5 Health Benefits That Make Strawberries A Superfood

Aug 17, 2022 | Nutrition | 0 comments

A photo of fresh strawberries.

Are Strawberries A Superfood?

Strawberries are an iconic part of summer life for many of us. They evoke images of warm sunny evenings and blue skies. Their sweet flavour and juicy texture has made them one of the most popular fruits in the world, with global consumption hitting nearly 8.9 million tons in 2019! [1]

Strawberries are far more than a delicious desert or smoothie. Strawberries can be considered a superfood, as the nutrient dense fruits provide many benefits to our health that can keep our bodies and minds in good condition. A diet with regular strawberry consumption can act as a natural preventative medicine against a wide range of ailments.

Despite the name, strawberries are technically not berries at all, but are the fruits of the plants from the genus Fragaria. Each of the ‘seeds’ on the outside of a strawberry are actually called ‘achenes’, and are the ovaries of the parent plant’s flower. Each achene has a little seed inside, and even these achenes contribute with nutrients!

What Are The Health Benefits of Strawberries?

A 2013 study by Harvard even recommended that people eat strawberries (and/or blueberries) three or more times a week for the significant health benefits they provide. [2] In this article, we will take a look at why this is, and reveal the potent health benefits of strawberries. Here are five of the key benefits that strawberries provide us.

1. Protection From Oxidative Stress

Strawberries are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants, providing vitamin C, carotenoids, anthocyanins, and a wide range of other phenolic compounds that are all powerful antioxidants. These compounds can help to protect cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by compounds called free radicals, which damage cells by stealing electrons from atoms within them. The antioxidants in strawberries can help to neutralise free radicals, and therefore offer some initial protection against diseases caused by large amounts of oxidative stress. [3]

An illustration of DNA Strands.
Free Radicals Can Cause Oxidative Stress To DNA

Free radicals cause damage at the subatomic level, and as a result, oxidative stress can damage all parts of the cell, including the membranes, proteins, lipids, and even DNA itself! Antioxidants help to prevent this damage by offering one of their own electrons to the free radicals. This prevents the free radicals from damaging the molecules within a cell, and also helps prevent chain reactions that could lead to widespread cell damage.

Damage from oxidative stress has been linked to the ageing process, as well as being contributory factors in many major diseases such as Diabetes, Atherosclerosis, Heart Disease, and Cancers. Oxidative stress may also be a key contributory factor in the degenerative neurological diseases Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s.

It’s not just the main body of the strawberry that contains antioxidants. Despite making up just 1% of the fresh weight, the achenes of strawberries have been found to contribute to about 11% of total phenolics and 14% of antioxidant activities in strawberries. Ellagic acid, ellagic acid glycosides, and ellagitannins are the main contributors to the antioxidant activities of achenes. [4]

2. Cardiovascular Protection

Strawberries contain many flavonoids and polyphenols that can contribute to a healthier heart and circulatory system. Regular dietary intake of strawberries has been linked to reduced rate of heart attacks, improved circulation, and a better elasticity of blood vessels.

A photo of strawberries arranged in a heart shape.
Strawberries Provide Many Compounds That Support The Cardiovascular System

Numerous studies have demonstrated that strawberries (either fresh, or as juice, or freeze-dried) provide improvements in dyslipidemia, and significant reductions in the oxidation of LDL Cholesterol. [5]

LDL Cholesterol is Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol, which is sometimes called ‘bad cholesterol’. This negative reputation is due to the fact that LDL Cholesterol can accumulate on the walls of arteries. Continued oxidation of this accumulated Cholesterol can eventually lead to Atherosclerosis, a chronic inflammatory disease in which arteries develop abnormalities. These arterial abnormalities can impair blood flow to vital organs. The antioxidant compounds in strawberries help reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and in doing so help prevent atherosclerosis.

Many prominent doctors have even noted that strawberries can play an important role in a heart-health focused diet. A study by Harvard’s Dr. Eric Rimm and Aedín Cassidy gathered data from 93,600 women, and analysed the effects of a diet rich in blueberries and strawberries. The results found that the women who ate blueberries and strawberries the most were 34% less likely to have suffered a heart attack than the women who ate the least amount of the two fruits. [2]

The study led to Dr. Rimm recommending that individuals eat blueberries and strawberries three or more times per week.

“The people with heart benefits had three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries or strawberries each week.”

Dr. Eric Rimm – Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health

Dr. Rimm believes this is largely due to the natural presence of anthocyanins in the fruits, as dietary anthocyanins lower blood pressure and help to ensure sufficient elasticity in blood vessels. Due to the large number of flavonoids and polyphenols in strawberries however, it is possible that there are beneficial synergistic effects between anthocyanins and the other compounds present in both blueberries and strawberries.

One of these natural compounds in strawberries is the flavonoid Kaempferol. Kaempferol has natural anti-inflammatory properties, and it has been shown to inhibit vascular endothelial inflammation. [6]

The vascular endothelium is the tissue lining the blood vessels, and as such, spans the entire cardiovascular system. Excessive inflammation and dysfunction of the vascular endothelium precedes atherosclerosis and contributes to cardiovascular disease, so Inhibition of vascular endothelial inflammation is considered a key point in the treatment of these conditions. [7] [8]

A diet rich in strawberries is a good way to ensure you are providing your cardiovascular system with what it needs to stay healthy.

3. Cognitive Protection

Strawberries contain many compounds that help boost and support our cognitive and mental functions. Strawberries, along with blueberries, have been celebrated for their benefits in fighting against age related cognitive decline. [9]

A photo of someone taking a cognitive test paper.
Cognitive Test Scores

Research has shown that long term intake of dietary flavonoids can protect against Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD). SCD is the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss that often occurs with ageing. [10]

The compounds in strawberries such as flavones, flavanones, and anthocyanins, showed strong associations with a reduction in SCD. A 2021 study noted that foods rich in flavonoids including oranges, grapefruits, citrus juices, peppers, and bananas, and of course strawberries, were “significantly associated with lower odds of SCD”. [11]

Other research has shown that a high dietary intake of strawberries can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. One study of 925 participants aged 58-98 years of the Rush Memory and Ageing Project followed the lives of individuals over a mean time of 6.7 (±3.6) years. All participants were all dementia-free at the start of the study. Of these participants, 245 would develop Alzheimer’s dementia over the course of the study. Impressively, a higher intake of dietary strawberries was associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. The combined powers and synergistic effects of Vitamin C, pelargonidin, anthocyanidins, and other flavonoids in strawberries may all be responsible for this effect. [12]

It is not yet certain what causes the onset of Alzheimers, and dementia is a complex field of study with much more research needed. One present theory, however, suggests that chronic inflammation can damage the vasculature of the brain, and could be directly neurotoxic. The polyphenols and other compounds in strawberries may help to reduce this inflammation and therefore protect the brain’s blood supply and neurons. [13]

This data suggests long term benefits from long term strawberry intake, there also may be a more immediate benefit from strawberries. In a 2019 study, Forty participants aged 20-30 years consumed a 400 mL smoothie containing equal blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry. The participants were then tested on a variety of cognitive measures across the rest of the day.

Compared to a placebo group, those drinking the berry infusions maintained better accuracy on cognitive tasks. This effect lasted up to around six hours after consumption. The participants drinking the berry drinks also demonstrated quicker response times. The placebo group experienced a decrease in performance across the day as participants became cognitively fatigued. [14]

4. Reduced Pain And Inflammation

Strawberries may also be one of the most healthy and delicious painkillers the world has to offer, due to their natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Dr. Arpita Basu has been involved with many studies in which participants are given strawberry beverages, and has reliably shown that strawberry consumption has the capacity to reduce inflammatory biomarkers, particularly for individuals who are overweight or obese. [15]

A photo of a refreshing strawberry beverage.
A Daily Strawberry Beverage May Help Reduce Pain And Inflammation

In one such study, (a randomised, double-blind cross-over trial conducted in 2017) a daily strawberry beverage was given to overweight patients suffering from Knee Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and is characterize by damage to cartilage and bones in joints. The condition produces regular joint pain and significant inflammation.

In the study, a beverage of 50g freeze dried strawberry matter was given to these patients each day, and the results showed that this drink provided significant reductions in reported pain levels. This effect was not merely psychological, as biomarkers of inflammation and cartilage degradation were significantly decreased after strawberry treatment compared to the control group. These results indicate that strawberries have the ability to naturally reduce pain and inflammation, especially for patients suffering from Osteoarthritis. [16]

This natural anti-inflammatory quality of strawberries may be due to a number of compounds they contain. The blend of ellagic acid, anthocyanins, quercetin, catechins and vitamins found in strawberries may all contribute to this effect, and there may be synergistic effects between these compounds. [17]

5. Blood Sugar Regulation

Despite their sweet flavour, strawberries do not cause blood sugar levels to spike unnaturally. The extent to which foods raise blood sugar can be measured using two scores, Glycemic Index, which scores foods on how much they spike blood sugar, and Glycemic Load, which takes serving size in to account. Strawberries have the benefit of having a Low Glycemic Index score of 40. A low Glycemic Index score is around 1-55, so strawberries fall well within this range. A single cup serving of strawberries has a Glycemic Load score of 3.8, which is low too! [18]

A photo of someone holding Strawberries in cupped hands.
Strawberries Have A Low Glycemic Load And May Even Reduce The Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

The low Glycemic Index and Glycemic load scores of strawberries indicate that they are a great fruit option for those with diabetes. The benefits don’t end there, as Strawberries have shown the ability to reduce lipid peroxidation and low inflammation levels in patients with Type 2 Diabetes. [19]

With these factors considered, strawberries certainly earn their reputation as a superfood for those with diabetes, but the beneficial effects on blood sugar and inflammation even extend to those without diabetes too. The polyphenols in strawberries can improve glycemic profiles, and have been found to improve insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant, non-diabetic adults. [20] [21]

Strawberries can even reduce postprandial hyperglycaemia – the term given for an exaggerated rise in blood sugar following a meal. Meals high in available carbohydrates such as sucrose can induce postprandial hyperglycaemia, which stimulates insulin secretion. Postprandial hyperglycaemia can cause issues as it transiently impairs vascular function even in healthy individuals, as well as those with diabetes. Significantly, frequent and regular periods of postprandial hyperglycaemia has been linked with cardiovascular disease. [8]

Strawberries however, seem to be able to counteract this effect to some degree, and glycaemic control after ingestion of sucrose can be improved by eating strawberries. This ability makes strawberries a very fine option for a dessert! [22]

Whilst the wide range of polyphenols in strawberries may all play various roles in this, a novel α-glucosidase inhibitor (pelargonidin-3-O-rutinoside, a natural anthocyanin found in strawberries) has been isolated as one of the compounds directly responsible for this effect. [23]

Conclusion

Strawberries are a superfood that are loved by many, and regular consumption of strawberries can help maintain good health. They are rich in natural antioxidants that help protect from oxidative stress, reducing cell and DNA damage. A diet including a regular strawberry intake of three or more servings per week may improve cardiac outcomes, and reduce the chances of significant cardiac events such as heart attacks.

Strawberries also provide protection to our minds, as the flavonoids they contain can help reduce age related cognitive decline and Alzheimers dementia risk. They may also help provide a brain boost for six hours after consumption.

The pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties of strawberries can help reduce pain and inflammation, and have been shown to be able to reduce inflammatory markers of Osteoarthritis. The sweetness of strawberries does not lead to a significant blood sugar spike after consumption, making them safe for diabetics.

With all these benefits, it makes sense for us to ensure our diet has regular intake of strawberries, ideally organic ones. Whether we eat them on their own, with cream, or in a smoothie, they are of course best enjoyed as part of a healthy and balanced diet.


[References]

1. FAOSTAT – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2019

2. Cassidy A, Mukamal KJ, Liu L, Franz M, Eliassen AH, Rimm EB. High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation. 2013 Jan 15;127(2):188-96. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.112.122408. PMID: 23319811; PMCID: PMC3762447.

3. Taghavi, Toktam & Patel, Hiral & Akande, Omololu & Galam, Dominique. (2022). Total Anthocyanin Content of Strawberry and the Profile Changes by Extraction Methods and Sample Processing. Foods. 11. 1072. 10.3390/foods11081072.

4. Aaby K, Skrede G, Wrolstad RE. Phenolic composition and antioxidant activities in flesh and achenes of strawberries (Fragaria ananassa). J Agric Food Chem. 2005 May 18;53(10):4032-40. doi: 10.1021/jf048001o. PMID: 15884835.

5. Basu A, Rhone M, Lyons TJ. Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Nutr Rev. 2010 Mar;68(3):168-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00273.x. PMID: 20384847; PMCID: PMC3068482.

6. Ren J, Lu Y, Qian Y, Chen B, Wu T, Ji G. Recent progress regarding kaempferol for the treatment of various diseases. Exp Ther Med. 2019 Oct;18(4):2759-2776. doi: 10.3892/etm.2019.7886. Epub 2019 Aug 13. PMID: 31572524; PMCID: PMC6755486.

7. Fisher M. Injuries to the vascular endothelium: vascular wall and endothelial dysfunction. Rev Neurol Dis. 2008;5 Suppl 1:S4-11. PMID: 18645570.

8. Mah E, Bruno RS. Postprandial hyperglycemia on vascular endothelial function: mechanisms and consequences. Nutr Res. 2012 Oct;32(10):727-40. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2012.08.002. Epub 2012 Sep 7. PMID: 23146769.

9. Eating more berries may reduce cognitive decline in the elderly: flavonoid-rich blueberries and strawberries offer most benefit. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen. 2012 Aug;27(5):358. PMID: 22991706.

10. Jessen, F., Amariglio, R.E., van Boxtel, M., Breteler, M., Ceccaldi, M., Chételat, G., Dubois, B., Dufouil, C., Ellis, K.A., van der Flier, W.M., Glodzik, L., van Harten, A.C., de Leon, M.J., McHugh, P., Mielke, M.M., Molinuevo, J.L., Mosconi, L., Osorio, R.S., Perrotin, A., Petersen, R.C., Rabin, L.A., Rami, L., Reisberg, B., Rentz, D.M., Sachdev, P.S., de la Sayette, V., Saykin, A.J., Scheltens, P., Shulman, M.B., Slavin, M.J., Sperling, R.A., Stewart, R., Uspenskaya, O., Vellas, B., Visser, P.J., Wagner, M. and (2014), A conceptual framework for research on subjective cognitive decline in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 10: 844-852. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2014.01.001

11. Yeh TS, Yuan C, Ascherio A, Rosner BA, Willett WC, Blacker D. Long-term Dietary Flavonoid Intake and Subjective Cognitive Decline in US Men and Women. Neurology. 2021 Sep 7;97(10):e1041-e1056. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000012454. Epub 2021 Jul 28. Erratum in: Neurology. 2021 Dec 7;97(23):1096. PMID: 34321362; PMCID: PMC8448553.

12. Agarwal P, Holland TM, Wang Y, Bennett DA, Morris MC. Association of Strawberries and Anthocyanidin Intake with Alzheimer’s Dementia Risk. Nutrients. 2019 Dec 14;11(12):3060. doi: 10.3390/nu11123060. PMID: 31847371; PMCID: PMC6950087.

13. Cherniack, E. (2012). A berry thought-provoking idea: The potential role of plant polyphenols in the treatment of age-related cognitive disorders. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(5), 794-800. doi:10.1017/S0007114512000669

14. Whyte, A.R, Cheng, N, Butler, L.T, Lamport, D.J, Williams, C.M. Flavonoid-Rich Mixed Berries Maintain and Improve Cognitive Function Over a 6 h Period in Young Healthy Adults. Nutrients 2019, 11, 2685. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112685

15. Basu A, Izuora K, Betts NM, Ebersole JL, Scofield RH. Dietary Strawberries Improve Biomarkers of Antioxidant Status and Endothelial Function in Adults with Cardiometabolic Risks in a Randomized Controlled Crossover Trial. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Oct 29;10(11):1730. doi: 10.3390/antiox10111730. PMID: 34829601; PMCID: PMC8614674.

16. Schell J, Scofield RH, Barrett JR, Kurien BT, Betts N, Lyons TJ, Zhao YD, Basu A. Strawberries Improve Pain and Inflammation in Obese Adults with Radiographic Evidence of Knee Osteoarthritis. Nutrients 2017, 9, 949. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9090949

17. Basu A, Nguyen A, Betts NM, Lyons TJ. Strawberry as a functional food: an evidence-based review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(6):790-806. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.608174. PMID: 24345049.

18. Glycemic Index – Fresh Strawberries

19. Moazen S, Amani R, Homayouni Rad A, Shahbazian H, Ahmadi K, Taha Jalali M. Effects of freeze-dried strawberry supplementation on metabolic biomarkers of atherosclerosis in subjects with type 2 diabetes: a randomized double-blind controlled trial. Ann Nutr Metab. 2013;63(3):256-64. doi: 10.1159/000356053. Epub 2013 Dec 6. PMID: 24334868.

20. Paquette M, Medina Larqué AS, Weisnagel SJ, Desjardins Y, Marois J, Pilon G, Dudonné S, Marette A, Jacques H. Strawberry and cranberry polyphenols improve insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant, non-diabetic adults: a parallel, double-blind, controlled and randomised clinical trial. Br J Nutr. 2017 Feb;117(4):519-531. doi: 10.1017/S0007114517000393. Epub 2017 Mar 14. PMID: 28290272; PMCID: PMC5426341.

21. Calvano A , Izuora K , Oh EC , Ebersole JL , Lyons TJ , Basu A . Dietary berries, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes: an overview of human feeding trials. Food Funct. 2019 Oct 16;10(10):6227-6243. doi: 10.1039/c9fo01426h. PMID: 31591634; PMCID: PMC7202899.

22. Törrönen R, Sarkkinen E, Niskanen T, Tapola N, Kilpi K, Niskanen L. Postprandial glucose, insulin and glucagon-like peptide 1 responses to sucrose ingested with berries in healthy subjects. Br J Nutr. 2012 May;107(10):1445-51. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511004557. Epub 2011 Sep 20. PMID: 21929838.

23. Xu Y , Xie L , Xie J , Liu Y , Chen W . Pelargonidin-3-O-rutinoside as a novel α-glucosidase inhibitor for improving postprandial hyperglycemia. Chem Commun (Camb). 2018 Dec 18;55(1):39-42. doi: 10.1039/c8cc07985d. PMID: 30394469.

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Written by Keymer Health

August 17, 2022

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