Goji Berries: What Are They & Why Should You Eat Them?
If you've ever seen a shriveled-up fruit that looks a sun-dried tomato and a cranberry had a baby, well, it was most likely a goji berry. These tiny red fruits is popping up all over smoothie shops and health food stores because they are chock-full of nutrients and health benefits.
Even though they're newly trending in the food scene, goji berries have been around for a long, long time. And while there is a need for more research to determine exactly how beneficial these berries are, a handful of promising studies tout their nutritional goodness. Learn what a goji berry is, why you need it in your diet, and how to incorporate this fruit into everyday dishes.
What are goji berries?
Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are native to China and are tiny red berries that taste slightly sweet and a bit sour. They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since around 200 B.C. and were considered a medicinal fruit that helped to keep the body strong and fit and promote longevity.
In the U.S., you'll likely find the fruit available only dried or frozen. But in the rare case you find it fresh, prepare for a hefty price tag to go along with it.
Benefits of goji berries.
Besides being delicious, goji berries are full of nutrients, making them a good addition to a healthy diet. According to D.J. Blatner, RDN and author of The Superfood Swap, these berries help boost the immune system, produce collagen, protect red blood cells, and grow healthy bones and teeth—among a number of additional health benefits:
1. They're rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
Goji berries are packed with vitamins A, C, and E—which fall into the category of antioxidants, which help protect against free radical damage and oxidative stress in the body. "Think lower risk of chronic disease, longevity, and immune system support," says Keri Glassman, M.S., CDN.
One study that looked at daily consumption of goji berries among elderly subjects found subjects had an increase in antioxidant levels after 90 days.
2. They could support eye health.
While enjoying a goji berry here or there won't magically change your eyesight, traditionally in Chinese medicine, goji berries were eaten to improve eyesight. While more research is needed to determine how beneficial these berries are to your peepers, one study found that regular daily consumption supported eye health and vision in older adults. (though there aren't many studies that have proved it actually did). And another study, using rats, indicated that goji berries may help to decrease the symptoms of dry eye disease.
3. They may increase the health of your liver and kidneys.
Healthy liver and kidneys are essential for an overall healthy functioning body. Thankfully, goji berries may improve the health of both. In TCM, the berries are mainly used to treat "yin deficiency" in the liver and kidneys. Again, human research is somewhat limited, but one study on rats found that a Lycium barbarum polysaccharide (LBP), which is present in goji berries, was able to protect liver and kidney tissue from damage.
4. They might help protect against UV rays.
If you often forget sunscreen, well, we highly suggest you don't—but goji berries may be an edible option that can offer a little protection against UV rays. One study on rats found that consumption of goji juice may add additional sun protection on the skin and even reduce inflammation from sunburn. But no, it shouldn't replace your daily sunscreen.
5. They may aid in weight management.
6. They're a good pre-workout snack.
Even though you can eat goji berries any time of the day, Blatner suggests that consuming them before a workout may be most beneficial. "The carbs fuel muscles," she says, "and they may improve energy and performance, which was mentioned in one small study using goji juice."
How to eat goji berries.
Like most foods, there isn't a right or wrong way to eat goji berries. But if you're not exactly sure where to start, try using them as a topping on oatmeal, smoothies, or even salads. Glassman's favorite way to incorporate the berries is adding them to her Superfood Bark. "They're a colorful, antioxidant-rich addition to the dark chocolate and are a source of natural sweetness," she says. The best part is this bark can double as a healthy snack or dessert.
Blatner's go-to recipe is a two-step goji and chia jam. "Simply rehydrate the goji and blend with chia seeds," she says. "It's delicious on almond butter toast and yogurt." She also suggests using them as you would a raisin. But truly, you can add them to any recipe that needs a little extra sweetness or a pop of color.
If you find adding the dried berries to your meals is a challenge, opt for goji powder. You can add a few scoops of the powder to any dish (smoothies! oatmeal!) to reap the health benefits without stressing about how to prepare them. And if you just want to pop a supplement and go on with your day, that's an option, too.
Potential side effects of eating goji berries.
There isn't much research that shows there are any dangers to eating goji berries. But as with all foods, moderation is key. "Some reports found that they contain a toxic compound, but research has found that it's a very low amount and not a concern," Blatner says. "Some drug interactions with blood thinner medications have been reported with people eating very large amounts," she adds.
If you're concerned about the berries pairing with your medication, as always, consult with your doctor before adding them to your diet. But bottom line, don't eat your weight in goji berries and you should be just fine.
Want your passion for wellness to change the world? Become A Functional Nutrition Coach! Enroll today to join our upcoming live office hours.