Question from our in-box:  Cherries are one of my favorite fruits.  With it being cherry season I have been eating them by the pound.  Do they provide any health benefits? Nancie B.

Not only are cherries satisfying to eat, they provide a wealth of health benefits earning them the title of “Super Fruit.” Cherries have many important health benefits — from helping ease the pain of arthritis and gout, to reducing risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Cherries also contain melatonin, which has been found to help regulate the body’s natural sleep patterns, aid with jet lag, prevent memory loss and delay the aging process.

The cherry season runs mid May to mid August with June being the peak of the season, so now is the perfect time to enjoy them fresh. Even though the season is relatively short, they can be eaten all year round whether dried, frozen or as juice. Cherries have among the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants, when compared to other fruits. They also contain other important nutrients such as beta carotene (19 times more than blueberries or strawberries) vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, iron, fiber and folate.

Cherries’ red color is provided by the fruit’s powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are responsible for providing the many health benefits stated above.  They can reduce inflammation, total cholesterol, and belly fat which can drastically reduce your risk for heart disease. With more than 80 million Americans living with some form of heart disease, the heart-healthy qualities of eating cherries have more relevance than ever. Anthocyanins  can also help ease the pain of inflammatory related conditions such as arthritis, and gout. Cherries’ post-exercise benefits are good news for the increasing number of active adults who feel the aches and pain of post-exercise muscle soreness. Research from Oregon Health & Science University revealed that runners who drank cherry juice twice a day for seven days prior to and on the day of a long-distance relay had significantly less muscle pain following the race than those who drank another fruit juice beverage. These post-exercise benefits are likely because of the fruit’s natural anti-inflammation properties.    

As of today there’s no established guideline on how many cherries it takes to reap the benefits, but the  experts do suggest that 1-2 servings of cherries daily can help provide some of the health benefits identified in the research. Single serving size examples include:

• 1/2 cup dried

• 1 cup frozen

• 1 cup juice

• 1 ounce (or 2 Tbsp) juice concentrate

A word of caution from the American Medical Association:

“Antioxidants are the big buzz word in nutrition these days, but experts suggest you should look to buy yours in the grocery store instead of the health food store.  A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that antioxidant supplements do not significantly reduce mortality. In fact, beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E supplements may actually increase the risk of death.

The authors conclude that it's best to get antioxidants and nutrients from food sources.”   

If you have a nutrition question you’d like answered in this column send it to   oconeenutrition@yahoo.com subject title:  Question for Breeze

Try this delicious cherry recipe.

Cherry Vanilla Oatmeal

 by: Ellie Krieger

Ingredients:

1 cup Old Fashioned Oats, or Quick Cooking Oats

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dried cherries

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons cherry jam, or to taste

1/4 cup Low-fat milk, plus more to taste

Directions:

Put 1 3/4 cups of water, the oats, salt and cherries into a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes for Old Fashioned Oats, or 1 minute for Quick Cooking Oats. Remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla extract and cherry jam. Put into serving bowls and pour 2 tablespoons of milk over each bowl.

Serves 2 (serving size about 1 1/4 cups)

Nutrition Info:

Calories 230, Total Fat g 3, Sat Fat g 0, Protein g 8, Carbohydrates g 42, Fiber g 4, Sodium mg 160

Lisa Eisele, RD, CSO, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She also holds a Board Certification as a Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. Lisa and her partner Stacy Paine, RD, LD own Oconee Nutrition Consultants, LLC located at Cowles Clinic. (706) 473-5801.

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