Strawberry jam is, of course, delicious. Whether you’re using it to make a dessert, bake a cake, or simply spreading it over hot toast, strawberry jam is one of those go-to ingredients that add sweetness and flavor to anything you are making. But is it any good for you? It is made from fruit, after all, but it is also very sweet. And it is those two conflicting elements that make it so difficult to tell if strawberry jam is healthy. Let’s take a closer look.
Is strawberry jam healthy?
What is strawberry jam?
The first thing we need to think about is what exactly strawberry jam is made of. Strawberry jam is made by crushing or grinding strawberries and then boiling them with sugar, lemon juice (or another acid), and usually some pectin. When the pectin and the lemon juice react together, this creates the characteristic gel.
Strawberries do contain their own pectin, which is a plant fiber, So some people choose to make their strawberry jam without adding any extra pectin. The problem with this method is that you then have to boil the strawberries for longer to form the gel. With added pectin, the reaction with the acid happens sooner so you can take the mixture off the boil earlier.
What nutrients are in strawberry jam?
One of the most obvious nutrients available in strawberry jam is vitamin C. In fact, some strawberry jams can be 14% vitamin C, which is remarkably high. Vitamin C is one of the nutrients that can be degraded by increased boiling time, so if you are looking to increase your intake you should use added pectin.
Vitamin C is an important micronutrient that helps to maintain your skin, bones, cartilage, and blood vessels. And vitamin C deficiency can famously lead to scurvy. Because our bodies can’t store vitamin C, we need to have it in our diets every day.
Pectin is a dietary fiber. that can help your digestion. More than that, however, pectin can also help to reduce your risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer, and high cholesterol. It can also help you to manage the symptoms of GERD and diabetes.
Strawberry jam isn’t super high in pectin but it has enough (especially if you add extra) to contribute towards your daily dietary fiber needs.
When people think of calcium, their minds often don’t go to fruit first. In fact, many fruits contain calcium, including strawberries. And it is important that you get enough calcium every day because it helps to keep your bones, muscles, and tissue strong and healthy.
Strawberry jam is also a source of iron. Iron is a mineral that is vital to maintaining health because it helps to make hemoglobin, the protein that transports blood around your body, as well as myoglobin, which transports oxygen to your muscles.
As with many fruits, strawberries are a good source of antioxidants. And these are relatively protected against degrading due to the heat of cooking jam. So you can expect there to be a relatively high proportion of antioxidants left over in the final jam product.
Antioxidants help to protect you from free radicals. These are molecules that are unstable and that can wreak havoc throughout the body, causing inflammation, damage, and increased aging. They can even be a contributing factor to many cancers.
Antioxidants can bind to free radicals, stabilizing them and preventing them from causing damage.
Strawberry jam does contain some magnesium. This micronutrient can help to keep your heart healthy and lower your blood pressure.
But what about the sugar?
The biggest elephant in the room when talking about the health benefits of strawberry jam is the sugar content. Most strawberry jams are around the 50% sugar mark, with some being even more than half sugar. The strawberries naturally have sugar and you also need to add more to the mixture.
Such a high level of sugar is needed for two reasons. First, it helps to create the gel and texture of the jam. Second, sugar acts as a powerful natural preservative. The purpose of a jam when it was first invented was to create a foodstuff that would last for a long time, hence the sometimes alternative name “strawberry preserve”.
That amount of sugar wasn’t an issue a couple of hundred years ago, but nowadays most people are already eating too much of the sweet stuff. Excessive sugar intake can contribute to weight gain because any unused energy is converted into fat to be stored in the body. And it can also greatly increase your risk of diabetes.
With that being said, sugar isn’t a “bad food” and having some foods that are high in sugar as part of your diet isn’t a problem, as long as you are eating within your calorie needs, have a balanced overall diet, and are getting all of the other nutrients you need.
Store-bought strawberry jam vs homemade
If you want to enjoy the occasional strawberry jam treat, and reap the health benefits of some of its ingredients, but you are worried about the sugar, you should learn to make it at home instead of buying it in the store.
Store-bought strawberry jam will often contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been linked to a wide range of health issues, such as diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, and more. When you make your strawberry jam at home, you won’t be adding any HFCS to the mixture.
If you can’t make it at home, then choosing products that use natural sugar instead can help you to avoid HFCS.
The bottom line
Strawberry jam does contain a wide variety of nutrients that are beneficial for your health. These include vitamin C, iron, magnesium, pectin, and antioxidants. It does also, however, have a very high sugar content, which can cause a wide variety of health issues. As with anything else, moderation is key when it comes to strawberry jam. You shouldn’t rely on it for your nutritional needs because of how much sugar it contains, but if you do have a sweet craving, strawberry jam is a good choice. Candy and other sweet treats often contain a lot of empty calories and have little to no nutritional benefits, whereas strawberry jam does have some.