What Are Goji Berries?

The goji berry, which The Daily Meal has previously described as "oblong, football-shaped berries that grow on evergreen shrubs found in subtropical regions in China, Mongolia, and the Tibetan Himalayas," hasn't lost much traction in the world of popular superfoods. With a storied past and venerable roots in China, some claim that these berries have youth-promoting properties, but others warn against such whimsical characterizations. Separating the fact from fiction is important regarding any aspect of a diet, and it may prove a fruitful exercise in the case of this highly-praised superfood.

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So, let's start with the facts. Goji berries contain all eight essential amino acids, rendering them a complete source of protein. In total, these red berries contain a remarkable 19 different amino acids. They're rich in minerals and vitamins, including high levels of iron, zinc, calcium, and B1, B2, B6, and E, and they have amazing levels of antioxidants. Their taste has been described by Christina Chaey as "a cross between cranberry, cherry, and tomato."  You'll find them dried or powdered in grocers and health food stores across the United States. While known benefits of the vitamins and minerals within these berries can't be refuted, other claims may be founded on fiction.

It's been discovered that there is insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of goji berries in the treatment of things including but not limited to diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, weight-loss, and dry eyes. This doesn't mean that the berries play no role in the mitigation of these conditions — as noted earlier, the benefits of things like vitamin E and zinc are hard to refute. The berry's specific role is what's called to question, and interactions between medications and goji should be researched prior to consumption. Additionally, there's no evidence to support the tall tales of goji berries resulting in longer lifespans. A classic example of this is the story of a Chinese herbalist surviving for 252 years as a result of regularly eating the berry.

The FDA has taken action against unsubstantiated claims of the berries' disease-fighting properties. A brilliant example comes in the form of a letter from the Acting Director of Dietary Supplement Programs in the Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to an online health store selling goji-based products. The letter, in short, states that the website's "therapeutic claims" that goji berries cure, prevent, or mitigate disease are in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. There are other examples of such letters from the FDA as well.

If you're buying goji powder in order to live well into your 200s, it may be time to reassess the placement of these berries on your grocery list. If you just like the taste and can afford them, however, there's no glaring reason to stop eating them. While you may not live to be 252, your body will certainly benefit from the antioxidants and amino acids contained in these ancient little berries.

The accompanying slideshow is provided by The Daily Meal.