Red, Ripe Goodness

Everyone knows strawberries are delicious, but they can also provide you with plenty of health benefits.



Roberto Gonzales

In the Sunshine State, March is the month we celebrate all things strawberry. The Florida Strawberry Festival, March 3-13 in Plant City, attracts thousands of visitors each year to its concerts, contests, rides and other amusements. But the heart of the festival remains the heart-shaped, nutrient-rich strawberry.

Loaded with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants, strawberries are free of cholesterol, salt, and fat. And, surprise! Just one serving—about eight strawberries—provides more vitamin C than an orange.

“Vitamin C is a real potent anti-inflammatory,” says Kristina LaRue, a registered dietitian in Winter Park. 

Some inflammation is essential to the body’s immune response and aids in healing. In other words, a little inflammation can be good, but an overactive immune system can damage the body and is even thought to play a role in obesity, heart disease and cancer. 

Anthocyanins, which are the reason for the red in strawberries’ skin, are antioxidants that contain anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic qualities, according to the National Institutes of Health. Research suggests that anthocyanins can play a role in reducing cardiovascular disease and controlling obesity.

Strawberries’ seeds are a great source of fiber, LaRue says, and studies have shown that fiber can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve blood sugar levels.

Another nutrient found in strawberries is folate, a B vitamin that’s crucial for women who are or plan to become pregnant. Folate—known as folic acid in supplements—reduces the risk of birth defects in a baby’s brain and spine by up to 70 percent, according to the March of Dimes.

Not only are strawberries packed with nutritional goodies, they’re available year-round for eating out of hand, slicing into salads, and blending into smoothies. Just make sure you rinse them right before eating or using in recipes. 

“The water helps to reduce any pesticides,” LaRue says. “Choose organic if you can afford it, but you don’t have to choose organic to get all the nutrients.”  

Don’t shy away from frozen strawberries either. “Frozen berries are picked at peak ripeness,” LaRue says. “It you buy fresh, you don’t necessarily know how long they’ve been sitting in the store, and you don’t know the transit time from farm to table.”

LaRue favors farmers markets, where “you can talk to the grower and learn where your strawberries come from, and even go strawberry-picking—and you know those berries are superfresh.” 


Strawberry Wrap

Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded romaine
  • 3 strawberries, sliced
  • ¼ cup sliced cucumbers
  • ¼ cup chickpeas
  • 2 Tblsps. dried tart cherries or cranberries
  • 2 Tblsps. gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 Tblsp. sunflower seeds
  • 1 Tblsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tblsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 spinach wrap

 

Instructions

Place romaine lettuce, strawberries, cucumber, chickpeas, and tart cherries in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and balsamic vinegar; add salt and pepper to make dressing. Gently toss dressing with the salad greens. Sprinkle on cheese and sunflower seeds. Pour salad onto spinach wrap and fold.

Makes 1 wrap

Recipe courtesy of Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, Orlando-based dietitian. Check out her blog at: loveandzest.com

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