It’s difficult to resist a perfectly ripe strawberry. In fact, they’re one of the most popular berry fruits in the world – but did you know it’s not just the sweet red part that’s good for us?
On each juicy strawberry is a leafy top, called the calyx. Each year, tons of strawberry tops are discarded as waste. But this humble leafy crown is actually edible, and may hold the key to unlocking some exciting health benefits.
This isn’t just a nutrition issue either, but a question of waste – which is a hot topic right now. Three major WRAP studies, published in 2013 and 2016, estimated that 85 per cent of avoidable food waste arises in households and food manufacture.
With this in mind, and to help us make the most of our produce, nutritionist Lily Soutter reveals some of the health benefits of munching your way through whole strawberries – leafy tops and all.
1. They’re a rich source of antioxidants
Antioxidant-rich foods are important to help protect your cells against the effects of free radicals — harmful molecules produced from pollution, sunlight, smoke and even prolonged exercise. “Strawberries are a rich and diverse source of antioxidants. However, what’s less well known is that strawberry calyx contains antioxidants too,” says Ms Soutter. “One study, which looked at the fruits and leaves of blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries, found the leaves have a high ORAC value (a measure of the antioxidant capacity of different foods). However, it’s important to note that as leaves become older, the ORAC value decreases, so the leaves of fresh strawberries are likely to provide the highest antioxidant value.”
2. They support the immune system
Adding a punnet of strawberries to your shopping basket will help support your immune system too. “Not only is the whole strawberry rich in plant antioxidants, but the red fleshy part is also extremely rich in the antioxidant vitamin C,” says Ms Soutter. “In fact, eating just eight strawberries (80g) can provide as much as 115 per cent of your daily vitamin C intake. Many associate oranges with vitamin C, but strawberries are actually a higher source per 100g.”
3. They may help with blood sugar regulation
Next time you’re thinking of pasta for dinner, try following up your meal with a bowl of fresh strawberries for dessert. Research suggests eating strawberries, alongside a carbohydrate-rich meal, may help to reduce spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. “Improving blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity can be helpful for preventing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes,” says Ms Soutter. “While it’s not clear why strawberries may have this blood sugar balancing effect, some studies have suggested that it may be down to their rich content of polyphenols (antioxidants), which may influence carbohydrate digestion and absorption.”
4. They may have antimicrobial effects
As well as being delicious to eat, strawberries could also have a beneficial effect on the reproduction of bacteria and parasites in the body. “One study analysed the tops and leaves of 200 strawberry plants, and found their large and diverse range of polyphenols are defensive against harmful microbes, and may even have benefit to human health,” says Ms Soutter. “While these results are certainly exciting, much more research into strawberry leaf polyphenols in relation to human health is required.”
5. They may improve heart health
“Numerous studies have found an association between strawberry consumption and improved cardiovascular health,” explains Ms Soutter. “It appears their high content of berry anthocyanins may play a role in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, blood pressure, and even improving our cholesterol profile.
“While it’s too early to state if strawberry calyx can actually lower blood pressure, one promising study showed potential vasodilatory [widening of blood vessels] effects,” says Ms Soutter. “The study used water extracts of the strawberry leaf and showed an improvement in blood flow within isolated animal aortic rings.”
6. They can help with weight management
Strawberries are one of the most guilt-free snacks going; they can satisfy a sweet craving yet are surprisingly low in sugar and calories. “With just 6g of sugar and 33 calories per 100g, they can provide the sweet fix we desire while keeping our waistlines trim,” says Ms Soutter. “And for an even more indulgent option, try dipping strawberries into antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and coconut flakes.”
Easy ways to include more strawberries – and their tops – in your diet
1. Add both to smoothies.
2. Make strawberry leaf tea using the stalks and leaves. Leave both to brew for a few minutes in boiling water.
3. Create your own salad dressing by soaking the berries, including the tops, in balsamic vinegar for at least 48 hours.
5. Infuse your drinking water by dropping sliced strawberries and their leaves into your jug or bottle.
6. Whizz up your strawberries in a blender to create a compote that can be used as a breakfast topping.
How often do you enjoy strawberries? What’s your favourite type of berry? Have you ever heard of eating the strawberry tops before?
– With PA
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