Also known as wolfberries or Chinese wolfberries, goji berries come from a woody perennial native to parts of China. In traditional Chinese medicine, these oblong, orange-red berries have been used for thousands of years to promote anti-aging. Preliminary clinical evidence suggests some of their traditional uses may indeed have merit. You are unlikely to find fresh goji berries in U.S. grocery stores, but you can buy the dried berries to incorporate into your diet or purchase supplements containing goji extract.
An ounce of dried goji berries supplies 95 calories. That same serving contains 4 grams of protein and 24 grams of carbohydrate, of which 4 grams are fiber and 12 grams are sugar, according to the California Academy of Health.
You’ll also get 140 percent of the daily value of vitamin A, an antioxidant needed for healthy vision, skin, teeth and tissues, and 20 percent of the DV for vitamin C, another antioxidant that supports tissue growth and repair, and improves overall immunity. The serving of goji berries also has 10 percent of the DV for iron, which is needed for healthy blood. Goji berries also offer small amounts of more than 20 vitamins and minerals, reports CAOH.
Carotenoids for Healthy Vision
The vitamin A in goji berries supports good vision, but these berries also contain the powerful phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, known for their benefits to eye health. A small human study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2005, found that wolfberries increased levels of zeaxanthin in the blood, and thus warranted further investigation for diseases of the retina. Scientists at Kansas State University, working with mice and test-tube cultures, also concluded that the phytochemicals in goji berries may help prevent age-related macular degeneration and diabetes-related vision loss. They presented their findings at the 2009 American Society of Cell Biology Conference. However, larger studies in humans are still needed to know how much benefit goji berries really offer.
The high antioxidant content of goji berries may make them valuable in prevention of other diseases, too. According to a test-tube study published in Food Chemistry in 2012, the fruit polysaccharides – a form of carbohydrate – in goji berries display high antioxidant activity. The scientists tested the polysaccharides on human cancer cells and noted their capacity to induce apoptosis or cell death. Although research on humans is lacking, the team concluded that goji berries exhibit potential for cancer prevention.
Sexual and Reproductive Issues
Goji berries are sometimes used in alternative medicine to treat infertility and sexual dysfunction. A team of researchers set out to determine if these traditional uses of the berries had any scientific merit. Supplementing male rats with goji berries for three weeks, they found that the fruit improved ejaculation regularity and reduced sexual inhibition. The berries also promoted the growth of new brain cells, which the scientists reported had a connection to sexual performance. They published their study results in the journal PLOS One in 2012. While these preliminary results are promising, there's no guarantee that goji berries really offer the same benefits for people.
How to Use Them
You can chew goji berries right out of the bag like raisins, or add them to yogurt or trail mix. Incorporate them into dishes like salads and stews as you would other dried fruits. You can also brew tea from dried goji berries and boiling water. Talk to your doctor before supplementing with goji berries, because they may interact with some medications.
- Phytochemicals: Wolfberry
- California Academy of Health: Goji Berries Nutrition Facts
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin A
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin C
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- British Journal of Nutrition: Fasting Plasma Zeaxanthin Response to Fructus barbarum L. in a Food-based Human Supplementation Trial
- Kansas State University: K-State Study Using Chinese Wolfberries as a Dietary Supplement to Improve Vision Imperfections Caused by Type 2 Diabetes
- Food Chemistry: Characterisation of Antioxidant and Antiproliferative Acidic Polysaccharides from Chinese Wolfberry Fruits
- PLOS One: Polysaccharides from Wolfberry Prevents Corticosterone-Induced Inhibition of Sexual Behavior and Increases Neurogenesis
- University of Michigan Health System: Goji Berry
- Photo Credit bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images