The last decade or so has seen me undergo considerable nutritional rehabilitation. Put simply, the diet of utter rubbish that I subsisted on as a student has given way to one consisting largely of natural and unprocessed foods. In recent times I have also become inclined to be more choosy not just about what food I eat, but from whence it came: my preference is to buy British. This small act not only offers a helping hand to UK farmers and producers, but also helps to contain the environmental impact of the transportation of food around the globe. There seems little doubt that opting for produce sourced from close to home has clear benefits both near and far afield.
My food-buying policy pays off handsomely as British strawberries come on line. Fruit aficionados claim British strawberries are simply the best from a flavour and texture perspective, and I wouldn't disagree with them. Also, research reveals that seasonal strawberries are replete with useful nutrients. Scientists whose job it is to identify health-promoting compounds in food have a field day with the strawberry.
Nutritional research reveals that strawberries are rich in disease-protective plant substances known as phytochemicals. One strawberry-derived substance is ellagic acid - one of a group of phytochemicals known as the phenolics. It has what is known as 'antioxidant' activity in the body, which means it can quell the effects of 'free radical' molecules which are believed to be an underlying factor in chronic disease. Ellagic acid's ability to subdue free radical action seems to translate into an anti-cancer effect: animal experiments have found that this compound helps protect against cancerous tumours.
The antioxidant effects of the compounds anthocyanin, catechin, quercetin and kaempferol - all of which belong to a class of phytochemicals called flavonoids - seem to extend to benefits for the circulatory system, too. Flavonoids help prevent cholesterol from oxidation - a protective action that is believed to reduce the propensity for this blood fat to deposit itself on the inside of our arteries. They also promote health in the lining of the blood vessels and reduce the tendency for the blood to clot. The combined biochemical effects exerted by flavonoids are believed to keep cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke at bay.
While it is true that the strawberry's health-preserving effects might be had from other plant-based produce, there is evidence that this fruit wields particular power. A rough guide to the disease-protective effects of any food can be had by measuring its total 'oxygen radical absorbance capacity' (orac) in the laboratory. In one study, strawberries were found to have the second-highest orac of 24 fruits and vegetables. The evidence suggests that those of us who like strawberries can look forward to a bumper crop of bodily benefits at this time of year.