Posts Tagged ‘antioxidants’

The season for strawberries: Facts about the world’s favourite berry

Friday, June 27th, 2014



Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Farmers' Market

(Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Farmers’ Market)

Strawberries are the most popular seasonal berry fruit in the world, and it’s not hard to understand why: they’re sweet, juicy, refreshing and their punchy pink-red brightens fruit dishes, jams, salads and baking.

But they’re much more than the pretty faces of the fruit world. They’re health-protecting powerhouses with a long history of cultivation.

Why they’re healthy

(All data in this section comes from

  • Among commonly eaten (U.S.) foods, strawberries rank 27th among the 50 best antioxidant sources, based on a serving size of 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces. (Antioxidants are nutrients and enzymes which inhibit the oxidation — and decay — of other molecules and are believed to play a role in protecting against disease.)
  • When only fruits are considered, strawberries come in fourth, behind blackberries, cranberries and raspberries.
  • When common servings sizes for all commonly eaten foods are taken into account (100 grams is too big a serving size for spices and seasonings, for example), strawberries rank third in total antioxidant capacity, behind blackberries and walnuts.
  • One cup of strawberries contains: over 112% of your daily required intake of vitamin C, 28% of manganese, 11.5% of fibre, 8.6% of folate, plus other minerals and nutrients.
  • Research suggests that strawberries: support the cardiovascular system and prevent cardiovascular diseases; help regulate blood sugar and decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, and; play a role in preventing certain types of cancer, including breast, cervical, colon, and esophageal cancers.

How to buy, handle and store strawberries

  • As much as possible, buy organically grown strawberries. The conventionally grown fruit routinely lands on the Environmental Working Group’s yearly Dirty Dozen list for pesticide contaminated produce.
  • Strawberries are highly perishable, so store them unwashed and use them quickly. Studies show that strawberries kept longer than two days lose significant amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants.
  • To freeze strawberries, gently wash them and pat dry. Arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, put the berries in a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer where they’ll keep for up to a year.
  • Strawberries can be frozen whole, cut or crushed, but they’ll retain more vitamin C if left whole. What’s more, commercial processing can dramatically lower the fruit’s nutrient content. Fresh or carefully frozen strawberries are more nourishing – and tasty.
  • Choose berries that are firm, mold-free, and deep red with their green caps attached. Under- or over-ripe strawberries contain fewer antioxidants and other plant nutrients.

Where they come from, how they grow

Information in this section comes from Edible: An Illustrate Guide to the World’s Food Plants, published in 2008 by the National Geographic Society.

  • Wild strawberries have been around for more than 2,000 years.
  • Most commercially grown strawberries available today come from Fragaria ananassa, which resulted from a South American species brought to Europe from Chile in the 1700s and hybridized with a North American variety.
  • Because they’re so perishable, strawberries remained a luxury food for the wealthy until the the advent of rail transportation in the mid-19th century.
  • The fruit part of the strawberry is actually the seeds on the outside; the flesh is part of the flower.
  • Strawberry plants have a life span of five or six years, but after the third year, their fruit is less tasty and they’re more prone to disease. New plants are bred from seed and spread by runners that take root and produce clone, or daughter, plants.
  • It’s not clear how the strawberry got its name. A popular view is that it derives from the practice of using straw as mulch to keep the berries clean and off the ground, but the name predates actual cultivation of strawberries. Another theory is that wild strawberries grew near hay fields and were found in the straw after the hay was harvested.

For more on strawberries, check out my guest post Strawberries from field to fork on the Ottawa Farmers’ Market website.

What’s your favourite way to eat strawberries?

Seasonal eats: 10 reasons to stock up on fresh local tomatoes

Saturday, September 7th, 2013


(Photo by V. Ward)

This is the best time of year for tomato-lovers. The fruit is available in abundance at farmers markets and in CSA baskets, and there’s a wealth of types to choose from: beefsteak and plum, cherry and grape, not to mention the explosion of heirloom varieties — green, yellow, burgundy, black, striped and ridged, oval and oblong, heart- or pear-shaped.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family as do potatoes, eggplant, and sweet and hot peppers. Treated as a vegetable for cooking purposes, they’re actually a fruit that originated in Mexico and spread to other parts of the world after Spain colonized the Americas.

Whether you eat them immediately, or can them for later use (try for tips on preserving and preparing), there are lots of good reasons to stock up on delicious, super-healthy local tomatoes.

  1. Flavour, flavour, flavour.  Nothing compares with the taste of freshly picked tomatoes, as anyone who’s eaten store-bought varieties can attest. Most supermarket tomatoes are picked green and ripen in storage with the help of a hydrocarbon gas called ethylene. The fruit lasts longer but tends to be flavourless, with a mealy texture.
  2. Tomatoes are an extremely versatile ingredient, widely used in Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian and other cuisines. Add them raw to sandwiches, salads and salsas; make tomato butters, preserves and chutneys; cook them with herbs to make pasta sauce and tomato paste; or simmer them in casseroles and stews.
  3. When you buy tomatoes from a local farmer, you’re getting a more ethically produced fruit. Industrial tomato production has a dismal track record on workers’ rights: crops are typically harvested by migrant workers, some of whom live and work in conditions that have been described as modern-day slavery.
  4. Tomatoes are good for you – low in sodium, for example, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  5. They’re a very good source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and K, along with potassium, manganese and dietary fibre. They’re also a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phospohorus and copper.
  6. They’re high in carotenoid lycopene, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of heart disease by supporting the cardiovascular system and regulating fats in the bloodstream. (By the way, red cherry tomatoes have up to 12 times more lycopene than red beefsteak tomatoes.)
  7. Tomatoes are loaded with other antioxidants that play a part in protecting the bones and kidneys, some studies show.
  8. The tomato’s antioxidant profile and anti-inflammatory properties provide anti-cancer benefits.
  9. Some studies have linked diets that include tomatoes with lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
  10. Fresh tomatoes are higher in vitamin C, but processed (i.e., thermally processed as part of canning) tomatoes have higher levels of bio-available lycopene as well as total antioxidant strength.


Do you preserve the season’s fresh tomatoes? Why and how?

Seasonal eats: 10 reasons to buy fresh green beans

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Photo by Megg, via Flickr

Green beans (also known as string or snap beans) are at their peak in the summer months. Besides adding flavour, texture and vibrant colour to many dishes, they’re nutritional powerhouses, full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health-protecting properties.

You’ll find green beans in grocery stores year-round, but they’re much tastier and more nourishing eaten fresh, so seek them out at farmers’ markets and farm gates or enjoy them as part of your CSA basket. Better yet, grow them yourself and eat them straight off the vine.

Green beans have a long history in the human diet. Along with other members of the common bean family (phaseolus vulgaris),  they originated in Central and South America thousands of years ago and were introduced to the Mediterranean – along with corn, squash and other indigenous Native American crops — after Columbus returned from the New World in 1493.

Despite the “common” label, they’re exceptional in many ways. Here’s why they deserve a place on your dinner table.

  1. Their clean flavour makes them an ideal accompaniment for meat and poultry, other vegetable dishes, and international cuisines.
  2. Their crunchy texture adds good mouth-feel while their emerald green colour brightens the plate.
  3. Like most veggies, they’re low-calorie.
  4. They’re excellent sources of vitamins A, K and C.
  5. Fresh green beans boast a higher overall concentration of antioxidants (including vitamin C and manganese) than other foods in the pea and bean families. Antioxidants can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and enhance your immune response to infections.
  6. They offer cardiovascular benefits as a result of their strong antioxidant profile, and possibly their omega-3 fatty acid content as well.
  7. Early research suggests that green beans’ carotenoid carotene and flavonoid content may provide anti-inflammatory benefits, potentially offering protection against type 2 diabetes. (Carotenoids and flavonoids are responsible for many plant colours and act as antioxidants.)
  8. The vegetable is a good source of nutrients such as fibre, folate, Vitamins B6 and B2, and potassium. It also contains vitamin B1, iron and calcium.
  9. Green beans are easy to prepare. They retain more of their health benefits when steamed or sautéed whole, and can be combined with other veggies like corn, cauliflower, red peppers and mushrooms, or included in main dishes, soups or salads. (For recipe ideas, try sources like Food & Drink, Bonnie Stern’s website, Food Network or Eating Well.) They’re also a frequent ingredient in French cuisine (think salade Niçoise or haricots verts almandine) and Asian dishes.
  10. They freeze well and can also be canned or pickled. (Note: Freezing will retain more nutrients than other types of processing.)

My favourite bean dish is Madhur Jaffrey’s spicy, garlicky Gujarati-style green beans. What’s yours?