The more I learn about berries, the more I want to eat them (and the more of them I want to eat). All berries are high in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, and low in sugar and calories. For today’s post I’ll pick two types of berry – blueberries and goji berries – and review some of the research on them. Let’s start with some of the health benefits of blueberries.
Health Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberries contain anthocyanins, water-soluble blue/purple pigments that are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Research is piling up indicating that anthocyanins may have neuroprotective or even neuroregenerative effects. Eating blueberries regularly may improve memory and help protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (as does niacinamide, which I wrote about recently).
Some of the research:
- Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults.
- Enhanced neural activation with blueberry supplementation in mild cognitive impairment.
- Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases.
- Effects of a polyphenol-rich wild blueberry extract on cognitive performance of mice, brain antioxidant markers, and acetylcholinesterase activity.
- Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline.
How I get the Health Benefits of Blueberries
To capitalize on the health benefits of blueberries, we usually keep a bag or two of wild frozen organic blueberries in the freezer and add them to smoothies, yogurt. Or we just eat them straight (my daughter started the trend of eating frozen blueberries as a dessert; Kia and I have hopped on the bandwagon).
A few years ago I noticed a trend in my health-tracking spreadsheet: days I rated as “excellent” in terms of mood and/or energy levels were often days on which I ate goji berries (aka “wolf berries”). There is a ton of marketing for goji berries that makes all kinds of ridiculous health claims, but there may be something special about goji berries.
Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. This article provides a good overview.
But there isn’t much published clinical research on goji berries. This small study found that drinking goji berry juice was associated with enhanced subjective feelings of enhanced wellbeing and happiness. But the same study has been criticized (too small, and funded by a goji juice company).
This article provides a balanced take on goji berry health benefits, focussing on the carotenoid zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin and lutein are carotenoids that accumulate in the macula (the center of the retina) and may protect against age-related macular degeneration by absorbing blue light.
Goji berries may also enhance immune function. This study reported that goji berries may protect against flu in mice.
I usually purchase dried goji berries in bulk from Whole Foods. They’re expensive but surprisingly filling. Also, they don’t taste great (they’re sweet but have a kind of hay-like flavor), so I’m unlikely to overeat them.
Plant pigments (like yellow lutein, red zeaxanthin, and blue-purple anthocyanins) protect against various forms of cellular damage, including (but not limited to) oxidative stress from UV light. In humans, there are brain benefits to consuming foods rich in blue pigments, and consuming red and yellow pigments seem to be good for our eyes.
Eating significant amounts of colorful foods appears to provide substantial health benefits. Since these foods also tend to be tasty, low in calories, and high in vitamins, there are plenty of reasons to pile them onto your plate.
Here’s a more complete list of foods sources for each of these biologically active food pigments:
Anthocyanin in foods (chart from wikipedia entry).
Anthocyanin content (mg per 100 g)
Queen Garnet plum
Purple corn leaves
10x more than in kernels
Lutein and zeaxanthin are often measured together in foods, as in the chart below. Red foods like red bell peppers, paprika, and goji berries are high in the latter, yellow and green foods high in the former.
Lutein and zeaxanthin in foods (chart from this article).
Lutein + Zeaxanthin (mg)
Spinach, frozen, cooked
Kale, frozen, cooked
Turnip greens, frozen, cooked
Collards, frozen, cooked
Dandelion greens, cooked
Mustard greens, cooked
Summer squash, cooked
Peas, frozen, cooked
Winter squash, baked
Brussel sprouts, frozen, cooked
Broccoli, frozen, cooked
Sweet yellow corn, boiled
Egg yolk, raw
So, enjoy your berries and other colorful foods! (A great way to do so is by making smoothies. Good news: Ginny has formulated a number of smoothies to make the most of the health benefits of blueberries and goji berries. If you aren’t already a Pro user, you can check these out here!)
Here’s to your health and happiness (berry-enhanced, or not)!