Here in the U.S. when you see fresh cherries in the stores, you know it’s really summer. Growing up in Southeast Asia, even though they are not a fruit native to the tropics, we did eat cherries imported from China, which is the #3 producer of cherries in the world, right ahead of the U.S., which is #4.
Of course, cherries taste wonderful and they are a rare treat because their season is short—May through July—and they are very fragile. There are two main types of cherries; the sweet ones grown in the Pacific Northwest that we eat fresh, and tart cherries, grown mostly in Michigan and used predominantly in processing applications such as pie filling and juice.
The great news about cherries is that they are low in calories, about 63 calories per cup, and loaded with nutritional benefits that help you stay ageless and feeling good in so many ways. Here are 8 age-defying ways cherries benefit your body and help keep you healthy:
1. They are full of anthocyanins – As a deep red fruit, tart cherries in particular share the characteristics of fruits and vegetables rich in anthocyanins, a class of antioxidant phytochemical, which is a disease-fighting component of plant foods. Others in this category include raspberries, strawberries, beets, cranberries, apples, red onion, kidney beans and red beans. It’s the presence of anthocyanins that make certain fruits and vegetables brightly colored. These phytochemicals encourage healthy circulation, ensure proper nerve function and provide anti-cancer properties.
2 .Cherries reduce inflammation and your risk of gout – Gout is a form of arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body. It usually causes severe pain in the ankles or the joint at the base of the big toe. In an internet study of over 600 people with gout conducted by a researcher from the Boston University School of Medicine, those who ate about 10 or 12 cherries per day, or consumed cherry extract, had a 35% lower risk of another gout attack. Those who ate more cherries, up to three servings in two days, had a 50% reduction in risk. The researchers noted the study supports “the reputed anti-gout efficacy of cherries” as well as “evidence that compounds in cherries may inhibit inflammatory pathways.” Consuming tart cherry juice daily for four weeks may also lower levels of uric acid and gout symptoms.
3. They support healthy sleep – Cherries contain natural melatonin, which is an antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps “cool down” excess inflammation and associated oxidative stress. Based on daily environmental signals such as light and darkness, your pineal gland secretes melatonin to help you sleep. Research has shown that consuming tart cherry juice increases melatonin that can help improve sleep quality and duration.
4. They can help relieve arthritis pain – Cherries contain many anti-inflammatory compounds that may help to relieve pain from inflammatory osteoarthritis. Researchers at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center reported that patients who drank two 8-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice (equal to about 45 cherries each) daily for 6 weeks experienced a significant relief from pain and stiffness and improved movement. Other studies have reported that tart cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.
5. They ease post-exercise muscle pain – By consuming tart cherry juice prior to long-distance running or cycling, athletes experienced less pain than those who did not. According to the Montmorency Tart Cherries website, “Pain associated with exercise involves muscle damage, inflammation and oxidative stress. Tart cherries seem to help with all three due to the concentrated amounts of anthocyanins.”
6. They lower risk of heart disease and stroke – Consuming tart cherries may activate specialized receptors in the body’s tissues, which help regulate genes involved in fat and glucose metabolism. Compounds found in cherries also lower triglycerides and cholesterol.
7. They may help prevent cancer – Cherries contain a flavonoid called quercitin as well as ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is anti-carninogenic and in lab animal studies it appears to inhibit the growth of tumors. Researchers have found quercetin to be a potent anti-cancer agent as well having anti-inflammatory properties.
8. They’re a good source of vitamins and minerals – A cup of sweet cherries provides about 11% of the RDA for vitamin C, essential for fighting infections and rebuilding tissues while tart cherries provide 17%. Both contain a good amount of vitamin A for healthy eyes, nerves and skin with sweet cherries delivering 21% of the RDA and tart cherries 43%. Both tart and sweet cherries contain small but significant amounts of copper and iron.
Right now when cherries are in season, it’s easy to enjoy them fresh out of a bowl. You can also find them pitted and frozen at the supermarket year round. Try to purchase organic, as cherries are high on the list of foods most contaminated by pesticides according to the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocate non-profit.
In my cookbook, FOOTRIENTS: Age-Defying Recipes for a Sustainable Life, and on the website there is a recipe for Cranberry Compote that can easily substitute cherries. It’s perfect to go with the Bread Pudding recipe:
Cherry Bread Pudding
Use the cherry compote on the bottom layer (it becomes the top layer when you turn out the dessert). To serve this dessert cold, place the pudding in the refrigerator overnight before turning upside down.
2 large beaten eggs
3 cups cubed whole-wheat bread
1 can (12 oz.) fat-free evaporated milk
¼ cup melted Smart Balance or butter
¼ cup organic sugar or xylitol
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup dried cherries
½ tsp. lemon zest
YIELDS about 4 cups
1/2 cup water
1 cup organic sugar or xylitol
1 cup fresh pitted cherries
1. Boil the water and sugar substitute in a large nonreactive saucepan, such as copper or enamel-coated cast iron, for about 5 minutes.
2. Add the cherries and boil until most have softened and the sauce is thick, about 25 minutes.
3. Cool and refrigerate.