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Goji Berries 24 August 2009

I am a big fan of the Tibetan goji berry which has recently become available in Australia. I have a handful every day. Many health food shops now have the small dried berries imported directly from Tibet. As with any fruit, I prefer to eat the fruit rather than just drink the juice. Goji berries have been proven to have numerous health benefits. Legend has it that populations in Tibet and China who consume the goji berry have a long and consistent history of vitality and longevity.

Goji berries are not the same as the Chinese wolfberry. The goji berry is Lycium barbarum and the berry is large, plump, juicy and sweet. It grows in certain places in Tibet, China and Mongolia. The Chinese wolfberry is Lycium chinense and grows mainly in China. Its berries are small, orange and sour.

Goji berries are the subject of much interest and research because they contain four unique polysaccharides potentiallycrucial to vitality and longevity. Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates. Goji berries contain 4 unique polysaccharides which are bound to proteins and are biologically active. These ones are not just a source of energy but have a function within the body. They are used by plants to protect themselves against injury. Human research is currently underway with these substances in the areas of preventing and treating cancer, normalising blood pressure, stabalising blood sugar, anti-inflammatory effects, and lowering cholesterol.

Goji berries are also nutritionally valuable because they contain 19 different amino acids. Proteins are made up of amino acids. The order of the amino acids in chains determines the structure and function of the protein. Many critical hormones such as thyroxine, adrenaline and serotonin are formed from specific amino acids. Amino acids are also the building blocks of most cellular structures and are crucial for cellular growth and repair. Of the 20 known amino acids, eight of them are nutritionally essential and must be obtained in the diet, the others can be synthesised by the body. Goji berries contain all eight nutritionally essential amino acids.

Goji berries are a rich source of important trace minerals. Trace minerals are the minerals found in tissues in minute amounts and are essential for life.The main ones in goji berries are zinc, iron, copper, calcium, germanium, selenium, and phosphorus. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant and a potent anticancer nutrient.

The health benefits of goji berries therefore include:

  • presence of 4 unique polysaccharides
  • rich source of trace minerals
  • contain 19 amino acids
  • have a low glycaemic index
  • have been shown to enhance the immune system by increasing the amount of T cells (white cells fighting bacteria) and interleukin-2 (a chemical that stimulates the white cells).
  • contain extremely high levels of antioxidants

Goji berries have the highest ORAC value of any food. ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant capacity of foods. The higher the ORAC value, the greater the antioxidant capacity. There is increasing evidence that oxygen free radicals are involved in the ageing process. Antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage. Our bodies do not produce all the antioxidants we need. The rest of our antioxidants must come from food or nutritional supplements. Goji berries have the highest levels of antioxidants of any food. When there are consistently more free radicals produced than there are antioxidants available, chronic degenerative disease is the result. For good health, we need more antioxidants than free radicals.

So when you need a snack, do yourself a favour and grab a handful of goji berries and a few nuts/seeds rather than reaching for the biscuits or chocolate.

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