Inland NW Food NetworkAs the weather warms and we head into summer, June and July are the perfect months to stock up on the region’s earlier ripening fruits, including strawberries! Strawberries are chock full of nutrients that help to prevent cancer, regulate blood pressure, improve heart health, improve glycemic control in diabetics, and even boost memory retention. One cup of strawberries contains over 100% of the daily value (recommended amount) of vitamin C, an important antioxidant and immune-system booster, and  fiber.  Fiber serves as the “food” for good intestinal bacteria and can help maintain a healthy body weight and prevent colon cancer. In addition, strawberry seeds are a good source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, which is an important fat for nervous system and cardiovascular health. Strawberries are also an excellent source of the vitamin folate, which is necessary during pregnancy and for growing healthy cells.

Strawberries originally grew wild throughout Europe, Asia, North America and parts of South America, and were enjoyed by ancient cultures and Native Americans for their healing properties, sweet floral aroma, and juicy flavor. Although strawberries are now available in the U.S. year-round through the use of conventional farming techniques (the majority being grown in California), the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list placed strawberries at the top of the list this year, meaning that they contain the highest amounts of pesticides of any conventionally grown fruit or vegetable in the U.S. Opt for organic strawberries and buy in season to lower exposure to harmful toxins and pesticides.

In addition, purchasing locally grown strawberries lessens the period of time from when the fruit was picked to its journey to your plate, and thus results in better retention of nutritious polyphenols (plant compounds and antioxidants). These versatile berries are great on a summer salad with spinach, candied walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. They can also easily be tossed into smoothies or oatmeal for an extra nutrition boost. Be sure to purchase only if you plan to consume within one to two days, as berries will spoil quickly. Wash only right before eating, or stick in the freezer after washing and drying for future use (frozen strawberries make a great garnish to ice water).

Try making your own strawberry lime vinaigrette using the recipe from the Vegetarian Times below:

Strawberry Lime Vinaigrette

• 1 1/2 cups diced strawberries
• 2 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar
• 1 tsp. pure maple syrup
• 2 tsp. lime juice
• 3 Tbs. olive oil

Combine strawberries, vinegar, and maple syrup in bowl. Let stand 30 minutes to let the juices from the strawberries mix. Strain liquid into small bowl (keeping strawberries separate), and stir in lime juice and oil. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Toss over your favorite salad!

*Note: frozen strawberries may be used also, and softened in the microwave first for 30 seconds.

Article by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian specializing in diabetes care and integrative and functional nutrition.

INW Food Network