A few years ago, goji berries (also called wolfberries) suddenly became the latest “superfood” trend. They’re still around and appear in many more forms.
Are Goji Berries Safe for Pregnant Women? The effects of goji berries on unborn fetuses are largely unknown as there are few human trials. Until there is more research, goji berries are best avoided during pregnancy.
Whether you’re eating them as dried berries, in a tea, or as a juice, here’s a complete breakdown as to whether goji berries are safe when pregnant.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Goji Berries? Are They Safe?
Many online companies say that goji berries are safe in pregnancy, but more often than not, they’re selling goji berries! Other sites say to avoid them, but don’t provide evidence for such a claim.
In the absence of much scientific backup for the information given, I decided to investigate further.
To date, there have been no human trials concerning the safety of goji berries in pregnancy or the effects of goji berries on an unborn fetus. Animal studies are limited, too. Most studies looked at health benefits, but not during pregnancy.
Much of the scientific literature is Chinese, as goji berries have been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years.
The 2011 book “Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects” cautions against goji berries during pregnancy, as they contain betaine, which has been used to induce abortion and menstruation (source: NCBI). Betaine itself has an ‘unknown’ safety status in pregnancy (source: Drugs.com).
Another Chinese book in 1998 detailed a pharmacological study on the water extract of goji berries, again detailing that goji berries may mimic estrogen. As the study is in Chinese, the study itself is hard to find and draw conclusions from.
The upshot? Not enough information is known about the safety of goji berries when consumed by pregnant women. For this reason, it’s better to avoid goji berries during pregnancy (source: WebMD).
Help! I’ve Eaten Goji Berries During Pregnancy – Should I Worry?
If you’ve been eating goji berries (or products made with them) during pregnancy so far, there’s no need to panic or worry in most cases.
The small food amounts that are the most common are unlikely to be harmful as they won’t contain enough concentrations of the active ingredients that may affect pregnant women.
Goji berries are quite expensive, and portion sizes (for example, when sprinkled on desserts or made into granola or trail bars) are usually quite small.
Going forward, it’s better to avoid goji berries for the remainder of your pregnancy due to their unknown effects (described above).
Are Goji Berry Supplements Safe During Pregnancy?
If you’ve been taking goji berries in higher doses, for example, in a supplement or extract – then it’s probably wise to stop taking the supplement immediately and consult your healthcare provider.
If you’ve had no discernable symptoms so far, everything is probably alright, but it’s safer to check.
Many supplements, including goji berry types, are much higher in active ingredients and are classed as ‘medicinal’ amounts, rather than standard food amounts.
Frequently, these supplements are unsafe or are untested during pregnancy so always contact a health professional before taking them (source: Mayo Clinic).
Even if you’ve been eating small amounts, if you have any unusual symptoms including bleeding or spotting, or anything else out of the ordinary – consult a medical professional and let them know you’ve been eating goji berries.
The Benefits of Goji Berries From Other Foods During Pregnancy
Since goji berries are best avoided, you’re probably wondering how to get the same benefits from other food that is definitely safe during pregnancy.
Goji berries are rich in a carotenoid called zeaxanthin, which gives them their characteristic bright red color. Zeaxanthin plays an important role in the development of the eyes, retina, and nervous system in unborn babies (source: PMC).
The good news is that zeaxanthin is not just in goji berries. Leafy greens such as kale and spinach are good sources, as are peas, broccoli, and egg yolks (source: Nutrients Journal).
Goji berries are unusual because they’re high in vitamin A. This is an essential vitamin during pregnancy, but you’ll have to monitor your intake, as too much vitamin A can be harmful (source: NHS).
Other good sources of vitamin A are sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and many types of animal liver. Liver is also very high in vitamin A so should be eaten in moderation. However, in the UK, pregnant women are advised to avoid all liver products altogether (source: NHS).
Finally, other vitamins and minerals found in goji berries such as vitamin C, Riboflavin, iron, selenium and copper (source: NutritionData) can all be gained through a varied diet that is rich in whole grains, fruit, vegetables and lean, healthy sources of protein like fish.
If you were planning to use goji berries as a dried fruit sprinkle or in baking, switch to other options such as dried cranberries that are not fully sweetened, or other lower-sugar dried fruit options like unsweetened apricots or blueberries.
Can I Drink Goji Berry Tea or Juice When Pregnant?
Since so much is unknown about their effects in pregnancy, all forms of goji berry should be avoided – that includes when it appears in a tea, and also in juices or smoothies.
Some tea blends like green tea or red raspberry leaf contain goji berries with the blend – again, these are best avoided, even though the goji berry usually makes up a small percentage of the drink.
Many juices sold as ‘goji berry juice’ frequently contain other juices such as grape or apple. These can be very high in sugar, so it’s a good idea to switch to another drink, not just because it’s safer to avoid goji berries, but because these types of juices can cause a blood sugar spike (source: Diabetes UK).
I wrote an article on ten drinks pregnant women can enjoy, besides water. Juices are on the list but due to their sugar content, they are best limited to one glass daily and, if you have diabetes, ask your healthcare professional for guidance on whether you can have fruit juice.
Overall, despite their reputation as having several health benefits, goji berries – and products made from them – are best avoided during pregnancy.
If you’re interested in some healthy food that IS beneficial and safe during pregnancy, check out: