As well as being sweet and juicy, the world’s most popular berry is said to do wonders for your health. Traditionally, strawberries, which contain more Vitamin C than the equivalent weight of oranges, have been used to cleanse the digestive system. They also contain a range of phytonutrients, which have a range of health-boosting effects. “Strawberries can legitimately claim to be heart protective, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory, all rolled into one,” says dietician Nigel Denby. “They rank as one of the world’s healthiest foods.”
Anti-cancer. Strawberries are a rich source of phenols, including the potent cancer- busting antioxidants, anthocyanins and ellagic acid. Anthocyanins found in strawberries give them their distinctive red colour, but also help to mop up damaging free radicals in the blood, which damage tissue and can cause cancerous changes in the cells. The ellagic acid content of strawberries has been shown in laboratory studies to halt the growth of tumours in the lungs, oesophagus, breast, cervix and tongue. A study published in the November 2003 Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that anti-oxidants found in strawberries could significantly inhibit the proliferation of human liver cancer cells. Smokers will be happy to know that a US study found that strawberries reduced the effects of carcinogens in tobacco smoke.
Anti-inflammatory. Some phenols in this fruit work to dampen down the activity of specific enzymes known as cyclo-oxygenase, or COX. Overactivity of this enzyme has been shown to contribute to unwanted inflammation of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Drugs that have a similar effect can cause intestinal bleeding.
Anti-ageing. Researchers have found that rats, which are fed are a diet rich in strawberries, show less age-related declines in brain function. They also had improved learning capacity and motor skills. This could be related to the fact that the fruit contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are long chain fats, which are the building blocks of brain tissue.
Protection against macular degeneration. Strawberries are a rich source of Vitamin C. A study published in the June 2004 Archives of Opthalmology indicates that eating three or more portions of Vitamin C rich fruit may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration by 36 per cent. Macular degeneration is the primary cause of vision loss in older adults.
Pregnancy. Folic acid, also known as folate, is one of the few vitamins known to prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, which affects one in every 1500 babies born in the UK. Just eight strawberries a day contain a fifth of the folate requirement for an adult woman. Folic acid is an essential component of spinal fluid and helps to produce red blood cells and the mood-lifting hormone, serotonin.
Digestive health. Strawberries contain high levels of dietary fibre, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and intestinal disorders. One punnet of strawberries contains just 47 calories but 3.5 grams of dietary fibre, around one tenth of the total recommended daily intake. Ripe fruit, which contains high levels of soluble fibre, is best for your gut.
A word of caution. Strawberries are one of the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions, which can be mild or life threatening. Common reactions to the fruit include eczema, skin rash, headache, hyperactivity or insomnia. Strawberries also top the league table of foods on which residues of pesticides are frequently found so people who want to avoid ingesting chemicals should opt for organically grown fruit. People who have existing kidney or gallbladder problem may want to avoid eating strawberries because the fruit contains a measurable amount of oxalates. If these become too concentrate, they can crystallise in the body fluids and cause problems. Also, oxalates hinder the uptake of calcium. If you are taking calcium to build bone mass, eat strawberries two to three hours before you take your supplements.