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Strawberries are a super food-HughsSpa

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Many folks in central Virginia look forward to picking their own strawberries. Others are happy to pick them up in the produce section of their favorite grocery store. Either way you pick them, that luscious red fruit is full of nutrients and is considered a super food.

Super foods are those that provide health benefits which go beyond providing basic good nutrition. These foods may reduce risk for cancer or heart disease. They can enhance overall health, strengthen our bodies and possibly even slow down the aging process.

Super foods are nutrient dense in that they provide extra nutrition for fewer calories. Some are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins and minerals, but low in saturated fats, trans fats or refined sugars. They also may contain phytochemicals, colorful plant pigments, that can be helpful in preventing disease.

Many foods including oatmeal, salmon, beans, nuts, kale, avocados and sweet potatoes are also regarded as super foods, so it’s important to eat a variety of colorful foods daily.

“But berries are some of the most powerful super foods,” according to Reza Rafie, a horticulture specialist at Virginia State University.

Rafie, his staff and students are involved in research to extend the growing season for berries, including strawberries. Through the use of protective shelters called high tunnels, they protect crops from pests, diseases and extreme temperatures, extending their growing season.

“More people are interested in fresh produce over processed or frozen fruits,” Rafie said. “Consumers are willing to pay a higher price for fresh produce. The longer growing season is a win-win situation for growers and consumer alike.”

We enjoy the fruit; the small farmer earns profits, which in turn helps the economy.

The United States is the largest strawberry grower in the world, with most being grown in California. Florida and Oregon are big growers as well. Rafie reminds us that super foods are best when they’re fresh. “If they have to travel a long way, they’re still good, but they’re higher in nutrients if they’re local.”

That’s another reason to head out to Virginia’s local berry farms.

Enjoy your super berries, but don’t limit them to dessert. My family’s favorite treat is still “Pink Drinks.” Just toss 1 percent milk, crushed ice, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a bit of Splenda, and a bunch of strawberries in the blender for a yummy smoothie.

Try the Strawberry and Spinach Salad recipe as a way to make strawberries and other super foods part of your main meal. Or for a healthy snack enjoy 1 cup fresh strawberry halves for only 49 calories, 0 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sodium, and 20 milligrams calcium.

Strawberry and Spinach Salad

The dressing for this salad is sweet and a bit pungent. You can make it sugar free by substituting Splenda for the sugar. Or if you’re pressed for time, use fat-free poppy seed dressing or your favorite low-fat or fat-free vinaigrette dressing. Whichever dressing you use, pour it over the salad right before serving to keep it from wilting the spinach.

Makes 6 servings

Dressing:
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
¼ cup white sugar (or Splenda)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
1½ teaspoons dried minced onion
Salad:
5 ounces baby spinach, rinsed and dried
1 quart strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Prepare the salad dressing by whisking together the poppy seeds, sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, water and minced onion in a bowl. Cover and chill at least one hour before serving.

Combine spinach, strawberries and almonds in a large bowl. Pour dressing over the salad right before serving and toss. (Or place salad in 6 individual bowls and allow each person to add their own dressing).

Nutrients per serving for salad only: 72 calories, 2.5 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 11 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 18 milligrams sodium, 54 milligrams calcium.

Nutrients for 1 cup salad dressing made with sugar: 473 calories, 54 grams carbohydrate, 28 grams fat. Dressing made with Splenda lowers it to 278 calories, 4 grams carbohydrate with 28 grams fat. Per tablespoon, made with sugar: 30 calories, 4 grams carbohydrate, and 2 grams fat. Per tablespoon, made with Splenda: 18 calories, 0 carbohydrate, and 2 grams fat.

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