I know it's truly summer when local strawberries are ripe and ready for picking. When I was a child I always looked forward to picking strawberries with my mother, sisters, and grandmother and then spending the rest of the day freezing berries and making jam. Strawberries grow in every state in the US, every province in Canada, all over Europe and even in Australia. According to AskTheBerryman.com in South Deerfield, Mass., strawberries got their name from the straw used to mulch the low-growing plants.

One cup of whole strawberries, about the amount I can hold in two cupped hands, contains only 50 calories. Part of the strawberry's nutritional appeal is what it doesn't contain: No fat, no cholesterol, and virtually no sodium. One serving of strawberries provides 140 percent of our daily vitamin C requirement, more than you find in one orange. Strawberries are also a good source of manganese, potassium and fiber.

Strawberries contain large amounts of healthful antioxidants, ranking third among all foods commonly consumed in the US in total antioxidant capacity. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, antioxidants help protect healthy cells in our body from damage caused by free radicals, substances that are produced as byproducts of daily life and also from environmental exposure to smoke and other toxins. The only negative to strawberries is that they are ranked by the nonprofit advocacy agency Environmental Working Group as the second most pesticide-contaminated food. Purchase organic strawberries and make sure to wash all berries in clear, running water right before eating to remove as many pesticides as possible. Four favorite ways to enjoy fresh strawberries:

- blend into a smoothie with a banana and plain yogurt

- add sliced strawberries to a garden salad for a burst of color and flavor

- enjoy a healthy and delicious dessert by layering sliced strawberries and vanilla Greek yogurt in a pretty parfait glass

- top whole-grain pancakes with fresh sliced strawberries

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com