strawberriesPhoto courtesy of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — May 1st started National Strawberry Month, a time to reflect on the history of this sweet, nutrition-packed fruit that grows well in Florida—and to extol its health benefits.

Strawberries originally grew in Europe. In France, people regarded them as the highest-quality aphrodisiac.

People believed Alpine strawberries provided various medicinal benefits. While some used the leaves, roots, and fruits as a skin tonic, others ate berries to relieve diarrhea and an upset stomach. Folks also used the fruit’s juices to whiten teeth.

You can find these and other strawberry-related facts on a web page http://bit.ly/2q6hvB9 of the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, part of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Associate professor Vance Whitaker coordinates the strawberry breeding program at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast REC. Whitaker and his lab recently came out with a new strawberry variety—‘Florida Beauty’—continuing the decades-long tradition of UF/IFAS scientists breeding the top-quality fruit.

Today, farmers grow them in the United States, Chile, Mexico, and Russia, among other nations, and, in contrast to the early multiple uses for strawberries, consumers usually eat or drink the fruit.

In addition to Whitaker breeding disease- and pest-resistant strawberries, UF/IFAS experts shed light on some of the many benefits consumers enjoy by eating the fruit.

Related Article: Research Looks at Growing More Nutritional, Flavorful Strawberries in Kansas

“The most important aspect of strawberries, aside from their wonderful taste, is their nutritional value,” said Linda Bobroff, a professor of nutrition and health with the UF/IFAS department of family, youth, and community sciences. “With very few calories—something that is important to many people—strawberries pack a nutritional punch.”

Bobroff gave a list of examples of the nutrition value provided by 1 cup of strawberries: 

  • 3 grams of dietary fiber, something most Americans consume in insufficient amounts.
  • 230 milligrams potassium—a nutrient of concern in the U.S., which soon will appear on all nutrition facts panels.
  • 90 milligrams of vitamin C.

Also from a nutritional perspective, strawberries provide important non-nutritive compounds—known as polyphenols—and antioxidants, said Anne Mathews, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food science and human nutrition.

Mathews gives interesting tips for ways to consume strawberries: 

  • Add them to cereal, oatmeal, or a leafy salad, especially one with balsamic dressing.
  • Consider swapping out a starch—such as white rice, roll, or pasta for a serving of fruit with lunch or dinner.