Cherries have been a prized fruit since prehistoric times. Cultivated cherries were brought from the Anatolia to Rome in 72 BC, and later became a favourite fruit of Chinese nobility and Roman conquerors (Henry VIII loved them) before they were brought to North America in the 1600s.
These ruby gems may have been around a long time, but their growing season is short -- typically June to August -- so get them while you can.
Some of the most common varieties include sweet, dark red Bing cherries; Montmorency cherries (a sour variety best for pies and cherry juice); and Rainier cherries, which are often used to make preserved, sweetened Maraschino cherries (making us nostalgic for Shirley Temples and good old-fashioned pineapple upside down cake).
Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits of Cherries
1. Cherries can help soothe the pain of arthritis.
Cherries are rich in anthocyanins, plant pigments that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the joints, helping ease the stiffness and pain of arthritis. Anthocyanins are found in red and purple fruits, including raspberries and blueberries, but cherries, especially tart cherries, contain higher levels.
2. Cherries lower blood pressure.
Eating cherries help lower blood pressure thanks to quercetin, a type of flavonoid antioxidant that helps our blood vessels relax and stay flexible. One past study investigating the effects of quercetin on blood pressure found that, "the results of this meta‐analysis showed a significant effect of quercetin supplementation in the reduction of blood pressure, which suggest that this nutraceutical might be considered as an add‐on to antihypertensive therapy."
3. Sour cherries are an excellent source of beta carotene.
In the body, beta carotene converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps to strengthen our immune system, better enabling our bodies to fight off infection. Vitamin A is also important for normal vision. Without enough vitamin A, our eyes cannot produce enough moisture to keep them properly lubricated.
4. Tart cherry juice can help you get a good night's sleep.
Cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that regulates our body's sleep and wake cycle, also known as your circadian rhythm. One pilot study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, found that the consumption of tart cherry juice concentrate provided an increase in melatonin that was beneficial for improving sleep duration and quality in healthy men and women.
5. Tart cherry juice helps with recovery after exercise and distance running.
In small studies, drinking about 10 ounces of tart cherry juice pre- and post-workout helped reduce muscle damage and pain after intense exercise.
The influence of tart cherry juice on marathon runners was also investigated in a separate study. Twenty recreational marathon runners were assigned to either consume cherry juice or a placebo for 5 days before, the day of, and for 48 hours following a marathon run. Researchers observed that, "cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid peroxidation, aiding in the recovery of muscle function."
Calories in a Cup of Cherries
One cup of cherries (without pits) contains about 97 calories. Dried cherries, which are often be used in place of raisins or sultanas in baking, or rolled into muffins and cobblers, or sprinkled over morning oats, contain more calories per serving -- about 130 calories in a 1/4 cup.
Easy Ways to Add Cherries to Your Diet
When in season, fresh cherries are delicious for afternoon snacking. But don't stop there: buy an extra pound or two of cherries, and freeze them for use year round. You can also use frozen cherries in pies, cakes and crumbles. Just pit and freeze cherries on a baking sheet, then transfer to a plastic freezer bag.
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