Health and Nutrition Information

By Denise Mann, Medical Tribune News Service. Printed L.A. Life / Monday, July 14, 1997 / Daily News.

Strawberries are versatile, taste great and are available nearly year-round. They can be part of any meal, from breakfast to dinner, snacks to desserts. But strawberries are also packed with great nutrition — everything from folate to fiber to phytochemicals. Read on to learn more…. 

Folate is one of the B vitamins found in various foods such as strawberries, oranges, orange juice, green leafy vegetables, and a variety of beans, such as kidney, garbanzo, and navy. Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is found in fortified foods and vitamin supplements. The recommended daily intake for folate is 400 micrograms — and unfortunately, most Americans don’t get enough. It’s especially important for women of child-bearing age to consume folate because it reduces the chance of fetal neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. When it comes to folate, there is good news for strawberry lovers; eight medium strawberries provide 20 percent of the daily need for folate. 

Folate also helps break down homocysteine, an amnio acid found in the blood that may be a risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that persons at high risk for cardiovascular disease consume adequate amounts of folic acid, or at least 400 micrograms per day. 

This B vitamin may also affect colon cancer risk. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), insufficient amounts of folate in the diet may increase the risk of colon cancer. 

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant found in foods such as strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes and potatoes. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body against the damaging effects of “free radicals”, natural by-products of metabolism. Free radicals are formed when oxygen is metabolized, or burned by the body. The damage caused by free radicals may contribute to aging and other health problems. 

Diets high in vitamin C from fruits and vegetables are associated with lower cancer risk, especially for oral, esophageal, stomach, colon and lung cancers. However, it seems that vitamin C, taken as a supplement, doesn’t have the same effect. It’s possible that some of the beneficial effects of vitamin C in fruits and vegetables may be due to an interaction between the vitamin C and other compounds. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. In fact, 8 medium strawberries provide 96 milligrams of vitamin C or 160 percent of the recommended daily intake. That’s more vitamin C than one medium orange, which contains 60 milligrams of vitamin C.

Most Americans need to add more fiber to their diet. According to the American Dietetic Association, Americans only consume 12 to 15 of the recommended 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. One cup of strawberries, which contains 4 grams of dietary fiber, makes a good contribution to the daily requirement. Other good sources of fiber are apples, prunes and potatoes (with the skin).

Dietary fiber has well-known health benefits such s lowering blood cholesterol and promoting a healthy digestive system. In addition, it may also decrease the risk of heart disease and colon cancer.

Potassium is one of the minerals featured in the National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet developed to decrease blood pressure through increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Eight medium strawberries provide 270 milligrams of potassium. Other good sources of potassium include bananas, oranges and potatoes.

There’s more to wellness than traditional nutrients. Both antioxidants and phytochemicals in foods have been associated with protection against chronic diseases. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds found in plant foods, which have been shown to act as antioxidants and may decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease. Strawberries contain several classes of phytochemicals including flavonoids, anthocyanidin, ellagic acid and other phenolic acids, that may have anti-inflammatory properties and/or reduce the risk of developing several forms of cancer. (Nutrition Reviews, September 1999, UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, November 1999, The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, 1992).

Antioxidants provide protection by neutralizing free radicals — substances in the body that can damage cells and lead to disease. In a USDA study, strawberries were found to have the greatest total antioxidant capacity of seventeen fruits and juices tested. Strawberry antioxidant capacity was sixteen times that found in honeydew mellons, seven times that in apples or bananas, and twice that in oranges or grapes.

Adding strawberries to your breakfast cereal and eating a spinach salad for lunch may help you fight cancer, heart disease and other ills, new finding suggest. That’s because strawberries and spinach have as much ability to counteract damaging oxygen-free radicals in the body as a large dose of vitamin C, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In a study of eight elderly women, special drinks made from strawberry or spinach extracts each boosted the women’s anti-oxidant capacity by 20 percent. That’s as much as taking 1,250 milligrams of vitamin C, reported Ronald L. Prior of the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. Vitamin C and other anti-oxidants protect the body by gobbling up the oxygen-free radicals that damage cells and are believed to promote cancer, heart disease and aging.

In an earlier laboratory study, the researchers found that strawberries and spinach had the highest anti-oxidant capacity of 40 common fruits and vegetables. The new study was designed to determine whether eating these foods actually would translate into greater anti-oxidant capacity in the human body. Not commercially available, the strawberry and spinach drinks were the equivalent of about 8 to 10 ounces of the fruit or vegetable. “That is about the amount of spinach found in one bag or about one pint of strawberries,” said researcher Dr. Neal Lischner.

“Both spinach and strawberries are nutrient-dense foods, so it makes sense that they would top the list of fruits and vegetables” containing anti-oxidants, said Felicia Busch, a registered spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association in Chicago. “The easiest way to get spinach into your diet is to stop buying iceberg lettuce, and use spinach or other dark green leafy vegetables in salads,” Busch said. Spinach and strawberries are lso good sources of folic acid — a B vitamin that is needed for cell growth. “Strawberries are actually real good on top of spinach,” she added.