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The health benefits of strawberries

Kathryn Matthews is a New York City-based lifestyles writer, editor and Certified Holistic Health Coach. She has written extensively about food, dining, nutrition, health and travel for numerous publications, including The New York Times...

A sweet superfood

When the first strawberries arrive in a scarlet flush in late spring, perfuming local stands and green markets with their sweet, heady fragrance, let yourself go berry wild! Strawberries are a nutritional powerhouse, chock-full of antioxidants and polyphenols — a whole foods “sweet treat” with blood sugar-balancing benefits, as well as potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

Bowl of strawberries

Nutritional profile

In terms of nutrients, a 1 cup serving (approximately eight) strawberries is an excellent source of vitamin C (containing more vitamin C than an orange) and folate, as well as fiber. It is a good source of minerals, including manganese, iodine, potassium and magnesium.

Jam-packed health benefits

Strawberries are also packed with antioxidants, which protect the body from highly unstable free radical activity (caused by oxidative stress) that can damage cell walls, proteins and DNA. This oxidative "rusting" process that generates free radicals in your body also causes oils to turn rancid, peeled apples to brown and iron to rust.

Anthocyanin, a phenol abundant in strawberries, is what gives strawberries their rich red color. Strawberry anthocyanins can protect against oxidative stress. Epidemiological studies suggest that increased consumption of anthocyanins reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death among both men and women. In fact, the results of a recent Harvard study published in Circulation link a high anthocyanin intake with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) in women ages 25 to 42.

Polyphenols — chemical compounds found in plants that add astringency to foods, like tea or red wine — are also abundant in strawberries. Like aspirin and ibuprofen, polyphenols combat inflammatory conditions, such as osteoarthritis, asthma and atherosclerosis, by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX) — only without negative side effects of the medications.

Because strawberries contain diverse antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, they confer numerous health benefits. Studies suggest that regular consumption of strawberries — at least three to four times a week — can have a protective effect on cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and help prevent breast, cervical, colon and esophageal cancer.

A study published in Metabolism found that adding strawberries to a cholesterol-lowering diet helped reduce LDL cholesterol and the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol. Researchers concluded that adding fruit like strawberries, can enhance diets designed to reduce heart disease risk.

Getting the most out of strawberries

How to choose

Strawberries are a fragile fruit and highly perishable. When choosing berries, remember: Bigger is not better. Huge strawberries (Driscoll is one well-known brand) pack easily, travel long distances well and bruise minimally. But they're often tasteless, with a big, airy hole in the center. Instead, look for small, locally grown berries that are a deep red, with bright green, leafy crowns, which indicate freshness. (if those crowns are wilted, don't buy them.)

Without a doubt, strawberries offer many health benefits. However, conventionally grown strawberries often contain a high degree of pesticide residue that cannot be rinsed out. It’s best to buy no-spray or organically grown strawberries. Out of 48 popular fresh produce items, strawberries rank as the No. 2 food with the most pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide 2013 .

How to enjoy

The best way to eat strawberries? You can just pop them in your mouth, and they're especially delicious in season. You can also add to salads, smoothies and yogurt, marinate them in balsamic vinegar and toss with arugula, or dip them in dark chocolate.

More nutrition tips

How to incorporate superfoods into your diet
6 Superfoods for your heart
Top 10 superfoods for healthy hair

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