Living the WELL Life

A Consumer's Guide to the Goji Berry - by Will Klevos

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Endeavoring to be your consumer guide when making health-enhancing decisions, I will focus my blogs on current consumer lifestyle health concerns and issues. With this information you will be empowered to make well-informed decisions when faced with the marketing hypes, which pervade our social economy.  As we become a global economy, plant foods once considered exotic and mystical are becoming more available and better understood by science. With this rising interest, however, unscrupulous marketing enthusiasts are seizing the opportunity in the name of health and wellness to capitalize on the potential dollars to be gained.

I have received a barrage of questions from confused consumers about the goji berry and its origins, health benefits, and general value in human life and wellness.  The gogi berry is formally known as the Chinese Wolfberry, Lycium barbarum, and L.chinense, but more popularly known as goji berry. It made its debut on the Internet, circa 1999, mainly for its unusual antioxidant strength. These simple, ready-to-eat dried berries are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. The pleasant-tasting fruit has a sweet fragrance comparable to roasted nuts and bears resemblance to the dried cranberry or dried cherry.  To the palate the goji berry has a unique mild nut, tomato, and cranberry essence.

Goji juice conjures tomato juice with a delightful nutty tone.  Why has this historically obscure little berry become a major player on the nutritional stage of the "Super Foods?”  The major reason is that it is a berry considered to be a nutrient-dense food with a major nutritional "punch,” i.e. highest per milligram when compared to other “super foods” including spinach, blueberries, flax seed, soy, and papaya.  Scientifically, more than 100 medical research studies have been completed over the past 20 years with two books published since 2005. By comparison no other berry has generated comparable interest.  Based on a 3 oz serving analysis of dried goji fruit (approximately 100 grams), the USDA analysis indicates that goji is:

(1) A good to excellent source of protein (contains 18 amino acids) with a total content of 1 gram per 100 grams of dried fruit. This is an exceptional amino acid profile and the concentration is an excellent protein for a plant food.

(2) An exceptional antioxidant source containing both the polyphenol and carotenoid pigments which are thought to offer protection against the likes of cancer and other "villains" of health.

On the flip side of this beautiful nutrient-dense food, consumers must also be aware of the aggressive marketers who are looking to make a ‘quick buck’ by sensationalizing the nutritional information of the goji berry. In the name of health and wellness, these aggressive promoters are lacing the credible goji facts with outrageous miraculous health claims (for example, that goji berries cure cancer and increase longevity) only to promote and monopolize an anticipated $6 billion per year industry by 2011.

In order to preserve the economic and nutritional integrity of the goji berry, the consumer must know that the berries are grown in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in North-Central China and are NOT grown in Tibet or the Himalayas as health food charlatans erroneously proclaim.  Paul Gross, PhD and cerebrovascular physiologist, also known as “The Berry Doctor” and a world-renowned authority on fruits and vegetables wrote, "Reports published in 2006-7 from sources working in Tibet have provided valuable perspectives on the growing regions of goji and, specifically, knowledge about goji's absence of history in Tibet. These two accounts are:

(1) The commercial legend of goji: Selling a Chinese crop under the Tibetan flag
(2) A fruitless search for the Tibetan goji berry.

Conclusions from the two articles were:

• no history was found of written records or government knowledge of goji berries having ever been cultivated in significant quantities in Tibet.

• no reference to goji was found in texts of traditional Tibetan medicine.

• there is little knowledge of goji among Tibetan people.

• rarely sold in Tibetan markets, goji berries do not come from Tibet but rather mainly from central regions of China.

• Tibetan people do not live to exceptional ages of 100 or more but rather have among the world's lowest life expectancies -- about 67 years. 

• although goji berries may grow wild in sparse patches of a few, fertile low-altitude areas in south-eastern Tibet, most of Tibet and certainly the Himalayas are at high altitude (10,000 feet altitude and above) where weather and agricultural conditions are inhospitable for fruit cultivation.

• commercial production of goji has apparently never occurred in Tibet.

• uses of such terms as “Tibetan goji berry”, “Himalayan goji juice” and “goji berries from the Mongolian Himalayas” (usually conveyed on the label with a dramatic backdrop of snow-covered mountain peaks) for products manufactured and sold in the West are inaccurate at best, as the goji berries used for these products do not grow in Tibet or the Himalayas, and the Himalayan Mountains do not extend into Mongolia.”

As an educated consumer, make certain that your goji berries are certified organic with no added oil or sugar from the Ningixia Hui province of China. Goji Berries packaged with a Tibetan or Himalayan label are most certainly from China and probably are not premium berries. Remember, if the label is deceitful, rest assured you will not be purchasing a quality product.  With confidence, you now have the information to purchase quality nutrient-dense and delicious goji berries as a valuable supplement to your healthy diet. 

As we endeavor to initiate and implement wellness and health reform in an economic culture which has historically prioritized economic gain at the expense of quality nutrition, let us be mindful of our responsibility to be enlightened and committed proactive consumers who vow to eradicate the ravages of deceitful commercialization and bureaucratic control of our food and wellness. Together we will focus on "Wellness of Body…Wellness of Mind...Wellness of Spirit" as we promote an ecologically friendly and sustainable planet which embraces justice and liberty for all of life.


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