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Cherries can help to reduce pain and bring on sleep

Posted July 30, 2012, at 2:05 p.m.
Last modified July 30, 2012, at 3:01 p.m.
Metro Creative

Can you bake a cherry pie? Not to worry if you can’t. There are lots of ways to enjoy this red hot, functional fruit. A growing body of research suggests that the powerful antioxidants in tart cherries, responsible for the fruit’s bright red color, also provide anti-inflammatory properties and other health benefits.

The two main types of tart cherries are Montmorency, the most commonly grown tart cherry in the U.S., and Balaton. Other commonly available cherries such as Rainier and Bing are also loaded with antioxidants.

Anthocyanins are the key antioxidant found in cherries. Tart cherries contain more anthocyanins than any other fruits, including sweet cherries and blueberries. The anthocyanins may help to lower blood lipid levels and reduce inflammation, at levels that are comparable to some well-known pain medications. Eating just 20 cherries has been found to naturally provide as much relief from pain as a single aspirin.

Health benefits of cherries

Tart cherries may help athletes reduce muscle damage and recover faster from tough workouts. Researchers believe that the antioxidants protect against attacks by exercise-induced free radicals, which can lead to painful inflammation.

For many years, gout and arthritis sufferers have consumed sweet cherries, tart cherry juice and-or tart cherries for relief of symptoms. In the early 1950s, science began to support the link between cherry consumption and lessened pain associated with gout attacks.

Recent studies have supported the findings — two cups of fresh sweet or tart cherries or eight ounces of juice reduces uric acid, which is associated with gout. One study involving healthy women showed a 15 percent reduction in uric acid levels when the participants consumed two servings of cherries after an overnight fast. Their nitric oxide and C-reactive protein levels, both associated with inflammatory diseases like gout, were also lowered.

A study at Baylor Research Institute on arthritis sufferers showed positive results, as well. The participants were given a daily dose of tart cherries (as extract) and during 12 weeks researchers found more than a 20 percent reduction in osteoarthritis pain in the majority of men and women.

Cherries are one of nature’s few rich sources of sleep-enhancing melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that lowers body temperature, making us sleepy. The melatonin in tart cherry juice has been found to be absorbed and used by the body at a level that rivals that of melatonin supplements.

Sadly, only one in five Americans currently gets the recommended two cups of fruit each day. Dietary guidelines encourage us to choose variety, so cherries are a great choice since they are available year-round fresh, frozen, dried or as juice. They are versatile to cook with, going well with protein choices as well as desserts.

Tart cherries are naturally fat free and low in sodium. One cup provides 25 percent of the daily value of vitamin A and only 60 calories and two grams of dietary fiber. Cherries are good sources of potassium, beta carotene, vitamin C and quercetin, which may work along with the anthocyanins to fight cancer.

Fresh cherries are available now at a very reasonable price in local grocery stores. Serve them in a smoothie, a pie or try this recipe. For additional cherry recipes go to www.eatingwell.com/go/cherries.

Crispy Romaine Salad with Smoked Turkey

Serves 4. A great summertime salad.

1 head Romaine lettuce, medium chopped

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup diced green onion, some green included

1 can (11 ounces) mandarin oranges

1 cup smoked turkey, cut into ½-inch cubes

⅔ cup cherries, washed, halved and pitted

For balsamic vinaigrette:

⅓ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard

1 teaspoon honey

¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Toss all salad ingredients except cherries together in a large bowl. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Drizzle balsamic vinaigrette over salad, reserving one tablespoon, and toss salad. Drizzle remaining vinaigrette over cherries and toss to coat. Arrange salad on individual plates and sprinkle with cherries.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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