Hot New Food: Goji Berries

Determining which foods are safe and which may be dangerous is sometimes difficult. But goji berries, a popular ancient fruit, are worth checking out.

The term "superfood" gets tossed around a lot, and many new (to us) foods claim magical benefits. Determining which foods are good-for-you and safe is sometimes difficult. Goji berries are getting a lot of attention lately, and they're worth checking out.

What are goji berries?

Goji (pronounced GO-gee) means “berry” in Chinese. These dried fruits have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for almost 2,000 years. Sometimes they're known by their Latin name Lycium barbarum. An orange-y red color, the berries resemble shriveled grape tomatoes and have the consistency of cranberries. They taste similar to a combination of cherries and raisins, but are more bitter and slightly drier.

What makes goji berries good for you?

Goji is touted as an immune booster and often used to treat erectile dysfunction, inflammation, skin irritation, nose bleeds, aches and pains. Some suggest it to help benefit your blood, liver and kidney.

You will find the berry and root bark in the food form and as supplements. Both contain beta-sitosterol, which research shows may help reduce cholesterol levels. The berries contain the antioxidants beta-carotene and ascorbic acid along with niacin and vitamin B-6. The root bark has the compound kukoamine, which may also help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure. As with many things, there are some reported side effects for the dried root bark, including nausea and vomiting.

What does the research show?

A study published in Nutrition Research in January 2009 compared blood samples of Chinese adults and concluded that long-term use of goji juice -- that is, more 30 days -- may help reduce free radicals in your system. However, according to the Center for Science and Public Interest, no study has been published to show whether people who drink the juice are actually healthier than those who don’t. As for the claims to boost immunity, there is no evidence to whether it fights off the flu.

A Word of Warning

Goji interacts with various medications, including those prescribed for heart disease. It’s also dangerous if used in conjunction with various other supplements such as ginger, Co-Q 10 and cat’s claw. Check with your doctor and do some of your own research to make sure it is safe. Pregnant and nursing mom’s should also not consume goji.

How to Eat Them

You can eat the berries or use them when cooking. Buy dried berries and have them in a smoothie or trail mix. Some people add them to soups, teas and wine. Goji is hot on the healthy food scene and now available in juice, tea, trail mix and even chocolate.

The Bottom Line

Do your homework, taste test it and make sure goji is right for you. The fruit contains several antioxidants and possible beneficial compounds, but the research to prove it is limited still. A few dried berries for a sweet snack are a beginner option. As with everything, enjoy in moderation.

[Photo by Gary Scott / SXC]
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