A Great Addition to Superfoods? - Herbal Health

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Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Great Addition to Superfoods?

We have been told about the wonders of superfoods for a while now as evidenced by their relative availability in health foods stores, supermarkets, juice bars and even in skincare products. Up until recently, goji berry was unheard of in the western world but their popularity as a superfood has meant that we are learning more about its nutritional benefits as well health claims made about them. But are these claims justified or are they mere hype?

The goji berry in its natural state
Goji berry is also known as wolfberry and two species of box thorn from which berries are harvested are Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinensis and as the name implies, it is the berry that is consumed. Both Lycium spp are native to south-eastern Europe and Asia. Its bright orange-red berry has been consumed in Asia for generations as an aid to living longer so perhaps the indigenous people of the region already knew about its superfood benefits even then? Goji berry made its appearance in the UK in the 1990s and was immediately classified a s a Novel Food by the FSA (UK Food Standards Agency). Over time and given its popularity as a health food has meant that goji berry was being used to treat many common health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure , fever and age-related eye problems (macula degeneration and glaucoma). Various preparations still exist and goji berry can be eaten raw, cooked or died (like raisins) and used in herbal teas, fruit/vegetable juices or smoothies, wine and medicines. In June 2007, the FSA removed goji berry from its Novel Food list on the basis that there was a significant history of the fruit being consumed in Europe before 1997.

So what is in this magical fruit that confers these great benefits and what research or evidence is there to support the marketing claims?

There are plenty of substances in goji berry that make it a very good source of important micronutrients such as vitamin C, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. It also contains beta-carotene, vitamin B2 and selenium. There are also a host of other nutrients such as sugars, plant sterols and unsaturated fats. However, preliminary medical research into goji berry does not support the many marketing claims that have been made of the purported health benefits and biological effects of the fruit and therefore does not hold up to scrutiny and as such does not have the approval of any regulatory authority in this regard.

The dried form of goji berry is
very popular as a health food
The nutritional benefits of goji berry are numerous but then again, so are many other foods that have high levels of important micronutrients. Its  most claimed nutritional attribute is an exceptional level of vitamin C (the highest in plants) and we know this to be a potent antioxidant (great at preventing ageing, disease and generally keeping you well). However, processing the fresh fruit into the dried form, storage conditions and transportation means that vitamin C levels can vary quite widely and in some instances not being any higher than strawberries, red/black berries and many other citrus fruits. Therefore goji berries may not always possess comparable or higher levels of vitamin C despite the marketing claims. Whilst these discrepancies exist, not to mention the lack of proper scientific evidence on the health claims, it would be misleading to label goji berries as a functional food. However, it is not to say that these berries are not great for health, we just don’t consume sufficient quantities of it in its natural and fresh form to reap any suggested benefits from them.

Other use of goji berries are to be found in soap bars (made from its seed oils), as an additive for manufacturing, a juice concentrate, whole fruit puree, powders from the fruit or juice concentrate (made from spray drying), pulp powders, whole or ground seeds and seed oils (essential oils or oils extracted rather like grape seed oil).

Goji Berry in Skincare
In addition to the nutritional benefits of this fruit, extracts of it can be found in a range of synthetic and natural skincare products. Some chemicals can weaken the cosmetic benefits of goji berries so opt for more natural varieties. The basis upon which it is added is that given its high antioxidant content, it can work at the local level and surface skin layer. It is thought to reverse skin damage, increase collagen synthesis and prevent premature ageing. The ingredient joins the list of products classified generally as anti-ageing cosmetic/ skincare products. Whether there is any evidence to these anti-ageing products remains to be seen as there is limited scientific and clinical studies on goji berries and anti-ageing in human trials. However, it is not to say that it cannot be good as a skincare ingredient, after all, it is an incredibly nutritionally-dense substance and in theory, it should do wonders for our skin! The only way to determine this of course is to trial it yourself and as ever, brand will be a determining factor as will a healthy diet and lifestyle which all influence how we age.

  • for a healthy dose consume a small handful (10-30g) each day
  • check out the labels of natural skincare brands with botanical ingredients that include goji berries in them but be careful - more expensive ones does not translate to better quality and organic and parabens-free doesn’t mean it is a superior product
  • be careful if you are on conventional medicines as goji berries may interact with them and stop them working (leading to other problems or an exacerbation of your existing condition)
  • if you have pollen allergies, you should limit consumption of goji berries or avoid it altogether if the allergy is severe
  • be careful about dried fruit intake if you are diabetic and always consult your doctor beforehand
For more information and advice about goji berries and some of the other superfoods go to: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/superfoods/Pages/are-goji-berries-a-superfood.aspx or check out http://www.webmd.com/balance/goji-berries-health-benefits-and-side-effects

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