You really can’t say enough good things about berries, though goodness knows I never stop trying. I’ve written extensively about blueberries, but truth be told all berries are phenomenal and strawberries are no exception. It’s time to take a look at the special properties of strawberries that make them such a nutritional powerhouse.
Let’s start with something called anthocyanins, a class of plant pigments that give berries their particular colors. These anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that help plants (like berries) defend themselves against both sun damage and attacks from free radicals; they do similar duty in your body, protecting your cells and DNA. Strawberries are loaded with ‘em.
Anthocyanins have another great benefit- they help fight inflammation. They’re natural inhibitors of the COX-2 enzyme, which means they pretty much do what drugs like Vioox and Celebrex do- but without any side effects except good ones!
Then there’s a compound called ellagitannin, which breaks down in the body to a remarkable substance called ellagic acid. Ellagic acid- also found in raspberries, cranberries, a couple of nuts and pomegrantes- is an amazing compound that causes cell death of cancer cells in the lab, with no change to healthy normal cells. The American Cancer Society’s “Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Methods” calls ellagic acid a “very promising natural supplement”, and research going back to 1968 shows that ellagic acid has anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic activity. Extracts from the strawberry leaf- which by the way is perfectly edible—were found to have significant cancer-killing activity on leukemia cells, and freeze-dried strawberries have been shown to slow the growth of two types of cervical cancer cells.
And strawberries may protect long term memory and prevent neurodegenerative diseases. Research at the Slak Institute for Biological Studies found that a particular chemical in strawberries called fisetin– a member of the flavonoid family- improves long-term memory and protects against cognitive decline.
But wait there’s more! Strawberries are among the highest scorers in virtually every test of antioxidant activity that research scientists can devise including the famed ORAC test. They’re second only to plums as the richest fruit in phenols and antioxidants. Researchers at Harvard showed that strawberries were associated with a decreased risk of death from all cancers in a large population of elderly people. Only three foods in their analysis had this distinction: tomatoes, green and yellow veggies and strawberries.
A cup of strawberries has only about 50 calories and delivers about 3 grams of fiber. It has calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, folate and potassium, plus a very nice dose of vitamin C (about 85mg per cup). Best of all they’re so easy to eat- frozen or fresh. Throw them in smoothies or cut them up and put them on salads.
The only caution- strawberries are one of the “dirty dozen”, the Environmental Working Group’s list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that consistently have the highest levels of pesticides. Buy only organic strawberries- with strawberries, there really is a difference!