Living Up to the Functional Food Hype: Goji Juice, Acai Berry, Sea Buckthorn

One of the first things that attracted me to goji juice, and goji berries specifically, was their amazingly high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants are defined as “compounds that protect against cell damage inflicted by molecules called oxygen-free radicals, which are a major cause of disease and aging.”

The standard test for measuring the level of antioxidants in a food is called the ORAC test – standard ever since the US Department of Agriculture adopted it as its measure of antioxidants. ORAC tests generally measure foods in terms of units per 100 grams.

Now, there have been a lot of “super foods” that have been claimed to have high levels of antioxidants, as well as whatever other magical benefits these foods have been claimed to have. Noni juice comes to mind. The main company selling noni juice apparently reached sales of over $2 billion last year. Unfortunately, it seems that products like this have desensitized people to claims of outstanding health benefits of certain foods. The first wave of these “functional food” products, which involved noni juice, was fueled by quite a lot by hype.

There wasn’t yet a lot of scientific research backing a lot of the things that were on the market. To give you an idea of the antioxidant power of noni, for example, its ORAC rating is 1,506. High, but not unheard of high. Black raspberries have a rating of 7,700, prunes have a rating of 5,770, pomegranates have a rating of 3,307, and raisins have a rating of 2,830. These are the highest ORAC ratings for the foods we commonly consume in North America and Europe. Goji berries have an ORAC rating of 25,300 (another test showed a rating of 30,500, so it seems to depend on the species/cultivar/growing conditions). Goji juice itself may have a higher ORAC rating than even the berries if it is concentrated.

So, after the market for health foods really took off, people in Asia and other parts of the world saw the opportunity to promote some foods that actually ARE of tremendous nutritional value compared to the fruits we traditionally eat in the West. Then came the goji berry, and the acai berry, and now, the sea buckthorn berry (sea berry) is beginning to grow in popularity. These fruits are actually backed by extensive scientific research. Some of the compounds in goji berries, for instance, drew a lot of attention from the scientific community because they are known anti-cancer agents. Acai berry also garnered some serious scientific scrutiny, as did sea buckthorn. The later has been quite popular in parts of Europe and Asia for sometime, and unlike the goji berry and the acai berry, which require somewhat warmer climates (especially the acai), it can be grown anywhere in North America.

But anyway, my point is this: if you have been generally put off by the hype of the functional food industry that has failed to deliver on its outrageous claims in the past, you might want to check into some of these new foods with more seriousness. Just research the polysaccharides found in goji berries a little. Go to the PubMed medical database and type in lycium barbarum and you’ll be surprised at what you see.

Posted in Goji Juice Benefits.

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