Health Benefits of Cherries

Cherries, like many other fruits, are packed with antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body and may help prevent cancer and heart disease as well as slow the aging process. Perhaps you've heard about the controversy between the FDA and the cherry industry and wondered what the fuss was about. Are cherries not as healthy to eat as you thought they were? Should you stop eating cherries? The answer is no.

The controversy is over certain health claims made by the cherry industry and those who sell products containing or made from cherries, such as pills, capsules and juice, not the health benefits of cherries themselves. While numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the health benefits of cherries, the FDA says that makers of products containing cherries cannot claim that their products prevent, treat or cure a specific disease such as gout or cancer. The FDA says that these types of claims imply that cherries are drugs that cure a disease, without the backing of controlled double-blind clinical trials.

For the general population however, the bottom line is that there's no reason not to eat cherries. There are two types of cherries, sweet and tart or sour cherries. The most popular type of sweet cherry is the Bing cherry, which is sold fresh in the grocery store. Tart or sour cherries are canned and used in pies, dried into fruit snacks and made into juice concentrate. Like most other fruits, cherries are fat-free, low in calories and sodium and high in certain minerals and vitamins such as potassium, Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins. They can be eaten raw, cooked or juiced; if you want year-round cherry enjoyment even when it's not peak season, they are also easy to can and enjoy at your convenience.

Most of the scientific research has centered on the health benefits of tart cherries. Sweet and tart cherries contain pigments called anthocyanins, antioxidants that give cherries their dark red color. Tart cherries are among the top fruits as far as antioxidant levels go. Tart cherry juice and dried tart cherries are even higher in antioxidants than blueberries and more powerful than Vitamin E. Anthocyanins have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and according to the American Chemical Society, eating 20 tart cherries (or drinking the equivalent in juice concentrate) a day could provide the same pain relief that aspirin or ibuprofen do.

Researchers in Texas recently discovered that tart cherries contain high levels of melatonin, an antioxidant produced naturally by the body that is thought to help slow the aging process as well as fight jetlag and regulate sleep. Eating tart cherries, particularly Montmorency tart cherries, can actually increase the levels of melatonin in the body.

Although many of the studies concerning cherries are preliminary and require additional research, the health benefits of eating cherries, both tart and sweet, and drinking cherry juice concentrate are indeed many. Cherries are a potential treatment for diabetes that may lower blood sugar levels. They may help prevent colon cancer, significantly reduce pain due to muscle damage, provide relief from the pain of gout and arthritis and lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, a contributing factor in heart disease and strokes.

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