By Michael A. Smith, MD
How does a bowl of ice cream topped with dark red, tart cherries sound to you? The way the tartness of the cherries balances with the sweetness of the ice cream -- it's pure bliss.
Even if your own mouth isn't watering, you should still keep reading. Why? Because the benefits of including tart cherries in your diet extend far beyond your taste buds. They're actually really good for you too.Dark Colored Fruits -- Flavor Plus Flavonoids
Dark colored fruits, like tart cherries, are rich in powerful compounds called flavonoids, which are currently attracting some serious attention for their antioxidant properties.
Anthocyanins are a special class of flavonoids that provide tart cherries with their characteristic flavor, deep red color, and diverse health benefits.
In addition, tart cherries are also rich in antioxidants like quercetin, genistein, naringenin, and chlorogenic acid.1,2
So what exactly do we stand to gain from eating all of this antioxidant power?Two-Fold Protection
Scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore found that tart cherry anthocyanins provided protection against pain and inflammation. The effect was actually comparable to that of the anti-inflammatory drug, indomethacin.3
The researchers believe that this remarkable effect may be explained by the anthocyanins' ability to counter oxidative stress following an injury, warding off pain and inflammation.
Tart cherry anthocyanins may also help prevent muscle pain associated with moderate to intense exercise, according to another report.4
Men who incorporated tart cherry juice into their daily diet felt less muscle pain following their normal exercise routine. This suggests a role for tart cherries in decreasing the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage.4
Finally, cherries may even offer protection against gout. The risk of developing gout increases with high levels of uric acid in the blood, and tart cherries may actually help with lowering uric acid levels.5Tart Cherry Handling Tips
If you're planning on adding these to your grocery list, here are some tips for keeping them fresh and preparing them at home.
Keep fresh cherries in a plastic bag, refrigerate them immediately, and eat them within 3 days.
Unopened, canned cherries will keep for about a year in a cool, dark cupboard. After opening the can, transfer the cherries to a covered glass or ceramic container and they'll last in a refrigerator for up to 1 week.
If you're using fresh cherries in pies or other baked dishes, you'll want to pit the fruit with a cherry pitter or a small, sharp knife. Using it like a hole punch, a cherry pitter turns this potentially tedious task into a breeze.
Just place a stemmed cherry in the pitter and squeeze the handle. The tool pokes out the pit and leaves the fruit whole. It's a beautiful thing, really.Recipe: Tart Cherry Crisp
Looking for a delicious way to get tart cherries into your diet? Here's a recipe that rarely disappoints. Give it a try and let us know what you think:
- Mix the following together and let stand for 10-15 minutes:
3 1/2 cups pitted tart cherries
1/4 cups tart cherry juice
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. tapioca
1/2 cup sugar
- With a pastry blender, mix the following:
1 cup quick rolled oats
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- Place cherry mixture in the bottom of a greased 8" x 8" baking pan. Spread the rolled oat mixture over the cherries. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until the cherries are really bubbling.
- Let it cool, eat, share, and enjoy!
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Phytomedicine. 2001 Sep;8(5):362-9.
Behav Brain Res. 2004 Aug 12;153(1):181-8.
Br J Sports Med. 2006 Aug;40(8):679-83; discussion 683.
Curr Pharm Des. 2005;11(32):4133-8.