What’s not to love about summer? Clouds lift, skies open, days are longer, warmer, brighter. At my house we sleep in later, go to the beach more, linger over books more, picnic more, star gaze more. Simple I know. But there’s something divine and so delicious about relaxed summer living.
Even the food we eat in summer is streamlined to simple ingredients and tastes.
This week I met family at a local strawberry field where under blue skies we filled buckets full of succulent, plump, and juicy red berries. It was a good day for everyone, but someone in particular was very happy to be there, armed with sunhat, boots, and her very own bucket.
Back at home my sister and I washed and hulled most of the berries for freezing but kept some fresh to enjoy right away. During our work over the kitchen sink I couldn’t help but think up recipes to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. Eating clean without refined sugar doesn’t mean we have to forego the taste of sweetness. Once we clean up our palette by letting go of processed treats, nature’s very own fruit tastes sweeter than anything store bought.
Berries are the perfect fruit – low on the glycemic index, packed with antioxidants, and rich in health-promoting nutrients. All berries are good for us, but strawberries are one of the best because they’re a concentrated source of phenol phytonutrients, which makes them not only a heart-protective fruit, but an anti-inflammatory one as well. The phenols in this berry lessen the activity of the enzyme known as cyclo-oxygenase (COX), whose overactivity has been shown to contribute to the inflammation in arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis and cancer. (Interesting to note: Aspirin and ibuprofen stop pain by blocking the COX enzyme).
In 2007, Howard Sesso, ScD and colleagues at Harvard School of Public Health found through the dietary intake of 27,000 women that those who reported eating two or more serving of strawberries per week were more likely than the non-strawberry eaters to experience a decrease in C-reactive protein (CRP), a blood bio-marker that signals the presence of inflammation in the body. High CRP levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, and levels can also spike when people with RA or lupus have a flare. (It’s important to note here that, on average, the women in Sesso’s study in the highest strawberry intake group with lower CRP readings ate about twice as many servings of fruits and vegetables every day than did women in the lowest intake group. So they had much higher average intakes of important nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate. They were also non-smokers and physically active. Just another reminder that eating fruits and vegetables and living a healthy lifestyle can indeed contribute to a decrease in inflammation). Although Sesso’s research focuses on heart disease, he does say that lowering CRP levels with strawberries may help arthritis too.
Besides their anti-inflammatory properties, strawberries are good for us in other ways. One cup has over 136 percent of our daily requirement of vitamin C, 20 percent of the daily requirement of manganese, and 15 percent of the daily requirement of fiber. They are also a good source of vitamin K, pantothenic acid, vitamin B1, iodine, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B6.
Eat them all by themselves, toss them on a plate of summer greens, add them to a smoothie…make popsicles with them. Freezing freshly picked strawberries doesn’t destroy their nutrients or alter their anti-inflammatory properties, which is good news for those of us who like a cold homemade popsicle during the warmer months of the year. Homemade is simply the best kind of treat out there. This way we know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies and what we’re sharing with friends.
1 1/4 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, thoroughly rinsed
4 cups frozen organic hulled strawberries, thoroughly thawed
1/4 cup raw honey
1/2 cup filtered water
2 tsp pure vanilla (non-alcoholic if you can find it)
2 dates, pitted
Soak the cashews overnight in water. Drain and thoroughly rinse. Add thawed strawberries with their juice to a high-speed blender, along with cashews, honey, water, vanilla, dates. Blend on high until smooth. Pour into your favourite popsicle molds and freeze for approximately 5 hours.
Cashews: have a lower fat content and a higher protein and carbohydrate content than most other nuts. Sixty-five percent of their fat is derived from oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated oil with known benefits in protecting against heart disease and cancer. Cashews are a good source of protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. All nuts should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge (where they keep for about six months) or the freezer (where they keep for a year).
–Strawberries are one of the 12 foods that have been tested positively for pesticide residues. Buy fresh, organic berries, even if freezing.
–Cashews contain small amounts of oxalates, so those of us who suffer from kidney stones should avoid over-consuming them. Parts of cashews contain oleoresins, similar to those in mangoes and pistachios, which have caused allergic reactions. If you’re allergic to mangoes or pistachios you should avoid cashews too.
Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods: The Most Comprehensive, User-Friendly A – to – Z Guide Available on the Nutritional Benefits and Medicinal Properties of Food. New York: Atria Books, 2005. Print.