Photo and recipe courtesy of choosecherries.com
By David Grotto, RDN, LDN
I’m thrilled to be working with ChooseCherries.com this year in promoting the nutrition and health benefits of tart cherries. Many of my patients who I recommend tart cherries to were not aware that there is a difference between tart and sweet cherries. So I thought I would write a post to recap the difference and highlight the nutrition and health benefits of tart cherries.
This isn’t your average drupe (fruit that contains a pit). All cherry varieties are proud members of the rose family. They either fall into one of two categories: sweet or tart. Examples of sweet cherries are the ever popular Bing and Ranier. The Montmorency cherry is one of the most popular tart varieties and is the one most often used in making cherry pie. The bulk of cherry research has been done on the tart cherry and in fact, there are now over 50 studies on the health benefits of tart cherries.
Nutrition: A one-cup serving of cherries is a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C. Cherries contain a host of other nutrients such as boron and quercetin which can help build strong bones and may play a role in maintaining heart health. Amygdalin and perillyl alcohol are two plant nutrients that function as cancer-fighting antioxidants that may have antitumor activity. Melatonin is a hormone found both in the human body and in tart cherries that can help regulate sleep. Tart cherries are one of the richest fruits in a group of plant antioxidants called anthocyanins which also may help promote sleep and put a serious hurt on pain. Tart cherries also contain many phenolic compounds, such as gallic acid, p-coumaric acid, kaempferol, and quercetin, all of which are potent antioxidants. Speaking of antioxidants, tart cherries rank 14th in the top 50 foods for providing highest antioxidant content per serving size.
Heart (and every other part) Health: It is believed that the plant nutrients that give cherries their bright red color, anthocyanins, are responsible for extinguishing the flames of inflammation but not of desire. In fact, cherries may help stimulate nitric oxide production in arteries allowing more blood flow to all the right places (wink, wink).
Arthritis Pain: There’s a good chunk of scientific literature that supports cherries role in helping to relieve painful inflammatory conditions such as gouty arthritis. Anthocyanins, in tart cherries, help suppress cox-2 enzymes that are responsible for causing pain and inflammation. In a study of women who ate two servings (280 grams) of tart cherries after an overnight fast, there was a 15 percent reduction in uric acid levels and the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein, which are both associated with gouty arthritis.
Sleep: Three separate studies have looked at the melatonin content of tart cherries and have established that cherries as one of the top melatonin containing foods that may prove beneficial in improving sleep quality and duration.
Bad breath: Many phytonutrients in cherries help remove the odor of methyl mercaptan, the colorless gas released in decaying food particles in the mouth and from garlic. Yum!
Exercise recovery: The anthocyanins in tart cherries are known to decrease muscle soreness. In fact, red tart cherry juice has been shown to reduce muscle damage and soreness caused by intense strength workouts and running. Cherries have been found to have similar pain-reducing effects as anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that consuming tart cherry juice before long distance running can reduce post-run muscle pain.
Warm Salmon, Cherry, Arugula Salad
Serves 4. Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
6 cups loosely packed arugula (about 3 ounces)
1/2 small head radicchio, cored and shredded
4 salmon fillets, about 3/4-inch thick
3 shallots, sliced
1/2 large jalapeno (halved lengthwise), seeded and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups thawed frozen tart cherries
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup tart cherry juice
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, turmeric, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the arugula and radicchio and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste and divide mixture among serving plates. Set aside. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the salmon and cook until barely opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Arrange the salmon on top of the salads. Return the skillet to medium heat, add the shallots and chile, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cherries and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Add the cherry juice, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, scraping up any browned bits in the skillet, until the juice is almost entirely evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the cherry mixture over the salmon and serve.
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effects on apoptosis, but not cellular proliferation, in mcf-7 human breast
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Jacob RA, Spinozzi GM, Simon VA, Kelly DS, Prior RL, Hess-Pierce B, Kader AA. Consumption of cherries lowers plasma urate in healthy women. J Nutr 2003;133:1826-1829
Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of
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Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in
reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc
Sports Nutr. 2010 May 7;7:17.