By Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., "Choose Cherries,"May/June 2012
Sweet or sour, cherries are bursting with nutrition. Find out how these petite stone fruits can help improve your health, from a better night’s rest to a trimmer tummy to managing gout.
Get a better night’s sleep.
Tart cherries are one of nature’s few sources of melatonin, a hormone that lowers body temperature, making us sleepy. When study volunteers drank an ounce of tart cherry juice concentrate in the morning and again at night, they slept more soundly. Even better: sipping the tart concentrate may provide an alternative to a melatonin supplement. “The melatonin in tart cherry juice is very well absorbed and is utilized by the body to provide an effect that could rival melatonin supplements,” says study author Glyn Howatson, Ph.D.
Balance your blood pressure.
Sweet cherries are loaded with potassium, a natural blood-pressure reducer. Potassium balances fluids in our bodies, essentially offsetting the blood-pressure-raising effects of sodium. So it’s no wonder studies have found that people who eat more potassium-rich foods, like sweet cherries, tend to have less hypertension. One cup of these ruby gems packs roughly the same amount of potassium as a small banana and also boasts some quercetin, an antioxidant that may help keep blood vessels relaxed and supple.
Ease muscle soreness.
Tart cherry juice may quell post-workout pain, says a 2010 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition study. Runners who downed 24 ounces of tart cherry juice daily (about 480 calories) for seven days before a long-distance race, and again on race day, reported fewer aches afterward than runners who drank a placebo. Researchers believe that tart cherries’ antioxidants protect against attacks by exercise-induced free radicals, which can lead to painful inflammation.
Sweet cherries are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, anthocyanins and quercetin, which may work together synergistically to fight cancer. Plus, preliminary studies suggest the anthocyanin cyanidin may prevent genetic mutations that can lead to cancer and keep cancer cells from growing out of control. While tart cherries contain some anthocyanins, sweet cherries pack nearly three times as many (two-thirds are found in the skins). The riper the better: as cherries darken, they produce more antioxidants.
Whittle your waistline.
When scientists at the University of Michigan Health System put rats on a high-fat diet supplemented with either a tart-cherry powder (equal to 1% of the weight of their total diet) or the same number of calories from carbohydrate, those that got the cherry powder gained less weight and body fat. Why? The anthocyanins in tart cherries activate a molecule that helps rev up fat burning and decrease fat storage.
Get a grip on gout.
This form of arthritis is caused by too much uric acid in the blood, which causes swelling, inflammation and tenderness. A growing body of research reveals that cherries—both sweet and tart—can help. In a USDA study, eating about 2 cups fresh sweet Bing cherries daily lowered uric acid levels by 15% and also reduced C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Another study showed that drinking 8 ounces of tart cherry juice a day reduces uric acid.