Cherries: Always a good nutritional choice 


Cherries: Always a good nutritional choice 

What better way to celebrate National Cherry Month than to read about this favorite fruit.  It’s no coincidence that cherries are honored during February, also the month that celebrates Presidents’ Day, which honors presidents of the United States, including George Washington, who supposedly chopped down a cherry tree in his youth.  When confronted by his father about damaging a cherry tree, this uncorroborated story goes that this is when Washington made his famous remark, “I cannot tell a lie…” And it is no lie – cherries are an exceptionally nutritious choice for your health.  

They’re red, they’re tasty and are one of the most welcomed fresh fruit to arrive in spring – cherries.  Whether fresh, frozen, or dried, all forms of cherries have unique qualities making them a nutritional standout.

Like the saying “life is a bowl full of cherries” goes, then aren’t we lucky.  Whether you like your cherries sweet or tart, the smallest members of the stone fruit family (which include apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums) are always a good choice for providing strong nutritional benefits for your health.

Don’t let their petite exterior fool you into thinking they have little nutritionally to contribute – this small yet mighty fruit packs a ton of nutrients which is why to be sure to add cherries to your grocery list.  At only 80-100 calories and just half a gram of fat in a one cup serving, cherries unique flavor makes them an excellent ingredient to add to a variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options.  

Cherries are typically classified as either sweet or tart.  Sweet cherries include the Bing and Rainier varieties while tart cherries include Montmorency and Balaton.  

Whether you buy them fresh or frozen, here’s how cherries may improve your overall health:

·      Cherries can help you get a good night’s sleep

Melatonin, the hormone helping lower our body temperature making us feel sleepy, is found in one of nature’s few food sources of it – cherries.  A 2012 study found that tart Montmorency cherries can enhance sleep quality by significantly elevating melatonin levels particularly when consumed as a juice.  The improvements seen in study participants who consumed tart cherry juice for 7 days included increases in time in bed, total sleep time and better sleep efficiency.   The reason appears to stem from the fact that the melatonin in tart cherry juice is very well absorbed and utilized by the body providing an effect that rivals melatonin supplements.

·      Cherries can improve blood pressure readings

The mineral potassium, a natural blood pressure reducer, is found abundantly in sweet cherries.  The body relies heavily on potassium to help lower blood pressure by balancing out the negative effects of salt.  Your kidneys help to control blood pressure by controlling the amount of fluid stored in the body – the more fluid, the higher blood pressure will rise. 

People who eat more potassium-rich foods like sweet cherries tend to have less hypertension.  One cup of these ruby red gems provides 322 milligrams of potassium which is about the same as a small banana.  Sweet cherries also boast quercetin, an antioxidant that may help keep blood vessel relaxed and supple.

·      Cherries  can help ease muscle soreness

Tart cherry juice may be a beverage of choice to help ease sore muscles after exercise. A 2010 study looked at the effect of tart cherry juice on recovery from marathon runs.  Twenty runners were assigned to consume either two 8-oz. bottles daily of tart cherry juice or a placebo.  Results showed that the runners downing tart cherry juice had reduced oxidative stress and inflammation markers as well as reduced muscle soreness and a faster recovery.  It was noted from the study that tart cherry juice consumption may be particularly useful when a number of strenuous exercise bouts are required within a fairly short period of time.

·      Cherries good for gout

Gout is a form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the blood which can lead to swelling, inflammation, and tenderness in joints.  A growing body of research reveals that both sweet and tart cherries are good for getting rid of gout.  Studies have shown that about 2 cups of fresh sweet Bing cherries daily can lower uric acid levels by 15% and also reduce C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.  Another study showed that drinking 8-ounces of tart cherry juice a day reduces uric acid. 

·      Cherries may improve brain function

Tart Montmorency cherries grown in Michigan may hold a key to improving brain function and reducing symptoms of both Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.  This is according to a study at Central Michigan University which showed antioxidants found in tart cherries may be useful not only for treating inflammation-related conditions but also shown to have positive effects on degenerative brain diseases.

Bottom line

Cherries, whether sweet or tart, fresh, frozen or dried, can be part of a healthy diet for most people.  While studies on health benefits are encouraging, at the same time evidence does not support recommending cherries as the primary treatment method for someone with pain, gout, or insomnia.  Talk to your healthcare provider to discuss what is appropriate for you. 

In the meantime, here are ideas to help increase your intake of cherries:

·      Top oatmeal or cereal with dried tart cherries and chopped pecans

·      Defrost a bag of frozen tart cherries and layer with Greek yogurt and granola

·      Add dried tart cherries to leafy green salads

·      Drink 10 ounces of tart cherry juice before working out

·      Make a smoothie of blended tart cherry juice, vanilla or cherry Greek yogurt and frozen cherries

·      Make a trail mix of tart cherries, chopped nuts and granola cereal

·      Add dried tart cherries to chicken salad, couscous, whole-grain salads, rice pilafs, risotto, and pasta salads

·      Tart cherries pair well with pork, chicken, or salmon.  Try using frozen cherries for a sauce served over grilled pork tenderloin