3 great reasons to grab a basket of fresh summer cherries in the produce aisle—or pick up a bottle in the supplement aisle.
Move over, blueberries, strawberries, and red grapes.
The new nutritional superstars of the produce aisle or farm stand are cherries, both sweet (black) and tart (red). In recent studies, cherries are revealing their extraordinary health benefits, from relieving post-exercise muscle soreness to preventing cancer and heart disease.
1. Reduce Inflammation
Many people swear by cherries and cherry concentrates for relieving the excruciating pain of gout and arthritis. According to recent studies, this folk remedy now has the backing of science.
In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers examined the effects of sweet bing cherries on plasma lipids (blood fats) and blood markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein (CRP). In the study, healthy men and women were fed 280 grams (about 10 ounces) of bing cherries daily for 28 days. Although the cherries didn’t affect cholesterol or triglyceride levels, there was a significant decrease in concentrations of CRP and other indicators of inflammation.
In another 2006 study, University of Vermont researchers writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that 12 ounces of a tart cherry juice blend noticeably decreased the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage, primarily strength loss and pain.
Because inflammation is increasingly recognized as a factor in heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative diseases, the benefits of cherries extend to far more than relieving gout. Suppressing inflammation protects the arteries from damage that leads to plaque build-up and also inhibits the growth of some cancers. That’s why many doctors recommend low doses of aspirin. One serving of tart cherry juice (about 2 tablespoons of concentrate) packs the inflammation-relieving punch of one aspirin tablet.
2. Sleep Better
Researchers have found that tart cherries contain a significant amount of melatonin, a hormone also produced in the brain’s pineal gland that regulates sleep and circadian rhythm. Melatonin has antioxidant properties and is especially beneficial because it is soluble in both fat and water, so it can enter cells that other antioxidants cannot. Melatonin is also thought to help protect brain function and reduce breast cancer risk.
3. Meet Your Daily Antioxidant Quota
Researchers credit the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of cherries to a high concentrations of antioxidants. Major flavonoids in both black and red cherries include anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, antioxidants that give cherries their color. Black and red cherries contain similar amounts of anthocyanins.
The antioxidant potential of foods can be measured with a laboratory analysis called ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity.) The ORAC analysis measures not only how many antioxidants are in a specific food, but also how powerful they are. Tart cherry products range from 1,700 to 12,800 ORAC units per 100 grams. In contrast, other fruits range from 700 (red grapes) to 5,700 ORAC units (dried prunes) per 100 grams.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, eating fruits and vegetables that rank high on the ORAC scale may help slow aging in both the body and brain. While Americans generally consume only about 1,200 ORAC units per day, a dosage of 3,000-5,000 ORAC units is necessary for a significant increase in blood levels of antioxidants.
Fresh cherries are a great way to benefit from the fruit’s health-protective benefits. But cherries have a short harvest season in mid-summer. Frozen, canned, and dried cherries are year-round options.
A convenient way to include cherries in your daily diet is concentrated tart cherry juice, cherry fruit extract, or black cherry concentrate. A typical dosage is 2 Tbsp. of concentrate daily, added to juice, water, herbal tea or smoothies. Cherry supplements are also available in powders, capsules, and tablets.
Recipe:Sweet Slumber Smoothie
The Vitamin Shoppe Black Cherry Concentrate is sugar-free, with no artificial flavors or colors. Just mix with water.
Source Naturals Cherry Fruit Extract provides cherry flavonoids and antioxidants in a convenient tablet form.
Enzymatic Therapy Cherry Fruit Extract capsules are a concentrated source of flavonoids from sweet cherries.
The Vitamin Shoppe Cherry Fruit Extract 1,000-mg veggie caps promote joint health and offer antioxidant support.