Goji berries will remind you of cranberries or sour cherries with a hint tomato. Studies show they may be good for eye and long-term vision health.
They have been grown in the Himalayas in Tibet for thousands of years and used for medicinal properties. Today, their historical use is supported by modern science. The most recent study shows eating a small serving of dried goji berries supports healthy vision and provides important nutrients for slowing age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.
The condition of AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in older people. It affects more than 11 million people in the United States and 170 million globally. The condition is characterized by fatty and protein deposits, called drusen, that build up in the back of the eye. If the drusen are large and occur in specific areas of the eye, it can make it difficult going from bright light-to-low light, or seeing a blank or blurry spot that blocks vision.
Goji Berries for Eye Health
In a small study, healthy participants, aged 45 to 65, ate 28 grams (about one ounce, or a small handful) of goji berries five times a week for 90 days. Scientists found eating goji berries led to an increase in the density of protective pigments in their eyes. In contrast, study participants who consumed a commercial supplement for eye health over the same period did not show an increase.
The nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin increased in the group eating goji berries, which filters out harmful blue light and provides antioxidant protection. “Lutein and zeaxanthin are like sunscreen for your eyes,” said lead author Xiang Li, a doctoral candidate in the Nutritional Biology Program. “The higher the lutein and zeaxanthin in your retina, the more protection you have. Our study found that even in normal healthy eyes, these optical pigments can be increased with a small daily serving of goji berries,” said Li. Goji berries also contain micronutrients like vitamin A and C, and all of the 8 essential amino acids that humans don’t produce naturally and must get from food. Although the results are promising, the researchers note that the study size was small and more research will be needed.
Nutrients for Vision
The current treatment for intermediate stages of AMD are AREDS 2 dietary supplements that contain vitamins including C, E, zinc, copper and lutein and zeaxanthin. There are no known therapies shown to influence early stage AMD. The cause of AMD is complex and multifactorial, involving genetic risks, aging, and environmental factors like smoking, diet and sun exposure. Early stages of AMD do not have symptoms; however, physicians can detect AMD and other eye problems during a regular comprehensive eye exam.
More Goji Berries in your Diet
The easiest way to use goji berries is in any recipe calling for dried fruit or raisins, such as granola or bars, cookies, pies, jams and salads. The powders work well in salad dressings, soups and smoothies. See below for more ideas.
Fresh berries are difficult to find, so dried or powdered is most commonly seen in stores. When shopping for dried Goji berries, make sure there is no added sugar or preservatives like sulfur dioxide to enhance and preserve the red color. They should be soft like raisins, not hard or crunchy (this is a sign they may have gone bad). Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
- Add goji berries to a chicken or tofu and ginger stir fries.
- For added tang to barbeque sauces, reconstitute the berries in hot water, drain and puree them in the sauce.
- Use goji berries in overnight oats and chia puddings.
- Toss in goji berries to spicy creamy vegetarian soups (tomato or sweet potato for instance) and blend until smooth.
- Goji berries add a nice tart flavor to spicy vegetable stews (see below for recipe).
Harvest Vegetable Stew with Goji-Tomato Paste
This recipe is remarkably forgiving. Use any vegetables you have on hand or need to use up, such as root vegetables, end of summer corn, and spicier peppers.
- 1 small butternut squash
- 2 small summer squash
- 2-3 leeks (or one onion)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 3 carrots
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 14.5 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
- 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
- 6 Tablespoons goji berries
- 8 dried apricots, cut into strips with scissors
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons tomato goji paste (see recipe below)
- Salt to taste
- Peel butternut and cut into large chunks.
- Cut summer squash into large one-inch pieces
- Cut tops off leeks (discard or save for vegetable broth), cut leeks into one inch pieces. Soak cut leeks in a bowl of hot water and agitate to loosen any dirt. Break the rings apart where dirt remains. Repeat this process to remove all the dirt.
- Seed bell pepper and cut into one inch squares
- Scrub carrots and cut into one inch pieces
- Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large dutch oven pan.
- Add winter squash, leeks, carrots and peppers. Cook for 10-20 minutes until caramelized, and slightly softened.
- Add summer squash, garlic and all the powdered spices. Cook for 10-15 minutes to lightly brown squash.
- Add tomatoes, goji berries, apricots and broth. Bring to a strong simmer. Add the tomato-goji paste. Stir well. Turn down the heat to a low simmer.
- Let the flavors come together in a slow simmer for another 20 minutes.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt.
Tomato and Goji Berry Paste
Use this paste when you want to pack a flavorful punch to a sauce or stew.
- 1/3 cup dried goji berries
- 1/2 cup boiling hot water
- 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
- Pour hot water over goji berries to reconstitute Let sit for 10 minutes
- Drain goji berries, reserve the water.
- Place in small food processor or bullet blender with the tomato paste.
- Puree until a thick paste forms. If you need to thin it out, use the reserved water a little bit at a time as you blend the paste.
Source: Xiang Li, Roberta R. Holt, Carl L. Keen, Lawrence S. Morse, Glenn Yiu, Robert M. Hackman. Goji Berry Intake Increases Macular Pigment Optical Density in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Pilot Trial. Nutrients, 2021; 13 (12): 4409 DOI: 10.3390/nu13124409
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Stewart is an award-winning editor, food and health journalist and best-selling author of Eating Between the Lines, the supermarket shopper's guide to the truth behind food labels (St. Martin's Press).