Fresh summer strawberries are one of the most popular, refreshing, and healthy treats on the planet. They also appear to carry a number of health benefits. Today, there are over 600 varieties of strawberries. The sweet, slightly tart berries rank among the top 10 fruits and vegetables for antioxidant content.
The benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds, including strawberries, are varied. As plant food consumption goes up, the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer goes down. A high intake of fruits and vegetables is also associated with healthy skin and hair, increased energy, and lower weight. Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables significantly decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality.
1) Heart Disease
Strawberries have been found to hold a multitude of health benefits.
A Harvard study found that regular consumption of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids found in berries, can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 32 percent in young and middle-aged women. Women who consumed at least three servings of strawberries or blueberries per week fared best according to lead study author Aedin Cassidy, Ph.D., a nutritionist at the Norwich Medical School in the United Kingdom.
The flavonoid quercetin, contained in strawberries, is a natural anti-inflammatory that appears to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and protect against the damage caused by low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in animal studies. Quercetin may have the additional bonus of anti-cancer effects; however, more studies are needed using human subjects before these results can be confirmed. The high polyphenol content in strawberries may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing platelet build-up and reducing blood pressure via anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
Other studies have shown that eating strawberries helps to lower homocysteine levels, an amino acid in the blood associated with damaging the inner lining of arteries. The fiber and potassium in strawberries also support heart health. In one study, participants who consumed 4,069 milligrams of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1,000 milligrams per day).
The antioxidants quercetin, kaempferol, and anthocyanins have all been shown to reduce the formation of harmful blood clots associated with strokes. High potassium intake has also been linked with a reduced risk of stroke.
As mentioned above, strawberries contain powerful antioxidants that work against free radicals, inhibiting tumor growth, and decreasing inflammation in the body.
4) Blood Pressure
Due to their high potassium content, strawberries are recommended to those with high blood pressure to help negate the effects of sodium in the body. A low potassium intake is just as big a risk factor for developing high blood pressure as a high sodium intake. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2 percent of American adults meet the daily 4,700-milligram recommendation for potassium. Also of note, high potassium intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.
Eating foods that are high in water content and fiber, like strawberries, grapes, watermelon, and cantaloupe can help keep you hydrated and your bowel movements regular. Fiber is essential for minimizing constipation and adding bulk to the stool.
6) Allergies and Asthma
Because of the anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin, consuming strawberries may help to alleviate symptoms of allergies, including runny nose, watery eyes, and hives; however, to date, there have been no human studies done to prove this theory. Several studies have shown that the incidence of asthma is lower with a high intake of certain nutrients, vitamin C being at the top of the list.
Strawberries might be an excellent choice for people with diabetes.
Strawberries are a low glycemic index food and high in fiber, which helps to regulate blood sugar and keep it stable by avoiding extreme highs and lows. Strawberries are a smart fruit choice for diabetics, as they have a lower glycemic index (40) than many other fruits. Researchers discovered in 2011 that eating about 37 strawberries a day can significantly reduce diabetic complications such as kidney disease and neuropathy. The study showed that fisetin, a flavonoid contained in abundance in strawberries, promoted survival of neurons grown in culture and enhanced memory in healthy mice, along with prevention of both kidney and brain complications in diabetic mice.
Adequate folic acid intake is essential for pregnant women to protect against neural tube defects in infants.
Folate may also help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood, but also sleep and appetite.
Nutritional breakdown of strawberries
Strawberries are rich in the essential nutrients vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. One cup of fresh strawberries contains 160 percent of the daily recommended quantity of vitamin C, for only 50 calories.
Serving Size: 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries (166 grams)
- Calories: 50
- Protein: 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 11.65 grams
- Dietary fiber: 3.81 grams
- Calcium: 23.24 milligrams
- Iron: 0.63 milligrams
- Magnesium: 16.60 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 31.54 milligrams
- Potassium: 44.82 milligrams
- Selenium: 1.16 milligrams
- Vitamin C: 94.12 milligrams
- Folate: 29.38 micrograms
- Vitamin A: 44.82 international units
This nutritional powerhouse also contains the mighty antioxidants anthocyanins, ellagic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol, which have all been shown to have protective effects against certain types of cancer.
Incorporating more strawberries into your diet
Strawberries are available fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, and in jellies, syrups, and jams. Make sure to check the label of frozen and dried strawberries for added sugars. When looking for jellies or jams, go for all fruit spreads without added sweeteners and fillers.
Here are some handy healthy tips to incorporate more of this super food into your diet:
- Dice strawberries and add them to your chicken salad.
- Make your own fruit cocktail with fresh fruit and include grapes, pineapple, sliced peaches, and strawberries. Drizzle a small amount of honey on top of the fruit mixture for an extra sweet treat.
- Slice strawberries and add them to plain Greek yogurt with a drizzle of agave nectar and sliced almonds.
- Top whole grain waffles, pancakes, or oatmeal with fresh strawberries, or fold them into muffins and sweet breads. You can also blend strawberries in a food processor with a little water and use as a fresh syrup to top desserts or breakfast foods.
- Mix them into a spinach salad with walnuts and goat cheese.
- Toast a whole grain bagel and top with Neufchatel cheese (light cream cheese) and strawberries.
- Throw some frozen strawberries (unsweetened) in a blender with a banana, milk, and ice for a quick and easy strawberry banana smoothie.
Risks and precautions
Each year, the Environmental Working Group produces a list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue, known as the Dirty Dozen.
Strawberries often come high on the list. The EWG suggests that people buy organic strawberries to ensure a lower risk of pesticide exposure.
If you can’t afford organic, don’t fret; the nutritional benefit of eating conventionally grown produce (non-organic) far outweighs the risk of not eating the produce at all.
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers. Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
Dr. Peter S. Gelfand, who practices Internal Medicine in Long Beach, NY, says:
“Certain medications used for heart disease and hypertension have the potential to increase potassium levels. Examples include certain Beta blockers such as Labetalol, medications that work by blocking the actions of the hormone Aldosterone such as Lisinopril and Losartan; And, certain Diuretics like Spironolactone and Eplerenone.
This is a partial list only, and you should consult with your doctor if potassium levels become a concern.”