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Superfood: Goji Berries

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We’ve all heard of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and even snozzberries, but get ready for the new berry star — goji berries. Also known as wolfberries or Lycium, goji berries are most commonly seen in their dried form, resembling reddish raisins. For thousands of years, goji berries have been used in China and other parts of Asia as a way of promoting longevity — but let’s see how much of that is really true [1].

Go, Go, Goji — Why They’re Super

Photo by Mykalee McGowan 

Perhaps the most super thing about goji berries is that eating them covered in chocolate is encouraged. Besides that, they have a high concentration of protein (about one gram of protein per tablespoon), contain essential amino acids, are crazy-high in vitamin A (36 percent of the daily recommended value per tablespoon), and a tablespoon has only 18 calories, making them a great snack option.

Goji berries could have almost as many superpowers as Superman himself: One study found that after consuming the berries in juice form for 14 days, subjects reported increased energy levels and improved athletic performance, quality of sleep, focus, digestive regularity, and mental sharpness — not to mention reduced stress and fatigue [2]. No studies have been done to show whether goji berries grant the ability to leap tall buildings in a single boundyet.

Goji berries might also be able to protect us from the elements (and we may be able to learn something from their effects on our little furry friends). One study showed that consuming goji berry juice could provide protection from UV rays by reducing the inflammatory reaction of skin when it starts to get sunburned [3]. Which brings us to the berry’s antioxidant properties: A compound in goji berries was shown to activate antioxidant enzymes in older mice, which could point to the berries’ apparent anti-aging properties that the Chinese have sworn by for centuries [4].

Some studies have also pointed to goji berries’ potential for cancer prevention. In two different studies, goji berries’ polysaccharides (a type of carbohydrate) were shown to inhibit the growth of both prostate cancer and colon cancer cells [5] [6].

To round out the list of superpowers, gojis also contain melatonin, which has been shown to help control weight gain, reduce triglycerides, increase “good” (HDL) cholesterol and decrease “bad” (LDL) cholesterol [7]. Since melatonin is also the hormone in charge of regulating the body’s time cues, goji berries and other foods rich in melatonin could also help improve sleep [8]. In another study, mice sick with the flu showed improved immune response when given a mixture of milk and goji berry juice [9]. Doesn’t sound too tasty, but if it gets rid of the flu, why not!

Gaga for Goji — Your Action Plan

Sounds like a pretty perfect superfood, right? Not so fast. It’s time for the big, fat “however.” There hasn’t been enough research to scientifically prove that goji berries actually possess the magical properties described above. Most studies were done on mice or with very small samples. While goji berries are a great addition to any diet, they shouldn’t be relied on as a cure-all for every sickness under the sun.

Use caution when trying goji berries for the first time — there have been a few documented instances of allergic reactions, and the berries can cause a harmful interaction with the drug Warfarin, which is used to prevent blood clots [10] [11]. Check with a physician to make sure goji berries will play nice with any current prescriptions.

Get started with gojis by snacking on a handful, adding them to trail mix, or trying out the recipes below!

Our Favorite Goji Berry Recipes from Around the Web

Breakfast: Apple Muesli with Goji Berries via Food and Wine
Breakfast: Goji Cranberry Muffins via Positive Ponderings
Lunch: Carrot Soup with Goji, Orange, and Ginger via Leslie Beck, RD
Snack: Antioxidant-Rich Breakfast Bars via Epicurious
Snack: Pistachio, Pecan, and Goji Berry Bites via Marcus Samuelsson
Dinner: Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Goji Berries via Vegetarian Times

Do you have another favorite way to use goji berries? Share your secrets in the comments below! 

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Works Cited

  1. Goji (Lycium barbarum and L. chinense): Phytochemistry, pharmacology and safety in the perspective of traditional uses and recent popularity. Potterat, O. Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Division of Pharmaceutical Biology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland. Planta Medica, 2010 Jan;76(1):7-19.
  2. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice, GoChi. Amagase, H., Nance, D.M. Freelife International, LLC, Phoenix, AZ. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2008 May;14(4):403-12.
  3. Mice drinking goji berry juice (Lycium barbarum) are protected from UV radiation-induced skin damage via antioxidant pathways. Reeve, V.E., Allanson, M., Arun, S. J., et al. Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia. Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences, 2010 Apr;9(4):601-7.
  4. Effect of the Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on age-related oxidative stress in aged mice. Li, X.M., Ma, Y.L., Liu, X.J. School of Food Science and Technology of the XingJiang Agriculture University, Urumqili City, China. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2007 May 22;111(3):504-11.
  5. Lycium barbarum polysaccharides induce apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells and inhibits prostate cancer growth in a xenograft mouse model of human prostate cancer. Luo, Q., Li, Z., Yan, J., et al. College of Public Health, Wuhan University, China. Journal of Medicinal Food, 2009 Aug;12(4):695-703.
  6. Anticancer effect of Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on colon cancer cells involves G0/G1 phase arrest. Mao, F., Xiao, B., Jiang, Z., et al. Ningbo University School of Medicine, Ningbo, China. Medical Oncology, 2011 Mar;28(1):121-6.
  7. Beneficial effects of melatonin on obesity and lipid profile in young Zucker diabetic fatty rats. Agil, A., Navarro-Alarcón, M., Ruiz, R., et al. Department of Pharmacology and Neurosciences Institute, School of Medicine, University of Granada, Granada, Spain. Journal of Pineal Research, 2011 Mar;50(2):207-12.
  8. Sleep-inducing effects of low doses of melatonin ingested in the evening. Zhdanova, I.V., Wurtman, R.J., Lynch, H.J., et al. Clinical Research Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 1995 May;57(5):552-8.
  9. Dietary supplementation with lacto-wolfberry enhances the immune response and reduces pathogenesis to influenza infection in mice. Ren, Z., Na, L., Rozati, M., et al. Nutritional Immunology Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA. The Journal of Nutrition, 2012 Aug;142(8):1596-602.
  10. Anaphylaxis associated with the ingestion of Goji berries (Lycium barbarum). Monzón Ballarin, S., López-Matas, M.A., Sáenz Abad, D., et al. Allergy Unit, Centro Cinco Villas, Casar de Salud, Ejea, Zaragoza, Spain. Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, 2011;21(7):567-70.
  11. Probable interaction between Lycium barbarum (Goji) and Warfarin. Rivera, C.A., Ferro, C.L., Bursua, A.J., et al. Departments of Medicine. Pharmacotherapy, 2012 Jan 31.