With strawberries' natural heart shape and deep red hue, they were perhaps destined to be associated with matters of the heart. They are a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love, and revered as an aphrodisiac. Legend has it that if you share a double strawberry with someone, he or she will become the object of your affection.
Though no one can quantify just how much strawberries contribute to healthy romance, evidence suggests that strawberries can play a significant role in heart health. A study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants eating the most strawberries had the lowest blood levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels, and slightly lower cholesterol levels than those who consumed fewer strawberries. Another study found that strawberry eaters have lower blood pressure than non-strawberry eaters. Further, strawberries are a good source of potassium, which helps regulate electrolytes in the body, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. Strawberries' folate, fiber and vitamin C also provide heart-protective benefits.
A healthy heart also makes for a healthy brain, since brain cells need to be nourished by nutrients in the blood traveling through the cardiovascular system. The myriad phytonutrients in strawberries can protect against oxidative damage that impairs brain function. The USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging found that strawberries help prevent a decline in motor and cognitive skills commonly related to aging.
- provide high levels of fiber, folate, and vitamin C; lowers C-reactive protein levels in the blood
- may protect cardiovascular health
- may protect brain function and guard against cancer with phytonutrients
-boast third-highest level of antioxidants in a survey of 1,000 foods
- possess anti-inflammatory properties
The same phytonutrients that benefit the heart and brain also make strawberries potent cancer-fighters. Anthocyanins, the pigments that give strawberries their characteristic crimson color, are powerful antioxidants, which help protect cells from free radical damage, thereby curtailing the risk for cancer. As far as antioxidant content, strawberries rank third highest (just below blackberries and walnuts) out of 1,000 foods surveyed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In one study among the elderly, those eating the most strawberries were three times less likely to develop cancer than their non-strawberry-eating counterparts.
Those anthocyanins also possess anti-inflammatory properties. They work in much the same way as anti-inflammatory drugs, by blocking the activity of the COX enzyme. However, strawberries — unlike such pharmaceuticals — won't cause side effects like intestinal bleeding. This makes them an ideal dietary choice for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and related conditions.
Beyond such vital health benefits, strawberries can also enhance physical beauty. A cup of sliced strawberries contains as much vitamin C as one cup of orange juice, and vitamin C is essential for maintaining strong connective tissue in skin. In other words, strawberries may help keep your skin plump and healthy and stave off wrinkles. Perhaps that's why Madame Tallien, one of the figures in Emperor Napoleon's court, insisted on bathing in the juice of 22 pounds of crushed strawberries.
With so many benefits, it's not surprising that strawberries would inspire such decadence. Even the indulgence of strawberries with Champagne or a strawberry daiquiri has its advantages; researchers have discovered that alcohol boosts the natural antioxidant capacity of strawberries by one-third and increases their ability to seek out and fight free radicals. Why not toast to the strawberry and to your good health?
(Updated: 04/02/12 SB)