Health Column: It’s OK to indulge in this berry good treat

06/07/2015 5:55 AM |
Aside from being delicious, strawberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C. What's not to love? (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Aside from being delicious, strawberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C. What’s not to love? (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

“Popeye” character J. Wellington Wimpy famously promised that he’d “gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” but I’d rather have a cup of fresh strawberries. And, like Wimpy, I want them right now.

Aside from being delicious, strawberries are fat-free, rich in dietary fiber and packed with vitamin C and antioxidants. Combined, these attributes make my favorite fruit “nutritional jewels,” said dietitian Lara McNeil of East End Nutrition in Riverhead. 

“Strawberries are also an excellent source of ellagic acid, a phytochemical that helps combat carcinogens,” Ms. McNeil added.

Best of all, now that it’s June, strawberries are officially in season all month long.

Patty DiVello, who owns Patty’s Berries and Bunches in Mattituck, said she and her crew began picking the sweet, juicy fruit May 28. Only a small percentage of her seven–acre crop has ripened so far, but with some heat and sunshine, Ms. DiVello said, the rest should “be kicking right into gear.”

Whether you elect to pick your own strawberries or, like me, buy them already packed in a small basket and ready to go, there are some tips you can follow to make sure you’re getting the best fruit available. These include paying careful attention to color, Ms. McNeil advised.

“The berries themselves should be a true, rich red,” she said. “Pale, greenish or yellowish fruit is unripe and will be hard and sour.”

Don’t wait too long to eat them, either.

“They should be eaten very quickly because they don’t have any preservatives,” Ms. DiVello said.

Aim for same-day consumption, added Ms. McNeil, who said strawberries can turn soft, mushy and moldy after just 24 hours.

“When you bring home a box, turn it over and check the fruit,” she said. “Discard any smashed or moldy berries and gently blot the remainder dry with a paper towel. And store them without washing.”

‘BERRY’ INTERESTING FACTS*

• Strawberries are technically a “false” fruit because they grow from the base, rather than the ovary, of a flower. Thus, they’re not “true” berries.

• From 1998 to 2000, California accounted for 83 percent of strawberry production in the U.S.

• Out-of-season strawberries might look plump and tasty, but they’re usually watery and devoid of flavor compared to local in-season berries. This is because strawberries grown for wholesale distribution are bred for size and durability — not taste.

* Source: Lara McNeil, East End Nutrition

Have a health column idea or question for Rachel Young? Email her at [email protected].

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