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Superfood Spotlight: Goji berries

During the Tang dynasty circa 800 AD, there was a Buddhist temple that was covered with goji vines. Over the years, countless berries fell into the well that supplied water to the monks who lived and prayed at the temple. These monks became famous because into their old age – well beyond 80 years old – they maintained full black heads of hair, lost no teeth and exuded the glow of good health in their faces. According to Earl Mindell, who, centuries later, documented the remarkable longevity and health of the Tang monks, one man even lived to be 252 years old! How has this accomplished? By the daily consumption of goji berries.

Despite it’s wild popularity and fountain of health claims surrounding goji berries, we know very little about their effectiveness and mechanisms for improving health because the human or animal studies on goji berry therapy are few and far between. One of the more recent studies, which was sponsored by a goji berry juice company was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. This short report found that consuming goji berry juice for as little as two weeks increased energy and improved gastrointestinal function in study participants. Other random studies support the use of goji berry juice to raise blood levels of antioxidants however the effect of this outcome on actually disease risk and mortality remains to be seen.

Basic studies of the plant’s chemical composition reveals that the goji berry fruit and the goji plant’s roots contain two powerful phytochemicals, beta-sitosterol and kukoamine, which have cholesterol-lowering effects. For this reason, goji berries have been contraindicated for people on warfarin as a blood thinner. Beta-sitosterol, which is also found in soybeans, is similar to the molecular structure of cholesterol and thus can compete with cholesterol for absorption into the bloodstream. Kukoamine, a lesser known phytochemical which is also found in potatoes and tomatoes, has the ability to lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol. Very little is known about the mechanism of kukoamine’s benefits in the body. Goji berries are also high in antioxidant beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and vitamin C.

Unlike evidence to support their hype, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the slightly sweet, slightly bitter taste of goji berries. Dried goji berries can be brewed into an energizing tea that rivals the effects of green tea. You can also add a handful of the little red gems to soups and salads for a finishing splash of color and nutrients. Goji berries pair well with fruits in smoothies, desserts and on cereal but can also find a place in savoury cuisine like steamed mushrooms and chicken and other Chinese dishes.

References
Leslie Beck Website – accessed 17 September 2010
An apple a day by Joe Schwarz. Harper Collins, 2007. p 323-326.

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