What’s in a berry? There’s a champion new berry that’s come to town, and in its plump little body it has 18 amino acids, essential dietary minerals, six vitamins, anti-ageing properties and the richest source of antioxidants.
The tiny, red goji berry is regarded as one of the earth’s most nutritionally rich foods. Traditionally used by the Chinese as a cure for many ailments, its healing properties are still celebrated today with two-week-long festivals held in its honour.
Goji berries, also called wolfberries, are a species of Lycium fruit. It is believed the goji berry was originally only found in Tibet, but due to great demand was cultivated in other areas in China. Today, most of the world’s commercially produced goji berries come from plantations in valleys in north central and western China.
The goji berry is a deep-red fruit eaten dried. It’s about the size of a raisin. It has a sweet-sour taste, like a cranberry, though some people describe it as closer to a cross between a raspberry and a strawberry.
Products containing a small extract of goji berry are available – there are goji tablets and supplements, goji juice, goji teas. To maximise the health benefits, though, it is recommended that it be eaten in its natural form.
What makes the berry a gem is its nutritional value. It contains 18 amino acids, 21 trace minerals (zinc, copper, iron, calcium etc), and more beta-carotene than carrots. By weight, it’s the richest known source of vitamin C, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and E and has the highest known levels of antioxidant.
Goji berry marketers have claimed that their product can prevent and even cure cancer, boost sexual function, and keep us looking and feeling young. Clearly that’s marketing-speak. But there is some fire behind the smoke:
- Anti-ageing effects. Free radicals’ attack on healthy cells in our bodies is a major cause of early ageing, as well as certain diseases, such as cancer. Antioxidants neutralise and destroy free radicals. So foods that have a high level of antioxidants, as goji berries do, have anti-ageing benefits.
- Enhances libido. Lower sex drive in both men and women is associated with a decrease in the production of testosterone. Goji berries are said to increase production of testosterone. So, maybe this is true.
- Boosts immunity. Goji berries contain polysaccharides which improve the body’s ability to fight diseases; and boost the immune system by increasing the production of ‘killer’ T cells.
- Anti-cancer properties. Goji berries contain germanium, a mineral that is believed to have anti-cancer properties. The polysaccharides and antioxidants further protect against free radicals.
- Helps you lose weight. Goji berries have a low GI, and are high in fibre – so they’re filling, and they stabilise blood sugar levels. They’re a good source of chromium, which helps with in blood sugar control, and which preserves lean mass muscle during weight loss. Muscle burns more calories than fat, which promotes metabolism, and makes it easier to prevent weight gain. It is also a rich source of nutrients that help convert food into energy rather than storing it as fat.
Beware the hype
In our quick-fix society, it is easy to be swept away by something considered a ‘miracle food.’ Nothing replaces a sensible, balanced and broad approach to nutrition.
They don’t come cheap, though. Five hundred grams cost R120 and can be ordered online at naturallygoji.co.za – the only place that Health24 could find. But we’ll keep our eyes open for other sources. – (Leandra Engelbrecht, June 2007)