The goji berry has climbed its way to the top of the nutritious foods list, claiming a spot as a "superfood." But if you take a look at goji berries nutrition, is it all it's stacked up to be? The short answer is yes. Goji berries are loaded with antioxidants that keep you healthy.
They also contain a variety of different vitamins and minerals too. Although they're high in carbohydrates and sugar (since they're usually consumed dried), you can incorporate them into most healthy diets as long as you pay attention to your serving sizes and don't overdo it.
Antioxidants in Goji Berries
Goji berries may look a little strange, but there's a lot of nutrition packed away in those little shriveled red packages. According to a January 2019 report in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, the goji berry has been used since ancient times to improve liver and kidney function, protect vision and increase longevity. But how can this small berry have so much power? A lot of it comes from its antioxidants.
The report states that there are many beneficial compounds in goji berries, but that one of the most significant is a class of compounds called carotenoids. Carotenoids are naturally-occurring pigments that give the goji berries their distinctive color. They also act as powerful antioxidants and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer and boost cognitive performance, like thinking and memory.
Two specific carotenoids in goji berries — called lutein and zeaxanthin — may be especially beneficial for protecting your eyes and decreasing your risk of eye diseases, like age-related macular degeneration (which is one of the most common causes of vision loss as a person gets older), according to a December 2016 report in Pharmaceutical Biology.
The report also notes that the carotenoids and other phenolic compounds, which are other beneficial elements found in plants, may help boost your immune system, protect against the formation of tumors and keep your brain healthy. They've also been shown to help increase fertility in men.
Red or Black Goji Berries
Although most dried goji berries that you find at your supermarket or local health food store are the red variety, there are also black goji berries. The two are botanically similar, but when a June 2017 study in the Chemistry Central Journal compared the nutrition of red and black goji berries, the researchers found that black goji berries had a higher overall antioxidant content, but red goji berries were higher in carotenoids, specifically.
Because humans can't make carotenoids, the only way to get them is through your diet, and the January 2019 report in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity notes that just 15 grams of goji berries, which is less than a full 4-tablespoon serving (weighing 22.4 grams), supplies all you need for the entire day.
Basic Goji Berries Nutrition
Goji berries are most often hailed for their high antioxidant content, but they contain pretty significant amounts of some vitamins and minerals too. A single 4-tablespoon serving of dried goji berries provides 6,008 IU of vitamin A. This is more than the amount you need for the entire day (which is 5,000 IU, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements).
Vitamin A helps keep your eyes healthy and reduces your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. It also boosts your immune system, ensures that your heart, lungs and kidneys are working properly and may even reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancer. But goji berries aren't loaded with vitamin A only, they also contain:
- Vitamin C
As for goji berry calories, the same serving size (4 tablespoons) contains only 78 calories. Most of these calories come from carbohydrates, with a serving of goji berries clocking in at just over 17 grams. Natural fruit sugar (or fructose) accounts for around 10 grams of these carbohydrates, while fiber supplies another 3 grams. Although goji berries aren't considered an adequate source of protein, they do provide just over 3 grams per serving and contain virtually no fat.
There is something interesting about the type of carbohydrates in goji berries, too. They're largely in the form of polysaccharides, or more specifically, Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. L. barbarum polysaccharides have been used in Chinese medicine for many years, and consuming foods that are high in them can help decrease cholesterol and triglycerides (which also helps reduce the risk of heart disease), promote fertility and boost your immune system.
Goji Berries Side Effects
Ounce for ounce, dried fruits contain more antioxidants than their fresh counterparts, so while eating a lot of them can help protect you against chronic diseases, it also comes with potential problems. As Harvard Health points out, it's unlikely that you'd eat several servings of fresh fruit in one sitting, but it's a lot easier to overdo it when that fruit is dried. That's because dried fruit has most of its water removed, so it has less volume and is also less filling.
Because of this, it's a lot easier to go over your calorie needs eating dried fruit. And, even though the sugar is natural, you may be taking in more carbohydrates and sugar than you want to, especially if you're on a lower carb diet.
Dried fruits also contain more fiber per ounce than fresh fruits, so if you're eating a lot of goji berries, side effects may develop as a result of all that fiber, especially if you don't get a lot in your diet already. According to Duke Student Health Nutrition Services, too much fiber can cause:
- Abdominal cramps
- Decrease in appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
But you can avoid these side effects by paying attention to your serving sizes. Unlike fresh fruit, which has a full cup serving size, a serving of dried fruit, like goji berries, is only one-fourth cup. It's probably a good idea to stick to only one or two servings per day to make sure you're not taking in too much sugar and that your stomach can handle the fiber.
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Goji Berries as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight Into Their Molecular Mechanisms of Action"
- Duke Student Health Nutrition Services: "Fiber - How Much is Too Much?"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Eating Dried Fruit Healthy?"
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: "What is the Serving Size of Dried Fruits?"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Goji Berries, Dried"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin A"
- Chemistry Central Journal: "Comparative Studies on Phenolic Profiles, Antioxidant Capacities and Carotenoid Contents of Red Goji Berry (Lycium Barbarum) and Black Goji Berry (Lycium Ruthenicum)"
- Pharmaceutical Biology: "Phytochemical Analysis and Antioxidant Activity of Lycium Barbarum (Goji) Cultivated in Greece"
- Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics: "Carotenoids in Human Nutrition and Health"