Tart Cherries – Your New Super Food

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Homegrown and long a part of America’s history, cherries are truly an American favorite. Technically known as Prunus Cerasus, tart cherries’ nutrition, unique flavor and naturally functional properties are right on target with today’s new food and beverage trends. Tart cherries are packed with powerful antioxidants. In fact, they have among the highest levels of antioxidants of other “Super Foods“. Tart cherries ranked 14 in the top 50 foods for highest antioxidant content per serving size — surpassing well-known leaders such as red wine, prunes, and dark chocolate, according to one recent study (1). Compared to other Super Fruits, tart cherries are right up there on the ORAC scale, sharing gold-medal space with blueberries, acai berries, cranberries and strawberries.

(Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a measure of antioxidant strength. ORAC measures how many oxygen radicals a specific food can absorb and deactivate. The more oxygen radicals a food can absorb, the higher its ORAC score.)

Even more important than antioxidant levels alone, other natural compounds in tart cherries may work synergistically to deliver powerful health benefits, according to research from the University of Michigan, specifically anthocyanins, which help block enzymes associated with inflammation. Tart cherries contain significantly more anthocyanins than other fruits, including blueberries and pomegranates. Additionally, this lovely bright red fruit contains flavanols, such as quercetin and other polyphenols such as ellagic acid and melatonin. Yes, melatonin, which is why there are some who claim that tart cherries can actually help one get a better night’s rest! Also, if you’re looking to boost your natural intake of vitamin A, look no further than the tart cherry which a single serving serves up 19 times more vitamin A than blueberries or strawberries.

Aside from the fact that tart cherries are a nutrient powerhouse, they also provide a number of health benefits. Many studies have linked tart cherry consumption and cherry anthocyanins to decreased inflammation and inflammatory-related conditions.  One particular study from University of Michigan revealed a cherry-enriched diet reduced inflammation markers in animals by up to 50% (2).

Tart cherries in a green bowl

For decades arthritis and gout sufferers have regularly consumed tart cherry juice for relief of symptoms.  As early as the 1950’s, the science began to support this long-held tradition, linking cherry consumption to reduced pain associated with gout attacks. Specifically, one study found that when healthy women ate 2 servings of cherries after an overnight fast, they showed a 15% reduction in uric acid levels, as well as lowered nitric oxide and C-reactive protein levels, all of which are associated to inflammatory diseases like gout. The inflammatory benefits extend to arthritis sufferers, too! Studies show that a daily dose of tart cherries (as tart cherry extract) helped reduce osteoarthritis pain by more than 20% for men and women.

Tart cherry consumption has also been linked to a number of cardiovascular benefits as well – from overall anti-inflammation to reduction in cholesterol levels, to decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome. The anthocyanins in tart cherries may also lower blood lipid levels and significantly elevated blood antioxidant capacity.

Organic tart juice concentrate can be a good option for those who cannot find the real fruitSo if you are looking for foods which naturally help the body manage internal inflammation, tart cherries make a great addition to your nutrition plan. Like all fruits, however, you should be aware of the sugar content. By far, the beat way to consume tart cherries is either in their whole form, or in concentrated supplement capsules.  Of course, the whole fruit contains sugar, but you also get a nice dose of fiber, which helps to minimize insulin release. At 60 calories per serving, tart cherries are great as a mid-morning snack or mixed in with your favorite breakfast smoothie or oatmeal. If you have difficulty sourcing the fruit, you can also try a juice concentrate (found in most health food stores) which is 100 calories per 2 Tbsp. serving and 22 grams of sugar. Just keep in mind that one of the best ways to minimize internal inflammation is to cut down on sugar intake and drinking fruit juice, even natural or organic, delivers a lot of sugar along with those vitamins and nutrients.  If you like the idea of dried fruit, you can always make your won by either drying tart cherries in a low-temp oven for a couple of hours or using a dehydrator at home.  Eating whole food fruit is always the best option!

 Nourish yourself with tart cherries and feel and look fabulous!

1. Halvorsen BL, Carlsen MH, Phillips KM, Bohn SK, Holte K, Jacobs DR, Blomhoff R. Content of redox-active compounds (i.e., antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:95-135.

2. Seymour EM, Urcuyo-Llanes D, Boiling SF, Bennink MR.  Tart cherry intake reduces plasma and tissue inflammation in obesity-prove rats. FASEB J 2010; 24:335.1.

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