berries and health

Myths and Truths about Strawberries

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Wondering how to tell truth from fiction when it comes to strawberries? Let’s look at some of the common myths about strawberries—and the real truth behind them.

Myth: Strawberries are best picked just before ripening, because they’ll last longer and ripen upon standing.

Truth: Strawberries are nonclimacteric fruit; their tissues won’t continue the metabolic process of ripening after harvest. Consequently, underripe berries also lack the nutritional value and flavor of fully ripe berries. Because of this, always pick berries at the height of ripeness. Your local farm store already knows this, and will only harvest fully ripe berries. If you prefer to pick your own, look for plump, firm (but not hard) fruits with a uniform bright-red color. Strawberries that have green or white spots are underripe; those with shriveled, very dark skin or a “collapsed” look are overripe.  

 

Myth: The bigger the berry, the more flavorful.

Truth: When it comes to berries, size doesn’t indicate taste or juiciness. In fact, large berries are often less flavorful than smaller ones!

 

Myth: Berries should be the same size.

Truth: Grocery store strawberries are typically big and uniform in size, but this is purely a marketing tactic. Those berries have been bred for high volume and transportation hardiness, and lack both the flavor and nutritional content of locally grown berries of varying shapes and sizes. So don’t worry if your farm-store pint (or quart!) contains both small and large berries, and even or alien-looking berries with funny, irregular shapes. They taste even better than the “perfect” large-scale-grown berries!

 

Myth: Strawberries contain toxic pesticides.

Truth: Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of “dirty” fruits and vegetables that consumers are supposed to avoid because they contain pesticide residues. For the third year in a row, strawberries were ranked number one on the list (also on the list: healthful foods like spinach and apples). But the EWG list is misleading from both a scientific and a social standpoint.

The EWG’s approach to ranking has not been supported by any scientific organization, undergone peer review, or been published in a scientific journal. It also ignores the facts that plants produce natural pesticides to combat pests, and these residues exceed human-applied pesticides by ten-thousandfold. Pesticide residues in plants are generally quite low; only at very high levels are they considered toxic to the point of demonstrating negative effects on the human body. And pesticide applications vary greatly according to climate—for instance, berry growers in wet climates such as Florida typically need to apply pesticides more frequently than growers in New York, yet the EWG list only considers averages that may be skewed by location.

 

Myth: Strawberries don’t taste as good cold and shouldn’t be refrigerated.

Truth: While it’s true that the strawberry’s flavor comes out best when it’s at room temperature, cold storage is necessary for preserving fresh berries. Once you get them home from the farm store, place them in the fridge until just before you’re ready to eat them. Then either allow them to come to room temperature, or rinse them with warm water.

Also, if the container your strawberries came in is small and the berries are packed tightly together, transfer them into a larger container. More room between berries will slow down the natural spoilage that occurs as fruits pass their prime.

 

Myth: It’s a good idea to wash all your berries all at once, then store them for later.

Truth: Because moisture promotes the growth of mold, only wash the quantity of berries you need at the moment, and store the remainder unwashed.

 

Myth: Strawberries have vitamin C, but they don’t have many other healthful attributes.

Truth: Strawberries—and all berries—are nutritional powerhouses! In addition to a whopping 152 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C, strawberries also contain fiber and antioxidant compounds that are known to reduce the effects of oxidative stress caused by aging and a variety of diseases. These superfoods are also fat- and cholesterol-free, and low in calories. Want to learn more about the many health benefits of berries? Read on. 

 

Myth: Strawberries have too much sugar to be healthy.

Truth: Carbohydrates, in the form of naturally occurring sugars, are an important part of a healthy diet and a primary source of energy for humans. A cup of strawberries has about 11 grams of carbohydrates, just 4 percent of your daily allowance. Strawberries are also considered low-glycemic-index foods, so they have little effect on your blood glucose levels or insulin response, unlike foods that contain refined sugars.

If you have diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome, talk to your doctor about how you can incorporate strawberries into your diet in quantities that won’t negatively affect those conditions. Otherwise, strawberries are an excellent source of a variety of nutrients and can be a fantastic addition to a healthful, disease-prevention diet.

Winter Doldrums Got You Down? Give Yourself a Berry Boost!

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As the winter—with its cold, short days and long, dark nights—marches on, it’s not uncommon to start feeling low-energy, fatigued, or even down in the dumps. These feelings, plus our tendency to soothe ourselves with comfort foods during the winter months, can create stress that increases the number of free radicals in our bodies. An excess of free radicals can lead to a host of diseases and ailments, among them depression . . . and then the cycle perpetuates itself. But even though we still have a couple of months to go before we can start enjoying longer days and sunshine, we do have a potent weapon against the winter doldrums: berries.

Various studies have shown that the antioxidants in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries can significantly decrease the incidence of depression. Blueberries can even combat genetic and biochemical tendencies toward the depression and suicidal feelings that are often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And because berries help prevent the release of cortisol, the well-known “stress hormone,” experts consider them one of the top foods for boosting mood and energy and improving concentration.

Start the day off on a positive note with a cup of green tea (another great stress reducer), followed by a berry-rich breakfast. If you love hearty breakfasts like pancakes and oatmeal, add a healthy serving of berries for a mood blast. But if a grab-and-go breakfast is more your style, try our Mood-Boosting Berry Smoothie. It’s vegan and gluten-free, and you can even prep the ingredients the night before and store them in the fridge (except the banana; it’ll turn brown in cold storage). If the berries are frozen, allow them to thaw at room temperature for at least 20 minutes, or in the fridge overnight. The next morning, toss everything in the blender, and you’re good to go!

 

Mood-Boosting Berry Smoothie

Makes 2 servings

1 cup mixed berries 

1 banana

1/2 cup fresh spinach

1/4 cup roasted unsalted walnuts

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add more almond milk until it reaches an easily drinkable consistency.