Friday, June 24, 2011

Spotlight Food - Strawberries

Strawberries - are tied with blueberries for my favorite fruit, but did you know that technically speaking strawberries aren’t berries at all? Technically speaking they’re considered ‘accessory fruits’ because the fleshy edible part of the fruit is not directly produced by the ovary but from some adjacent tissue. Crazy right? There are also 20 different species of strawberries the most common of which is the garden strawberry (Fragaria ananassa)

History/Cultivation

Though strawberries have grown wild in many regions of the world for millennia cultivation did not begin until the 18th century. The Garden Strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France around the year 1740. It’s a cross between the Fragaria virginiana species from Eastern North America, (Which was prized for It’s flavor) and the Fragaria chiloensis species from Chile and Argentina (noted for it’s size) Despite this early cultivation, due to it’s highly perishable nature the strawberry remained a luxury item enjoyed only by the wealthy until the mid 19th century. With the advent of refrigeration, the expansion of railways, and more rapid means of transportation established, strawberries were able to be shipped greater distances enabling them to be enjoyed by more people, of lesser means.


















Health Benefits

Strawberries have been found to contain a unique combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. This nutrient density has singled them out as a major interest in scientific and health research, particularly in the areas of Cardiovascular health, Regulation of Blood Sugar and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and Cancer, particularly breast, colon, and esophageal. Not only do strawberries contain an outstanding amount of vitamin C, and an excellent source of manganese, but their phytonutrient content is simply phenomenal.

The phytonutrient’s that make up strawberries are, Anthocyanins (Cyanidins & Pelargonidins) Flavonoids (Procyanidins, Catechins, Gallocatechins, Epicatechins, Kaempferol, & Quercetin) Hydroxy-benzoic Acids (ellagic acid, gallic acid, vanillic acid, & salicylic acid) Hydroxy-cinnamic Acids (cinnamic acid, coumaric acid, caffeic acid, & ferulic acid) Tannins (ellagitannins & gallotannins) and Stilbenes (resveratrol) Now that’s a lot of nutrient content for such a small berry!

Our heart and blood vessels need everyday protection from oxidative stress and inflammatory damage, which is what makes strawberries so good in protecting us from heart disease. Research shows that strawberries phytonutrients work together in a synergetic way to provide cardiovascular benefit. They decrease oxidation of fats in the cell membranes of cells that line our blood vessels. They decrease the levels of circulating fats including total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. They also decrease the activity of angiotensin I-converting enzyme. (ACE) an enzyme that increases our risk of high blood pressure if it’s overactive. For the most benefit in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure it’s recommended that you eat 1-2 cups of strawberries per day.

Several recent studies dealing with strawberries effects on blood sugar, have found that a regular intake of strawberries has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. To see the most benefit of this it is recommended that you eat at least 3 servings of strawberries weekly. Another recent study documenting the effects of strawberries and table sugar on blood sugar levels has produced some interesting things. Of course excess intake of table sugar produced a spike in blood sugar, but the interesting thing was that simultaneous consumption of strawberries actually reduced the blood sugar spike. Roughly one cup of strawberries was found to be able to decrease blood sugar elevations when table sugar was consumed along with the strawberries. Scientists speculate that it’s strawberries polyphenol content that plays a major role in helping to regulate blood sugar response. One particular polyphenol in particular - ellagitannins - might have been especially important. Ellagitannins are known to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called alpha-amylase, because this enzyme is responsible for breaking amylose starches into simple sugars, fewer simple sugars may be released into the blood stream when activity of the enzyme is restricted.

Chronic excessive inflammation and chronic excessive oxidative stress (lack of antioxidant nutrients and unsupported oxygen metabolism) are often the primary factors in the growth and development of cancer; because strawberries have such outstanding antioxidant and ani-inflammatory properties they’re expected to also have significant cancer risk-lowering benefits. Strawberries anti-cancer benefits are best documented in instances of breast, colon, cervical and esophageal cancer. The majority of tumor inhibiting studies that have been conducted on animals have focused on strawberries phytonutrient content. Research has found the ellagic acid and ellagitannins in strawberries to be of special interest. While the properties and benefits of these and other phytonutrients aren’t yet fully understood it’s thought that their ability to lower risk for some cancers may be due to their unique ability to boost the activity of certain antioxidant enzymes, as well as lessen pro-inflammatory enzymes.

Preliminary studies conducted on aging animals have also suggested that increased intake of strawberries can help increase cognitive function, and enhanced motor function. Preliminary animal studies also suggest that intake of strawberries can help improve inflammatory bowl problems such as ulcerativ colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

By all accounts strawberries are a highly beneficial and healthful food. In a study of foods most commonly consumed in the U.S. strawberries ranked 27th best, but when just fruits were considered in the study they came out ranking as the 4th best fruit. (Coming in behind blackberries, cranberries and raspberries) so be sure to load up on your strawberries this summer, and stock pile some for winter too!

Preparation

I’m an admitted strawberry lover, I love them so much I’ll eat them right out of the carton. They’re sweet and juicy enough that they don’t need anything added to them. That being said some of my other favorite ways to eat them are in smoothies, sliced on top of pancakes, waffles, french toast, or cereal. I love them sliced in salads, or in deserts. You can use them in or on tarts, cakes, pies, cupcakes, muffins, and granola bars. You can use them in a parfait, slice them on top of pudding, or non-dairy ice cream, you can even eat them with coconut rice for a meal. They are absolutely delicious, and so damn good for you! Get creative with them and I promise both your tastebuds and your health will thank you for it.


















As always happy and healthy eating!

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