Strawberries are an iconic summer fruit — delicious in lemonade, on shortcakes or just straight out of the basket. And it turns out they may be the sweetest way to stay healthy, too. Registered dietitian Bailey Flora, MS, RDN, LD, explains the benefits of strawberries and what nutrients they contain that make strawberries so good for you.
Why are strawberries good for you?
“Strawberries give you a lot of nutritional value for very few calories,” says Flora. “They’re tasty but naturally low in sugar. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat.”
For starters, strawberries are loaded with vitamin C. Eight medium strawberries contain 160% of your daily recommended amount — the amount that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends you eat every day. That’s more vitamin C than you get from an orange, the fruit famous for its vitamin C.
Strawberries are also packed with antioxidants, which protect cells from damage. The primary antioxidant in strawberries is anthocyanin, which gives the fruit its color. The amount of anthocyanin in strawberries increases as the fruit ripens. So, the redder the berry, the more antioxidants it contains.
Strawberries also have fiber and several other important vitamins and minerals, including manganese, potassium and folic acid. And strawberries have less natural sugar than other popular fruits such as apples and bananas.
Health benefits of strawberries
Strawberries are a nutrient-rich snack that can:
1. Boosts brain power
As your brain ages, it can lose some of its mental sharpness. But according to research, eating strawberries protects your brain’s processing powers as you get older.
The Nurses’ Health Study measured brain function in more than 16,000 participants over six years. It found that people who ate the most blueberries and strawberries had less cognitive decline — their thinking and processing abilities didn’t weaken as much. They had the brain power of someone up to two and a half years younger.
In more good news for strawberry lovers: The results of the Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that people who ate strawberries were 34% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers believe the protective effects are due to the antioxidants that safeguard cells. Some of the antioxidants in strawberries also reduce systemic inflammation, when your body is in a state of constant inflammation (swelling and irritation). Systemic inflammation is a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Strengthens your immune system
Strawberries are a great source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which you need to get from food, as your body can’t produce it. In rare cases, people who don’t get enough of this crucial vitamin develop scurvy, a disease that causes bleeding, bruising and anemia.
Vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing. And it may prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections too. Research shows that vitamin C increases the production of:
- T-cells, which remove infected and cancerous cells.
- B-cells, which create antibodies so your body can better defend against germs in the future.
Vitamin C is also anti-inflammatory, lowering your stress response triggered by illness or just your busy life. To ward off germs, researchers suggest getting 100 to 200 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C a day — and more when you’re sick. As eating eight medium strawberries gives you 160 mg, it takes just a handful of berries to help keep your immune system in good shape.
“There isn’t enough evidence to say whether vitamin C can prevent colds and the flu,” says Flora. “And it can be more beneficial to choose vitamin-C-rich foods like strawberries over vitamin C supplements, as you get additional health benefits. With strawberries, that includes fiber and other phytonutrients and vitamins that cannot be replicated in a vitamin supplement.”
3. Protects heart health
Flora says that popping a few strawberries in your mouth isn’t just a way to stave off hunger — it’s also a heart-healthy food choice. Research shows that strawberries can help prevent several conditions that can lead to heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes, which increases the likelihood of heart disease. Eating more strawberries can help you:
In one small study, participants consumed two drinks a day, each made with 25 milligrams of freeze-dried strawberry powder blended with water. That’s about the same as eating 3.5 cups of fresh strawberries a day. After a month, the participants’ total cholesterol was 5% lower.
The cholesterol-lowering results of that study were echoed in another study that gave participants the same amount of freeze-dried strawberry powder. But this time, they consumed the drink for two months. Researchers compared the results to a group that just drank more water. Those who sipped the strawberry drink saw their cholesterol decrease by 10%.
Triglycerides are fats found in your blood. Having high triglycerides increases your risk of heart disease. And when triglycerides break down, they leave byproducts that trigger inflammation, attracting sticky deposits to blood-vessel walls. That material can clog your arteries (atherosclerosis), explains Flora.
But eating a pound of strawberries a day may reduce triglycerides by 20%. That’s the result of one study, which also found that strawberries reduced total cholesterol by 8%.
4. Reduces inflammation
Widespread internal inflammation contributes to multiple diseases, including heart disease. Lifestyle factors like a poor diet, low physical activity and smoking can lead to inflammation.
Eating more strawberries is a step in the right direction to boost your heart health, says Flora. That’s because the most prevalent antioxidants in strawberries are anthocyanins, known for their anti-inflammatory effects.
5. Helps manage blood sugar
Too much glucose (sugar in your blood) is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, making you more likely to develop heart disease, too. If you’re watching your blood sugar levels, strawberries are a good way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
In a Finnish study, people who ate strawberries with a piece of white bread released 26% less insulin compared with eating bread with a cucumber. Participants also ate the bread with other berries, including raspberries and cranberries. Only strawberries weakened the post-meal blood sugar spike.
Strawberries are a great addition to a healthy diet, especially when you eat them on their own — Flora advises laying off the calorie-laden whipped cream, cake or ice cream. (Sorry!) They’re delicious, full of good-for-you nutrients and low in sugar. Try this strawberry smoothie. (Surprise — it’s green!) And for a strawberry treat that’s not too sweet, make these strawberry pretzel squares at your next get-together.FACEBOOKTWITTER