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Cherries: The Sweet Way to Reduce Inflammation

Cherries: The Sweet Way to Reduce Inflammation

Every year my family and I look forward to our vacation in Northern Michigan: long days, cool nights, clear blue water, and cherries. That's right, cherries! Traverse City, Michigan boasts itself as being the Cherry Capital of the World and it's no surprise. Situated on a peninsula at the 35th parallel, thousands of cherry trees grow fantastically well (along with wine grapes and peaches) with the optimal moisture, soil and temperatures from both the East and West Grand Traverse Bays. There is nothing like biking along the bay and stopping to pick and eat cherries.

According to the Cherry Marketing Institute, the average American eats about one pound of tart cherries each year(sweet cherries are the other type of cherries). The third week of July is when cherries are at their peak so run, don't walk, to your local grocery store or farmers market to enjoy the many nutrients and flavor of this sweet fruit while in season.

Health Benefits of Cherries

Cherries are known as a "Super Fruit" because of the amount of disease-fighting antioxidants they contain. This low-GI fruit contains other important nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, fiber and folate.

According to CherryResearch.com, emerging evidence links cherries to many important health benefits - from helping to ease the pain of arthritis and gout, to reducing risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Cherries also contain melatonin, which has been found to help regulate the body's natural sleep patterns, aid with jet lag, prevent memory loss and delay the aging process.

Inflammation-lowering properties
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of cherries is the ability of powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which may play a role in reducing inflammation and risk factors for heart disease. A chronic state of inflammation could increase the risk for diseases and may be especially common for those who are overweight or obese, at least in part because of excess weight around the middle. Women with PCOS have been shown to have more inflammation than the general population as evidenced by higher c-reactive protein levels, a marker for inflammation. Too much inflammation puts people at a higher risk of heart disease and can worsen insulin resistance and PCOS and cause other forms of inflammation-related conditions like arthritis and eye infections, to name a few.

Here are some studies on cherries and inflammation and what they show:

  • A University of Michigan study revealed a cherry-enriched diet may help lower body fat, total weight, inflammation and cholesterol - all major risk factors for heart disease.

  • One small-sample sized study showed that drinking 8 ounces of tart cherry juice daily for four weeks significantly improved important markers of inflammation.

  • Mice that were fed a cherry powder diet reduced levels of C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation up to 36 percent and lowered levels of total cholesterol by 26 percent. They also had a 65 percent reduction of early death.
  • About 1 cup of freeze-dried, tart cherries has an oxygen radical absorbance capacity of more than 10,000, a high rating indicating that they contain strong antioxidants that help protect the body's cells.

Sources:
McCune LM, Kubota C, Stendell-Hollis NR, Thomson CA. Cherries and health: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Jan;51(1):1-12.
Ferretti G, Bacchetti T, Belleggia A, Neri D. Cherry antioxidants: from farm to table. Molecules. 2010 Oct 12;15(10):6993-7005.

Since the amount of cherries people need to eat each day to see the health benefits discussed, experts recommend 1-2 servings per day.

One serving size examples include:
1/2 cup dried
1 cup fresh
1 cup frozen
1 cup juice
1 ounce (or 2 Tbsp.) juice concentrate

Cherry Tips

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN offers these helpful cherry tips in the Summer2011 issue of the ADA Times:

  • Cherries don't ripen or get sweeter after they are picked. Enjoy right away!
  • Buy cherries with stems attached and look for bright glossy skin, free of blemishes
  • Cherries can be kept out of the refrigerator for 2 days. Refrigerate cherries for 3 days to 1 week.
  • Store cherries unwashed and in a plastic bag until ready to eat. Pitted cherries can be frozen for 10-12 months.

While in Traverse City, I take advantage of the abundance of cherries and incorporate into as many dishes as possible. While the kids love cherries in their pancakes, oatmeal and smoothies, I love them just as they are.

Here's a great recipe I shared with the Whole Story Blog for Cherry Apple Peach Crisp, a favorite among kids and adults. It calls for fresh, sweet cherries and does not disappoint.

Cherry Apple Peach Crisp

2 peeled and chopped peaches
1 peeled and chopped apple
1 cup fresh, sweet cherries, pitted
½ cup plus 2 T whole wheat flour
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup old fashioned oats
8 T butter (1 stick), melted
Optional: ¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine peaches, cherries, apple and 2 T or flour, toss to coat.
Add sugar and mix well.
Place in a 2-quart casserole.
Combine oatmeal and ½ cup flour. Add butter and stir well. Spoon over fruit mixture.
Bake, uncovered for 45 minutes. Enjoy warm.

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