"Eat your strawberries!" certainly isn't invoked as often as "Eat your spinach!" But it turns out that in addition to being juicy and delicious, strawberries may rival spinach--and most other foods--in health benefits. Here's what these mighty little berries can do:
1. Protect your heart
The findings? These women had a 34 percent reduced risk of heart attack compared to those who ate less than one serving per week. Researchers point to the berries' anthocyanin content as the protective factor. Tip for picking: The reddest berries have the most anthocyanins.
2. Keep your teeth healthy
Strawberries are the third-best food source of polyphenols (behind only coffee and olives), according to a 2009 Journal of Dentistry review. That's good news since researchers believe these compounds inhibit the breakdown of starches in the mouth (thus limiting the resulting sticky sugars that adhere to teeth as plaque) and also fight the bacteria that contribute to tooth decay and gum disease.
Scrubbing your teeth with strawberries will whiten them, but because the berries are so acidic, dentists warn that using this home remedy frequently could damage the enamel.
3. Deliver your vitamins
One cup of sliced strawberries provides 163 percent of your daily dose of vitamin C (more than a whole orange) and 12 percent Daily Value (DV) of fiber, as well as 9 percent DV of the B vitamin folate, all for a mere 46 calories. Store berries whole in the refrigerator so they retain the most vitamins or look for berries that have been frozen whole, which preserves more nutrients than slicing or crushing before freezing.
4. Quell sugar spikes
In a recent Finnish study, when healthy women ate white bread with strawberries, their glycemic response to the bread improved by 36 percent over that of subjects who ate just the bread. Researchers explain that components in the strawberries (polyphenols again!) slow the breakdown and absorption of carbs, decreasing the need for insulin to maintain normal blood glucose.
In another recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, when overweight adults consumed either a strawberry beverage or a placebo in combination with a high-carbohydrate meal, the strawberry drinkers showed a significant decrease in the potentially damaging inflammation that typically follows a high-carb meal.
5. Inhibit cancer
Research increasingly points to strawberries as an anti-cancer powerhouse, though studies to date have mostly examined strawberry extracts and powders.
A study published in November in the International Journal of Cancer showed that strawberry extracts inhibited the growth of lung tumors in mice exposed to cigarette smoke, and a 2012 Chinese clinical trial demonstrated that freeze-dried strawberry powder has potential for preventing esophageal cancer. Strawberries have also been found to be protective against other cancers, including oral, breast and cervical.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at http://www.eatingwell.com.)