa Cruz including New Leaf, Staff of Life, Deluxe Foods and Food Bin either packaged or in bulk. They can be pricy, but if even half of the health claims about them are true, they're well worth it.

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