Seven Little-Known Ways Sweet Cherries Boost Health & Fight Disease

YAKIMA, WA — Everyone loves a fresh batch of sweet cherries, but these delicious treats are not just for tasty pies — research shows they also pack a major punch when it comes to improving health and helping fend off a number of serious diseases. Soon this year's fresh sweet cherry crop will be available throughout the country, as reported by the Northwest Cherry Growers, and consumers can look forward to plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this superfruit, and even preserve them for year-round use.

Sweet cherries — including the golden-blushed Rainier and iconic Bing varieties, among others — are known for their high fiber and low calorie count. Over the past few years, they have received increased recognition for their role in preventing serious illness and diseases as well as regulating existing ailments. From fighting the onset of Alzheimer's to improving joint flexibility, here are seven documented health benefits linked to sweet cherries:

1. Alzheimer's Disease: Research shows that compounds found in sweet cherries can play a role in protecting neuronal cells, which are involved in brain function and reduce oxidant stress and can potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer's (Kim, 2005).

2. Cancer: Fiber, vitamin C, carotenoids and anthocyanins are a quadruplet of cancer-preventative components found in sweet cherries. In addition, cyanidin, also found in cherries, significantly increases free radical scavenging of the body, which is known to help prevent and fight cancer (Acquaviva, 2003).

3. Cardiovascular Disease: The anthocyanins found in cherries can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease; it does this by protecting your body's lipids from a host of damaging possibilities, including inflammation, cardiovascular plaque and nitric oxide formation (Reddy, 2005).

4. Diabetes: Though a protective role in diabetes is relatively rare, researchers are interested in the role of anthocyanins in reducing insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. Since the role of glycemic index in diabetes control has gained renewed interest, sweet cherries, with a moderate glycemic index of approximately 22, are thought to be a better fruit-based snack as compared to higher fruits such as apricots (57), grapes (46), peaches (42), blueberries (40) or plums (39).

5. Inflammation: Cherries have also been shown to reduce inflammation through their powerful phytochemicals, which are known to inhibit the enzymes responsible for causing painful inflammation (Seernam, 2003).

6. Hypertension and stroke: A serving of cherries has a whopping 270 mg of potassium, compared to apples which have 148 mg and strawberries which have 254 mg. Evidence shows that adequate potassium reduces the risk hypertension and stroke (He, 2003).

7. Better Sleep: Cherries are a good food source of melatonin, which helps regulate circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep patterns, making them effective in reducing jet lag.

"Sweet Northwest Cherries bring as much to the table, both in terms of nutrition and health benefits, as blueberries, cranberries and other known superfruits," said James Michael, Promotions Director of Northwest Cherries, a growers' organization that represents Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Montana. "With more and more research highlighting these health benefits, and what they mean for consumers, people are starting to view fresh sweet cherries in a much broader perspective than just a summer treat. In fact, we are seeing an increase in cherry freezing, preservation and dried formats so people can enjoy the benefits of sweet cherries year round."

When the sweet cherries hit grocery store shelves this year, health-conscious consumers will now have several more reasons to eat handfuls of cherries, beyond the delicious taste. For more information on sweet Northwest Cherries, seasonal recipes and health information, visit , or information on how to preserve that summer sweetness as the season wraps, check out .

About Northwest Cherries and Washington State Fruit Commission

Washington State Fruit Commission is a grower's organization funded by fruit assessments to increase awareness and consumption of regional stone fruits. The organization is dedicated to the promotion, education, market development, and research of stone fruits from Northwest orchards. It began in 1947 and has since grown to include growers in five states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana. For more information, visit or .

Source: Northwest Cherries and Washington State Fruit Commission