strawberries 101: nutrition facts and health benefits

Lawrence Lefcort, SATI STAFF

Is there anything better than a freshly picked strawberry in June? Just gazing at this sumptuous, passionate, and delicate fruit can give us almost as much pleasure as eating it…almost. Whether served with coconut ice cream, on top of your favorite pie or just eating them out of the bowl, nothing is as satisfying as biting into a delicious, fragrant strawberry delight.

However, something else is going on behind the scenes: that sweet, innocent berry has an incredible story to tell. The soft, heart-shaped fruit has been pleasing the human palate since Roman times where it started out as a luxurious delicacy reserved only for royalty. For centuries since, it has been glorified in art, literature, stories, and theater.  

But did you know that strawberries also come with a truckload of wholesome nutrients, health benefits, and a myriad of medicinal uses for its leaves, fruit, and roots? Below you’ll discover the low-down on just how good this “superfood” is for you and why you’d be well-served to add more strawberries to your diet.

Not really a berry at all

The common garden strawberry we all know and love (named Fragaria ananassa [1] in botanical jargon) was originally cultivated on the west coast of France in the 1750s. Earlier in the 18th century, a French engineer discovered an indigenous strawberry in Chile and Peru that was bigger and juicier than the ones found in Europe.

Amédée-François Frézier (who would later have the fruit named after him in French — fraise) brought back samples of the delicious berry to grow in France [2]. The strawberry’s popularity surged throughout Europe, and the rest is history. Due to a short strawberry season in England, growers needed to protect the fragile plants from muddy soil. They did this by spreading straw around them to protect the budding berries. And the strawberry was born [3].

Strawberries aren’t really considered fruits, or berries because they’re members of the rose (Rosaceae) family. Strawberry plants are called runners [4], and they reproduce not from their seeds (about 200 per fruit located on its exterior) but through shoots which burst forth from the roots. More than ten species of Fragaria exist worldwide differing in flavor, size, and texture.

The citizens of ancient Rome hailed strawberries as a cure for depression, fatigue, inflammation, fever, infection, bad breath, gout, and blood and spleen disorders [5].  Little did the Romans know that two thousand years later, modern medical science would loudly affirm many of their strawberry beliefs and observations.

Packed full of nutrients

If there was one food that you could eat completely guilt-free until your heart’s content it would undoubtedly be the strawberry. In fact, strawberries are so low in calories, you could walk off a bowl of them in minutes [6]! But don’t let this sweet, low-cal berry-plant fool you — strawberries are one of the most nutrient-rich foods around.

Let’s take a look. Just one serving of strawberries contains all of the following crucial vitamins and minerals [7]:

  • Vitamin C: Strawberries have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C available providing us with 113% of our daily required intake (DRI). Vitamin C plays a vital role in improving our mood, fending off illness, and keeping our skin bright and shiny [8].
  • Manganese: Strawberries provide us with 28% DRI of manganese. This mineral is instrumental in keeping your bones and connective tissue strong. Manganese also helps with blood clotting, efficient metabolism, calcium absorption, and regulating blood sugar [9].
  • Fiber: Dietary fiber helps our intestines properly digest food and nourish health-promoting bacteria [10]. It can help prevent obesity and a host of gastrointestinal illnesses and cardiovascular diseases. Strawberries give us 12% DRI of fiber [11].
  • Folate (B9): Vitamin B9 helps our tissues grow, and our cells function properly. It’s especially important for pregnant women and older people [12]. B9 or folic acid deficiency can lead to congenital disabilities, blood disorders, and other chronic diseases [13]. Fortunately, strawberries provide us with 9% DRI of folate.
  • Potassium: Strawberries supply us with 6% RDI of potassium. This amazing electrolyte keeps our blood pressure under control, promotes effective blood clotting, maintains the strength of our kidneys, and helps to prevent heart attack and stroke [14].

Also, one serving of strawberries will equip your body with:

  • 9% RDI of iodine
  • 8% RDI of copper
  • 5% RDI of magnesium
  • 5% RDI of phosphorus
  • 5% RDI of biotin
  • 4% RDI of omega-3 fats
  • 4% RDI of vitamin B6

Loaded with antioxidants

If you didn’t already know, most berries have a generous supply of antioxidants [15]. But strawberries absolutely take the shortcake here: they contain a wide array of antioxidant nutrients such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans, tannins, and stilbenes [16], that help us fight off infection, stop tumor cells in their tracks, and help restore and replenish our tissues [17].

But let’s back up a step. To fully appreciate the antioxidant capacity of strawberries, we need to understand what antioxidants actually do and how they benefit our health. Our bodies are constantly undergoing different chemical processes producing both antioxidants and molecules known as free radicals [18]. Both are essential for us to live.

Our cells use oxygen to give us energy and make vital enzymes allowing us to function. The by-products of this process are free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules missing an electron, giving them an electrical charge [19]; they’re like Jedi fighters that destroy infection and unwanted bacteria with their electrically charged lightsabers!

However, if free radicals get out of control, they can wreak havoc, damaging healthy cells and DNA in the process. Under normal circumstances, antioxidants come to the rescue, donating missing electrons to free radicals and neutralizing their effects. But as we age, our antioxidant production can wane, leaving free radicals able to roam unchecked [20].

Strawberries help solve this problem by providing us with the extra antioxidants that we need to keep our bodies in perfect balance [21]. A great example of this is anthocyanin, a mighty antioxidant that shields us from environmental toxins, especially the sun’s harmful UV rays [22]. And the power of strawberry anthocyanin can last a full twenty-four hours after consumption [23]!

The tiny, fragile berry plants pack a big punch when fighting free radicals and other harmful toxins in the body. Eating a fresh bowl of strawberries every day can give your body that extra jump-start it needs to help ward off hazardous pollutants, unwanted infections and disease [24].

Good for the heart

The heart shape and luminous red color of strawberries may be no accident. Increasing medical literature has extolled the virtues of the antioxidant-rich fruit in reducing high blood pressure and preventing cardiovascular disease, particularly in older women [25]. Strawberries are rich in flavonoids, particularly anthocyanins, antioxidant super powers that have been shown to inhibit coronary heart disease and stroke [26].

It seems strawberries have an uncanny ability not only to soothe swelling in our bodies, but they also lower our risk of hypertension by shaving away low-density, or unhealthy, cholesterol in the pathways of our blood. A 2013 study looked at the impact of strawberry intake in 96,000 younger women over a period of 18 years [27].

What did the researchers discover? Women who ate at least three servings of strawberries per week were 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack thank those who didn’t. Heart medicine that doesn’t make you wince when you take a spoonful, but makes you smile with satisfaction…what could be better?

Your next strawberry dessert will come with more good news: with a daily cup of strawberries, you’ll be the beneficiary of more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C! Medical research confirms that vitamin C can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure at the same time, especially among kids [28].

Strawberries help regulate blood sugar

Diabetes is a metabolic disease affecting more than 29 million Americans, representing 9.3% of the entire U.S. population [29]. A lifelong illness, diabetes patients need to carefully manage their disease to stay healthy and avoid a host of serious symptoms [30]. Astonishingly, the humble strawberry may offer some hope for people with diabetes everywhere.

Strawberries are rich in polyphenol antioxidants known to provide enormous cardiometabolic health benefits and help people living with diabetes avoid what’s known as postprandial hyperglycemia, an exaggerated hike in blood sugar after eating a meal [31]. Studies have shown that eating just a simple cup of strawberries can help regulate blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes [32].

At the 2016 International Strawberry Symposium held in Canada, researchers presented their findings of a study conducted on 50 mildly obese people who had early-stage type 2 diabetes. The control group was asked to drink a beverage containing 333 mg of strawberry-polyphenols (equal to about one cup of strawberries) every day for six weeks.

The results showed, incredibly, that the polyphenols in strawberries had the same effect on diabetes patients as metformin, a commonly prescribed medication for patients with type 2 diabetes, improving their insulin sensitivity and increasing its secretion [33]. Could there be a future for strawberries as a manager of blood sugar? Science says there already is.

Help guard us against cancer

Cancer is one of the most dreaded diseases in America. Every year, more than 1.5 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed, and 600,000 people die from the disease; cancer care and management cost the United States $130 billion dollars annually [34]. Could the unassuming, diminutive strawberry plant help prevent cancer? You bet.

An impressive amount of research has been done on the strawberry’s ability to prevent and even reverse certain types of cancers [35]. The rich antioxidants in strawberries suck up cancer-causing free radicals and boost the body’s defense systems [36], and their fiber content helps handcuff carcinogenic toxins and flush them out of our system.

Strawberries have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin C anywhere, a key nutrient that has proven to boost the immune system [37]. The berry plants are loaded with many phytonutrients, flavonoids, and polyphenols like quercetin and ellagic acid. Ellagic acid plays a key role in suppressing the growth of cancer cells and in promoting anti-cancer properties [38].

Ellagic acid keeps several cancer-fighting weapons in its tool belt: it helps weaken special carcinogens to slow cancer growth; it also possesses potent anti-angiogenic skills that allow it to impede the growth of blood vessels that nourish new tumor cells [39]. Laboratory studies on mice have noted ellagic acid’s capacity to inhibit skin and lung cancer [40].

Cancer’s MO is unleashed when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control and spread to different parts of the body. Doctors have observed that this chain reaction is often catalyzed by oxidative stress and chronic inflammation [41]. Medical research indicates that the antioxidant capacity of berries may counteract this process to ward off certain types of cancer [42].

Strawberries are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid plant compound known to activate apoptosis, the systematic self-destruction of cancer cells. In a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, quercetin contained in strawberry extract stopped the reproduction of human liver cancer cells in their tracks within 18 hours of treatment [43].

And in a Chinese study, high-risk esophageal cancer patients drank two ounces of a freeze-dried strawberry drink per day for six months. Researchers reported that 80% of participants saw their precancerous lesions drop from moderate to mild, or disappear altogether [44]. There’s no denying it: strawberries, their phytonutrients, and antioxidants help stop cancer in its tracks!

Encourage a healthy pregnancy

It’s only fitting that the berry symbol for love, passion, and purity also promote the health and well-being of a mother and her unborn child. Failure by pregnant women to take in the right of amount of nutrients can impair the fetus’ tissue growth and cellular development, and may lead to birth deformities, problems during delivery, and impact the life of the child [45].

Folic acid is one of the vital ingredients for a successful pregnancy, and expecting mothers can rejoice: strawberries are rich in vitamin B9 which supplies folate to the body and encourages the healthy evolution of mom-to-be and baby. Folate plays a critical role in the development of the baby’s brain, spine, and in birth weight [46].

If you’re planning to start a family anytime soon or expand your current one, strawberries have a role to play to get you off on the right track and keep you there throughout your pregnancy [47]. Enjoy a regular serving of strawberries to keep your folate content where it needs to be so you and your unborn treasure can rest easy.

Enhance brain health

A well-functioning brain and a sharp mind are essential for quality of life, no matter the physical state of our body. As we age, our mental acuity, cognitive skills, and memory may start to diminish. Luckily, the health benefits of the blood-red strawberry aren’t reserved for your heart alone — they can also help keep your brain at its best.

Strawberries are abundant in flavanols, plant compounds that are excellent for your brain. One substance, in particular, anthocyanin, is instrumental in preventing age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improving coordination and cognitive functioning [48].

Research has demonstrated a direct relationship between berry consumption and a reduction in oxidative damage to the brain due to aging [49]. Manganese, an essential trace metal found in strawberries, plays a major role in stimulating our brain’s neurotransmitters to exchange information faster and to conduct nerve impulses more efficiently [50].

By making strawberries a regular in your diet, you can help ward off the effects of unhealthy brain aging and take advantage of the powerful antioxidants that strawberries supply to help keep your mind fresh, lively, and perceptive.

The Sati line

The great 17th century English writer William Butler once said: “Doubtless the Divine could have made a better berry, but doubtless the Divine never did.” The modern world agrees completely: the gentle, tiny, berry is adored worldwide, outselling many staples in the supermarket!

Its heart shape and luscious red color made the strawberry a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love and Freyja, the Norse goddess of passion and devotion. It is said that newlyweds looked forward to eating strawberries and cream for their wedding breakfast, believing the rich berry to be an aphrodisiac.

One thing is clear: the strawberry may be tiny and soft-spoken but it packs a wallop in nutrients, vitamins, and health benefits, and there couldn’t be any more reasons for eating it. These potent little gems protect your heart, increase good cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, and guard against cancer.

If you’re not already a strawberry lover don’t worry, you haven’t missed the boat just yet. You can dive into a bowl of this luscious, juicy, and palate tingling superfood and reap the many benefits it can bestow onto your physical and emotional health, one bite at a time.

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