The great goji juice controversy

© FotoosVanRobin

Goji juice and goji berry mania is rife. But is this humble berry the fountain of youth — a “miracle food” as is claimed?

Can it really prevent cancer? Or is it just another case of food fashion meets marketing?

Let’s find out…

Goji facts

Goji Berries, apparently, are “fruit Viagra,” “one pack will have you jumping for joy” and they’re “cellulite-busting,” according to the marketing hype. Hmmm (muses).

Goji berries — pronounced “go-gee” are about the same size as raisins but red and somewhat harder. They’re also known as wolfberries and grow on vines native to the Himalayas. They’re also grown extensively in China, Mongolia, and Tibet…

Renowned in Asia as one of nature’s most nutrient-rich natural foods, the Chinese have been munching on these berries for 2000 years. Traditionally, the goji berry is juiced or used in soups, stir-fry greens or with steamed dishes. Tibetan monks even have a 2 week celebration of the goji every year. No way!

They taste of… well it depends who you ask. Some say a cross between a cranberry and a cherry, or a cranberry and an olive or a raisin and a dried raspberry and some say it tastes like tea… that’s right! Like the tea you drink. I have to agree with the last one too — they taste like tea to me, but then I’ve never had raw or dried cranberries to compare.

Goji berries grow well in the UK and anywhere with a comparable climate. They’ve been naturalized in the UK counties of Norfolk and Suffolk for ages, where they’re used as hedging. In the UK it’s also known as boxthorn, matrimony vine and the Duke of Argyll’s tea tree. It was the Duke who first brought the plant to the UK way back in 1730. I’m only guessing, but maybe they called it “tea tree” because it tastes like tea?

Goji berry nutrition

This data is from Tibet Authentic Goji Berries — A True Miracle Food. The nutritional data will vary depending on where the berries come from. Like any food, a lot depends on the soil quality.

I wonder, does anyone really care what nutrients are in food other than to say “yep, this is good for me.” I remember a quote from Doug Graham — ”You should eat bananas because they’ve got banana in them.” :-) Brilliant!

I suppose nutritional data has some value if you know you’re deficient in a certain micronutrient, then you could focus on rebalancing. But overall it’s best to nail your diet to cover all the nutritional bases and leave the rest to your body to sort out.

The “amazing” goji berry has loads of stuff in it that no one will have a clue what they mean but sounds extremely impressive such as betaine, beta sitosterol, cyperone, germanium, lutine, selenium, solavetivone, physalin and zeaxanthin to name but a few.

All these plant factors in goji berries are associated with positive health benefits. Cool. But it’s the polysaccharides that are causing the big stir. More about that later…

The berries are claimed by many to have more vitamin C than oranges, more beta-carotene than carrots and more iron than steak, weight for weight. It’s a bit of an unfair comparison though because these are dried berries, so all the water weight is removed.

You’d have to compare them to dried oranges and dried carrots, no? Another reasonable comparison would be to look at the amount of vitamin C say, per calorie. That would give meaningful results because the number of calories is the limiting factor in any diet. So I did just that… I entered 350 calories of oranges on and here’s the comparable data for oranges (the figures in brackets are the percentages of the RDA or Recommended Daily Amount)…

So you can easily see that on a calorie basis the oranges kick goji butt for vitamin C. Oranges also win easily in the calcium and thiamin stakes! So, at least as far as the vitamin C claim goes, it’s a case of half truths combined with the old “lies, damn lies and statistics.”

As for its very high iron content, I can’t help wondering if this is an error that’s crept in somewhere along the line. I’ve compared goji berries to other berries which all seem to be coming out at about 0.75 to 1.0mg per 350 calories of berries. If you know of a reliable source for the iron content of goji berries, let me know. They’re not listed on the USDA database.

Based on the USDA’s ORAC test, the goji berry has high antioxidant levels. But again the same error has crept in. Testing the amount of antioxidants per 100g of food is just not a fair test if some is dried and some fresh. It’s pretty meaningless for comparison purposes.

Checking out a document about the USDA’s ORAC test I see that prunes and raisins top the fruit chart — dried fruit! Does this mean dried fruit is best? Absolutely not. Think nutrients per calorie not per gram.


Madonna, Kate Moss, Liz Hurley and Mischa Barton are all reported to be lovin’ the goji.

And the go-go goji has already made the giant leap from the hippy hangout health store into the supermarket with both Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s in the UK stocking them now.


A 250g bag of Goji Berries (image left) costs $14.95 from (retail price is $17.99).

UK goji fans can expect to pay around £9.00 for 250g at the supermarket. You can buy them for around £6.00 on-line although like all foods, quality will vary.

I’ve seen reports that not all organic goji berries are really organic so watch out for that. I reckon the price will come down as farmers in the West catch on to the commercial value of goji.

Goji scam?

In January 2007, Earl Mindell was lambasted by CBC Marketplace in a fascinating interview and exposé for allegedy taking advantage of sick folks to make huge profits selling goji juice. His business empire is massive. His goji meetings are like religious events with Mindell as “master.”

His product — Freelife “Himalayan” Goji Juice is actually made from berries not grown in the Himalayas! His reasoning is that the “unique” polysaccharide profile is the same as the Himalayan sort. Hmmm I don’t like that kind of thing. Either it’s Himalayan or it ain’t.

Mindell claims that only his juice has the exact profile of these “master” molecules —  “There simply is no other product on the market like it.” He also claims he’s going to close half the hospitals!

To use Freelife (a pyramid marketed product with top sellers making $170,000-$1,700,000 a year according to freelife), expect to shell out $50 per bottle or about $250 for a months supply. I feel sad. This smacks of exploiting sick people. Can folks not get the benefit of goji berries that doesn’t involve a $250 per month cost?

The Marketplace program said that many of his claims are false. In lab tests, his juice contained virtually no B or E vitamins and no beta carotene. The lab tests also found his “unique” product to be similar to other juices.

Mindell responded by citing 76 peer reviewed studies that support his health claims. He’s written a book on Goji that lists 34 health benefits — even that it prevents cancer.

Dr. Steven Zegar, who researches natural health products for cancer treatment at McMaster University has reviewed many of the goji studies. He says Mindell has extrapolated bits of these studies and is using them out of context. The polysaccharides could have health benefits but there’s little proof to back up the hype.

Dr Bradlow of Hackensack University in New Jersey said…

“It inhibited the growth of cells in a dish… a little dish like this isn’t the same as a person.

There’s absolutely no proof it would have that effect on a human… there’s no justification for encouraging people to take this as an anti-cancer drug… it’s misrepresentation of the facts… it’s unbelievable how many unscrupulous souls there are out there, trying to pedal an unproven product… there’s lots of single studies that turned out to be one shot wonders.”

In Mindell’s defense, I reckon goji berries do have cancer preventing qualities. Plant food in general have been shown in many studies to have anti-cancer properties and antioxidants are known to “mop up” free radicals which can cause DNA damage. Since goji is a highly nutritious berry, it’s fair to say that it has anti-cancer properties.

Unfortunately for Mindell, you just can’t say it without proof. Also, his juice is lacking many of the health benefits of the berry itself. Surely if he really wanted the best for people, he would be recommending the berries and not his extremely expensive juice?

Also in Mindell’s defense, it’s mainly the polysaccharides that he’s promoting in his juice. But again I have to ask why not just eat the berry and get the other benefits as well at a much reduced cost?

In the Marketplace interview, he urges folks to go to and do a search for “Lycium Barbarum” (the latin name for goji berries). Well I did just that — 83 results of studies relating to goji or its extracts (to put this into perspective, I did a search on pubmed for broccoli that came up with 5416 studies). So, a few more have been added since the Marketplace interview. Having a quick flick through, three things sprung to mind.

Firstly, not many people will have a clue how to interpret these studies. To pick one purely at random…

“Effect of lycium barbarum polysaccharide on human hepatoma QGY7703 cells: inhibition of proliferation and induction of apoptosis.”

Brain freeze!

I’m sure you’re dying to know what the outcome of that particular study was eh? Well…

“The study suggests that the induction of cell cycle arrest and the increase of intracellular calcium in apoptotic system may participate in the antiproliferative activity of LBP in QGY7703 cells.”

Phew, I’m glad we cleared that up!

Secondly, a lot of these studies are just not relevant to the claims made by Mindell…  stuff like “How to extract the polysaccharides” and so-on.

Thirdly, most of these studies were done in China. Call me a cynic but the Chinese would have a lot to gain from goji acquiring a reputation for healing cancer and other illnesses.

Having said that, looking at this from a layman’s perspective, there are some extremely interesting studies about goji polysaccharides on and many concluding remarks from these studies do suggest they have anti-cancer properties, especially at the right dose. Check out the Sloane-Kettering goji article for a good summary of the relevant research so far.

UK ban

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) may impose a ban on goji berries unless it can be shown that they’ve been consumed in significant amounts within the EU before May 1997. If it can’t be shown, then goji berries would be classed as a “novel food” within EU law and it could take two years to get approval to sell them.

The cut off point for new information was 23 March 2007 but I’ve not heard of a decision being made as yet. It’s hard to take this seriously — it’s a berry!!

The FSA do seem to be sharing this view, they’ve said on their site;

“There are no immediate safety concerns over goji berries and local authorities will take this into account when deciding on appropriate enforcement action.”

I can’t see a ban happening, and even if it does, you can always…

Grow your own gojis

They’re readily available nowadays from nurseries. I just ordered some from Thompson and Morgan for only £14 for 3 plants. My garden is full of all sorts of berries because as well as being nutritional powerhouses, they’re expensive to buy.

Don’t waste your time and energy growing stuff that’s cheap to buy — why bother, unless it’s just for fun. Grow the expensive stuff I say :-) If you’re going to try to sun dry your berries, don’t touch them or they’ll oxidize and go black. Shake onto a mat instead of picking by hand.

Health warnings!

As is the case for cranberries, folks taking Warfarin should not use goji products without consulting their doctor.

Got Goji? Got Cavities! Well, all and any dried fruits are going to be a nightmare for teeth. Sweet and sticky is not a good combination. The fruit sticks to teeth and the plaque will do the rest. I wouldn’t recommend eating them dried unless you can brush you teeth afterwards. If you soak them for about 30 mins or even overnight, this will probably avoid the cavity problem.

The goji berry is part of the “nightshade” family of plants which also include potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. If you’re allergic to any of the nightshades, which is quite common, you may have problems with goji berries.

Oh, and don’t be tempted to make tea out of the “tea tree” leaves… they’re toxic.

Food or medicine?

Hippocrates, the father of medicine said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” How bizarre then, that doctors still swear the Hippocratic Oath but fail so badly to take Hippocrates advice on using food as medicine.

For me, Goji is just great nutritious food. If you have an illness it might be worth thinking about upping your daily dose. 10 to 30g is recommended as a daily serving.

If I had cancer, I would be wanting to give myself every chance of a cure and even if it’s not yet officially proven, the goji polysaccharides show promise — I wouldn’t be waiting for science and would be looking at lot more deeply at goji as well as other well known natural foods with known anti-cancer activity.

In general, the “pill for an ill” mindset is very deeply ingrained, even when the “pill” is a food. There is no silver bullet, no one food is the answer to health. Health is created by living a healthy lifestyle and nutritious food is a big part of that… My concern is that folks looking for the silver bullet are going to miss the big picture.

Summing up

Never, ever, ever take information on a sales page or from the seller as accurate. All sorts of wild claims are made for goji and sales pages are just not a good place to look for solid information. From my research into this article, I feel goji berries are a great food and a very nutritious food.

If you can afford them, I see no reason not to add them to your diet occasionally. Are they better than other berries? I’m not sure about that. The fact that they come from largely unspoilt locations grown in rich soils could account for their high nutritional content.

You have to wonder — if this really is the fountain of youth, why the Chinese aren’t all living to 200 years old or even topping the list of longest-lived nations. Or for that matter, why Earl Mindell isn’t beaming with health and vitality. Perhaps the stress of running his multi-million dollar industry is taking its toll :-)

In a response to the Marketplace exposé of Mindell, Freelife issued an official statement and offered up a Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center webpage on goji berries which is quite strange since Sloane-Kettering state that the data on goji is inconclusive and that much more large scale human research is needed.

You can look at nutrition from a million different angles and come up with the same answer — eat more fruits and veg. The next BIG thing… broccoli, watch this space!

If you feel that anything in this article is incorrect, have another point of view or just want to say ‘hi’, please leave a comment below.

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

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54 thoughts on “The great goji juice controversy

  1. Recent blog entry, with an enormous amount of information about Goji berries, and some of the outright bald-faced lies which are being peddled, and how so-called “Tibetan” Goji berries don’t even exist as advertised.
    The more one looks into the marketing of Goji berries, the uglier it gets, to the point of consumer fraud.

    ‘Sometimes, if there are many berries, we pick them and sell them in the town,’ said Penba Niyama, 42. ‘But Tibetan people don’t buy them … we just leave them for the birds to eat.’ When I told him people in the west paid the equivalent of 140 yuan for a small bag of the berries, he shook with laughter. ‘People there must be very strange,’ he said.”


  2. Here is a short but sweet statement from the Mayo Clinic on Goji juice and cancer.

    Goji juice: Can it prevent or treat cancer?

    I’ve been reading about the health benefits of goji juice. Is it true that goji juice may help prevent cancer?

    There is no published scientific evidence that goji juice can treat or prevent any disease in humans — including cancer.

    Goji juice is the latest in a seemingly endless string of juices being touted as cure-alls for a wide range of ailments. Some animal studies suggest possible health benefits from goji juice, such as reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol. Like many fruit juices, goji juice is a rich source of vitamins and antioxidants. Antioxidants are natural compounds found in many foods, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

    So what does this mean for you? Drink goji juice, if you like the taste. But don’t invest a lot of money on goji juice as a cure for cancer or any other disease. Instead, watch for future results of clinical trials involving goji juice to see if it lives up to any of the claims made by its promoters.

    As with any herbal or dietary supplements, talk to your doctor about goji juice before you start drinking it on a regular basis. There is some concern that goji juice may interact with some medications.


  3. hey, one last Goji comment from me on this. I happened to go through a bigger part of Chinatown today, and I had a look around for fun.

    The Chinese “health food” stores sell the Goji berries from $10-15 a pound. Same berries, some are larger though and cost more.

    the supermarkets had some for about $3 for 300g, so that’s about $4.50 a lb.

    the best deal was at the chinese “dry goods” store, where its about $4 a poound for Goji berries.

    If you bought a few bags, offer to pay $10 for 3, or something, and hold out the $10 bill, they will take it! :-)

    But at one place, they had a massive bag in the store, which must have been 10 lbs, I don’t know as they could not speak english. But she said $26, and I bet I could have offered her $20 for it.

    So you can get a huge 10 lb bag of Goji berries, for about $20 from a chinese dry goods store.

    But of course, all this stuff from China could be laced with pesticides, including the so-called expensive “organic” stuff, as in China you don’t know what you are getting no matter what anyone says. Its too much money, and too corrupt.
    There is no such thing as “organic” from China at this point, no matter what the salesmen say.

    So, forget about “Dr.” Earl Mindell, and Freelife (expensive overpriced dishonest MLM). This Goji thing has to be one of the biggest, and most carefully planned scams of all time. Cheap berries, big hype, false medical claims without evidence, huge mark-up, massive profit.

    Once the Goji hype dies off, then they will create a new one.
    Some new berry from some Pacific island, or some other 3rd world country where labor for harvesting berries is dirt cheap, so the raw material costs pennies a pound.


  4. PS:

    It just occurred to me I should go to the chinese store, and buy some bulk-boxes of goji berries for $1 for 400g bags, and then put like a fancy ribbon or something on them, and resell them for $20.

    Believe you me, that is what our local health food stores are doing.
    They go and buy them at the Chinese market for $1 a pound, and resell it for $20 a half pound (250 grams).
    That’s a 4000% markup.

    And the juice is marked up way more than that!

    I think I am going to start selling mulched up grass for $400 a pound…oh they do…its called Wheat Grass juice, and you just pee it all out, as the human body cannot digest or process GRASS, as we are not a cow.
    Like I said, the dumb Yuppie is a marketers dream.


  5. By the way, your analysis of the comparison of dry goji berries to regular fruit is excellent. They have all sorts of “sales tricks” like that. Comparing dried Goji to fresh oranges, if you will, its a trick.

    There is a lot of money in Goji. Why? Because they can buy these berries in massive bulk for almost nothing, due to the economic disparities. Then they create a type of “straw man” super-hyped up salespitch, and mark it up dozens of times for a huge profit margin.

    Like when I went to the Chinese herb store today. You could see his eyes light up….”here come’s another dumb Yuppie whiteman to buy the common Goji berrie…price just went up to $20.” I bet if I were a local chinese person he would sell them at less than 20% that price, as the Goji berry is a common berry for the chinese, like blueberries for us. I don’t blame the guy, as the White-Yuppie is a very dumb species. :-)

    (I bought the same berries, same package down the street at the Chinese grocery for 2 bucks. They are fresh, delicious, and excellent quality, as the chinese locals are not going to buy junk berries, or get ripped off).

    They all get the same berry from the same supplier.

    Also, what is a Goji “berry”?
    A berry is a seed delivery mechanism for a plant.
    It evolved for animals to eat the berry, and crap out the seeds, and grow more Goji plants.
    They are not some “mystical” thing, its a berry, its a tiny fruit, to spread seeds from animals droppings. Pretty darn mystical…NOT.

    So, a berry is a berry. (unless its poison).

    Lastly, if you buy the Goji berries in bulk from a GOOD local chinese grocer, you can make your own dang Goji juice for pennies! Put some berries in Green Tea, and get a double-benefit.
    Put some in a water bottle, it works after a few hours, then eat the berries too. Tastes good.

    Or, mix them in a blender, and mix with another juice.

    But lets get real. The whole berries are MUCH MUCH MUCH better than the juice. No matter what Earl Mindell claims, without any proof at all.

    Why do the Goji salespeople fight against this?
    There is no money in raw berries.

    Hey, they buy Goji berries in massive bulk for a few cents a pound, and then charge $20-50 a pound for them, or more! Now that is a sweet markup.

    They do the same thing with “Greens”. If you want Greens, eat fresh Greens!
    If you want Goji, buy dried Goji berries for a few bucks from a nice store in Chinatown, where the local chinese folks shop.

    And next month, there will be a new hype product markup, a new fad. Just buy the real WHOLE FOOD from a good source, and you are way better off.

    Forget all these rip-off juices and supplements. Its just a dang berry, and its berry berry tasty, and a fun food product.

    But ALL the hype is about….

    $$$$ Big Profits for Freelife. $$$$$
    Forget Freelife, and buy from the local chinese store, who probably buys from the same distributor as Freelife anyway. (no matter how much they deny it).

    Great article page on Goji!!


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