Strawberries are, unsurprisingly, the most popular berry in the world. There are more than six hundred varieties of strawberries differing in size, flavor, and texture, but all have the characteristic heart shape and red skin with yellow seeds and leafy green stems on the top. The large number of varieties is a result of both accidental and planned crossbreeding. Strawberries go back more than 2,200 years and are native to many parts of the world.
In the past, strawberries were considered a luxury eaten only by royalty. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century when railroads enabled a more efficient mode of transportation that it was possible for strawberries to be enjoyed by larger numbers of people. Today, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, with California being the primary state, are the biggest commercial producers of strawberries. Approximately 25,000 acres of strawberries are planted every year in California alone.
The main health benefits of strawberries are primarily a result of their flavonoid content. Besides giving strawberries their nice, red color, the unique flavonoids in this fruit make them a special food for protecting against inflammation, cancer, and heart disease.
These flavonoids inhibit the action of COX-2, an enzyme that causes pain and inflammation and leads to conditions such as arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Drugs such as Celebrex, Aspirin, and ibuprofen work by blocking this COX-2 enzyme. These drugs, however, can cause negative side effects such as intestinal bleeding and heart disease.
Strawberries, on the other hand, contain the flavonoids that work to block these COX-2 enzymes without negative side effects, helping reduce and eliminate pain and inflammation and treat the associated conditions of arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. Studies have also shown a strong relationship between strawberry consumption and a decrease risk of cancer. One particular study done in New Jersey researched eight foods most linked to lower rates of cancer deaths in a group of nearly 1,300 elderly individuals. They found that those who ate the most strawberries were one third as likely to get cancer as those who ate few or no strawberries.
Studies are also demonstrating that strawberries help to improve short-term memory and protect the brain. While more research needs to be done, this benefit is likely due, at least in part, to the strong antioxidant compounds strawberries contain.
Strawberries are a good source of vitamins B1, B6, C, and K, manganese, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, iodine, flavonoids, and fiber. The vitamin C content of strawberries make it a great antioxidant food, helping to fight free radical damage and prevent associated diseases, such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and aging.
Vitamin B6 helps relieve irritability and stress, and studies have shown it can even improve your mood by increasing levels of dopamine, the brain chemical related to feeling good. When someone doesn't get enough vitamin B6 in their diet, dopamine levels fall and negative feelings can result. Furthermore, the lack of vitamin B6 can even cause the body to produce too little serotonin (a brain chemical linked with depression and other such conditions), which can cause people to feel even worse.
Strawberries are usually available year-round, but they are in greater supply during spring and summer. When buying, choose strawberries that are firm, plump, and have no mold. Berries with a shiny, deep red color and green tops are best. Once strawberries are picked, they do not ripen any further, so I’d recommend not purchasing berries that are dull or have green or yellow patches as they’re likely to be sour. Typically, medium-sized berries contain more flavor than the larger ones.
Strawberries that come in a container need to be inspected to make sure there aren't any squished or damaged berries and there is no sign of mold or excess moisture, as moisture speeds up time to spoilage. Strawberries spoil quickly, so they should be consumed within days of being purchased; furthermore, they should be kept away from direct sunlight and stored in the fridge rather than at room temperature. Strawberries freeze well and can be kept stored in the freezer for several months; strawberries can be frozen whole, sliced, or crushed, but they will retain more of their vitamin C content if they are left whole.
Unfortunately, strawberries are on the Environmental Working Group’s list of twelve most consistently contaminated (with pesticides and other such chemicals) fruits and vegetables. Therefore, strawberries are one of the fruits particularly important to try and buy organic.