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Goji Berry, Anti-Aging Superfruit
There is perhaps no other superfruit that has gained as much attention as the humble goji berry. It has quickly risen to superstar status in main stream health and wellness circles. Captivated by its promise of holding the secret to youth and vitality, it has been touted as “the longevity berry” that Li Ching-Yuen, the famed Chinese herbalist and qigong master who reportedly lived to a ripe old age of 256, consumed on a regular basis. Although we can be easily seduced by its colourful lore and mythology, looking at goji berries through the lens of traditional use and current research provides a better understanding of this functional superfood.
Goji berries (Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense), also known as wolfberries come from the Solanaceae family, the same family classification as tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and cape gooseberries. This garnet red berry grows on shrubs native to China and Tibet, although most commercial goji comes from central and northern China. While many parts of the plant are used such as the roots and the leaves, the berries are the most sought after for their nutritional value and array of beneficial compounds.
Much of the interest in goji berries has been on their impressive nutrient content. They contain B vitamins, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, potassium and calcium. In a quarter of a cup of dried goji berries, 20% of the daily recommended iron, 30% of the daily recommended vitamin A and 10% of the recommended vitamin C are provided in addition to fibre and a host of protective antioxidants, such as zeaxanthin.
Zeaxanthin is an important carotenoid beneficial for promoting optimal eye health, particularly of the retina and the oxidative damage that ensues from excessive UV sun exposure. Zeaxanthin is often used to decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Other beneficial compounds to be found in low concentrations are betaine, plant sterols and amino acids.
In one study on a concentrated goji berry juice administered for 14 days, participants experienced feelings of general well-being, improved neurological and psychological performance, as well as improved gastrointestinal function. On a subjective evaluation rating system, increased levels of energy, athletic performance, sleep, focus, mental acuity and feelings of happiness and contentment were also noted.
Another interesting class of compounds that have gained attention are the unique polysaccharides in goji berries that comprise anywhere from 5-8% of the dried fruit. Polysaccharides are known for their immune-modulating ability. Enhanced immune function and antioxidant activity have been noted from goji berry polysaccharide-extract treated aged mice. While the research on goji-polysaccharide isolated therapeutic extracts encompasses a broad range of benefits from neuroprotection, to glucose control to immune-modulation to increased endurance, consuming the dried berries on a daily basis is the best way to get a myriad of beneficial compounds in whole food form in the ratio that Nature intended.
Goji berries have a delightfully sweet and tangy taste that works equally well in both sweet and savoury recipes. The easiest application is to add 2-4 tablespoons to your favourite smoothie recipe or 1-2 tablespoons to tea. Beyond this they can be used for trail mixes, porridge, cereals, salad dressings, stews, desserts and more. Choosing a goji berry product from a reputable company that guarantees third party testing of pesticides is of prime importance.
Incorporating this food into your daily diet may not hold the promise of extending life span beyond 200 years, but the abundance of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants known for minimizing oxidative damage and free radical stress will lead you down the right path of prevention, contributing to your longevity potential.
Renita Rietz is a health and nutrition writer who educates on the phytotherapeutic potential of indigenous foods and plants for prevention and regeneration. E-mail: [email protected]