By Colleen De Bellefonds,
What’s small, red, and packed with more vitamin C than an orange? Strawberries. You might not think much of the strawberries you blend into a smoothie or add to your morning oatmeal, but the small yet mighty fruit is loaded with health benefits. Here are all the reasons your body will thank you for adding the ruby-hued fruit to your plate.
They help protect your heart
Strawberries are rich in fiber and vitamin C, a nutrient pairing that’s great for reducing oxidative stress, which can reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Plus, strawberries are a good source of potassium, which has been shown to help protect against heart disease.
“Potassium can help lower blood pressure, as it helps buffer the effect of sodium on blood pressure,” says Vandana Sheth, RD, a spokesperson for the for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Enjoying foods that are rich in potassium while also lowering sodium intake may help reduce risk of high blood pressure and stroke.”
Eating strawberries may also reduce your chances of having a heart attack. A 2013 study from Harvard of nearly 100,000 young and middle-aged women found that eating at least three servings a week of strawberries reduced the risk of heart attack by 32 percent. Researchers attributed the effect to high levels of antioxidants called anthocyanins in strawberries.
Another small 2014 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate 50 grams (about three cups ) of freeze-dried strawberries a day had lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in their blood after 12 weeks. Alexandra Caspero, RD, a registered dietitian based in St. Louis, MO, notes, that other studies have found that berries can help reduce platelet aggregation (when platelets stick together), another risk factor for heart disease.
They can help ward off cancer
Regularly eating berries, including strawberries, has been linked to reduced risk of cancers, including esophageal cancer and lung cancer, in animal studies; the research is promising but still mixed in human studies.
“Strawberries have been ranked in the top 10 fruits in antioxidant capacity, and this may be a key reason they may help with cancer prevention. Antioxidants fight free radical compounds that cause chronic health issues,” says Sheth.
They keep you regular
Fiber plays an essential role in keeping your gut healthy by feeding it good bacteria. At three grams of fiber in a one-cup serving, strawberries are an excellent source. “We sometimes forget gut health is regulated by fiber in your diet,” says Caspero. “Most Americans don’t eat enough, so if you can add more fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and veggies to your diet, you can combat diseases of the gut like colon cancer and constipation.”
They help reduce bloating
While there isn’t one cause for bloating, foods that are high in fiber and water, like strawberries, counteract gas, says Caspero. And because strawberries are a great source of potassium—a nutrient that counteracts bloat-inducing sodium in your diet—they can also help you lose water weight.
They can boost your immunity
When you think of foods high in vitamin C, oranges probably come to mind—but strawberries are also a great source of this antioxidant, with 100 percent (nearly 100 milligrams) of your daily requirement in just one cup of sliced berries. “Foods rich in vitamin C can help boost your immunity, especially during cold and flu season,” says Sheth. However, keep in mind that research suggests that vitamin C can’t prevent the common cold, but it may reduce its severity and duration.
They keep your brain sharp
A 2012 study from the Annals of Neurology found that regularly eating strawberries may slow cognitive decline in older women, which the researchers attributed to high levels of flavonoids (aka, the anti-inflammatory substances found in plants). “It’s probably a similar effect as the cardiovascular studies have found,” says Caspero. “Antioxidants have an effect on all blood vessels, and a healthy blood flow is essential to brain health.”
They satisfy your sweet tooth
There’s a reason strawberries are often called nature’s candy: At their peak, they’re as sweet as any sugary treat! But unlike a box of candy, they contain three grams of fiber per serving, which helps keep your blood sugar levels stable (aka, you’re less likely to get hangry). “You’re getting fiber, so your blood sugar will not spike as quickly compared to a cup of juice,” says Sheth.
They can help you lose weight
Strawberries’ high fiber content helps control cravings; plus, they’re super low in calories. “At only about 150 calories, they’re a nutrient-rich, fiber-rich snack that helps with weight loss,” says Caspero. That said, they’re low in protein so it’s a good idea to pair strawberries with a serving of protein or healthy fat, like plain yogurt or hard cheese, to bump up the filling factor.
They can help prevent birth defects
If you’re pregnant, getting enough folic acid is crucial since the vitamin can help prevent defects to your baby’s neural tube (the foundational brain and spinal structure), which can result in anencephaly and spina bifida. Enter: strawberries. “For women who want to get pregnant, strawberries are a good source of folate, at 10 percent of your daily recommended intake,” says Caspero.
How many strawberries should you eat each day?
A serving of strawberries is one cup of sliced berries, or about eight whole strawberries. Since one serving has only about 50 calories, you pretty much can’t overdo it: Even four servings is just 200 calories—and it’s hard to imagine eating more than four cups of berries in a day.
Keep in mind that eating whole strawberries and drinking them in juice form is not the same thing. “When the juice is extracted, the fiber has been taken out, and that has a different effect,” Caspero explains. Without the fiber, strawberry juice may actually spike your blood sugar levels instead of stabilizing them.
Concerned because strawberries are high on the dirty dozen list—and organic strawberries are out of your budget? “By far, the majority of studies into the benefits of fruit don’t use organic berries. The benefits of the fruit far outweigh the disadvantages of pesticides,” says Caspero. If you can only afford conventional strawberries, pesticide residue is easily washed off by just running them under water.
Ready to add more strawberries to your diet? Eat whole strawberries as a quick snack, slice them on top of oatmeal or yogurt, or add them to salads. When strawberries aren’t in season, Caspero recommends adding a dash of balsamic vinegar on top—the acid boosts their sweetness.