The health benefits of strawberries

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The last decade or so has seen me undergo considerable nutritional rehabilitation. The diet pervaded by utter shite that I subsisted on as a student has given way to one consisting largely of natural and unprocessed foods. In recent times I have also become inclined to be more choosy not just about what food I eat, but from whence it came: my preference is to buy British wherever possible. This small act not only offers a helping hand to UK farmers and producers, but also helps to contain the environmental impact of the transportation of food around the globe. There seems little doubt that opting for produce sourced from close-to-home has clear benefits both near and far afield.

I reckon my food buying policy pays off handsomely at this time of year as British strawberries come on-line. Fruit aficionados will claim the British strawberries are simply the best from a flavour and texture perspective, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. Yet, while seasonal strawberries are rich in taste, research reveals that the are also replete with a range of potentially useful nutrients. Scientists whose job it is to identify health-promoting compounds in food seem to have a field day with the strawberry.

Nutritional research reveals that strawberries are particularly rich in disease-protective plant substances known as phytochemicals. One strawberry-derived substance one which quite a lot of scientific attention has been focused is ellagic acid – one of a group of phytochemicals known as the phenolics. Ellagic acid has what is known as ‘antioxidant’ activity in the body, which means it has the capacity to quell the effects of ‘free radical’ molecules which are believed to be an underlying factor in chronic disease. In ellagic acid’s case, its ability to subdue free radical action seems to translate into an anti-cancer effect: animal experiments have found that this compound helps protect against the initiation and progression of cancerous tumours.

Similar cancer-containing potential has also been ascribed to other nutrients found in strawberries. Of particular note here are the compounds anthocyanin, catechin, quercetin and kaempferol, all of which belong to a class of phytochemicals known as the flavonoids. The antioxidant effects of the flavonoids seem to extend to the benefits for the circulatory system too. Flavonoids have been found to help prevent cholesterol from oxidation – a protective action that is believed to reduce the propensity for this blood fat to deposit itself on the inside of our arteries. They also promote health in the lining of the blood vessels and reduce the tendency for the blood to clot. The combined biochemical effects exerted by flavonoids in the body are believed to keep cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke at bay.

While it is true that the strawberry’s health-preserving effects might be had from other plant-based produce, there is evidence that this fruit wields particular power in this department. A rough guide to the disease-protective effects of any food can be had by measuring what is known as its total ‘oxygen radical absorbance capacity’ (ORAC) in the laboratory. In one study, strawberries where found to have the second highest ORAC of 24 fruits and vegetables. The evidence suggests that those of us who like strawberries can look forward to a bumper crop of bodily benefits at this time of year.

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