Cherries Jubilee

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Cherry season is here. They are tasty and delicious but also a super food - researchers have found that cherries may help you sleep better, avoid jet lag, and possibly lessen the symptoms of arthritis and gout.

The secret to their success? Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland that has been credited with slowing the aging process, and fighting insomnia and jet lag. A 2001 study at the University of Texas found that tart cherries contain significant amounts of melatonin, which is also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer, depression, and other diseases and disorders.

A 2003 study found that cherry consumption lowered concentrations of plasma urate and decreased inflammatory markers in healthy women, suggesting that cherries may help reduce inflammation and arthritis and gout symptoms.

Although trace amounts of melatonin are found in bananas, corn and other foods, cherries, especially tart cherries, seem to have higher concentrations. Around age 30, the body has more difficulty producing melatonin. Over time, the loss of melatonin production can significantly disrupt a person's sleep patterns, leaving them feeling sluggish.

The key to the melatonin source in cherries is their skin and pigmentation, where antioxidants called anthocyanins are found. Antioxidant strength is measured in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) units. ORAC measures how many oxygen radicals a specific food can absorb and deactivate. The more oxygen radicals a food absorbs, the higher its ORAC score. The higher the ORAC score, the better a food is at helping our bodies fight diseases like cancer and heart disease. Cherries are in the top 10 fruits scored by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Nutritionists suggest that people consume 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units a day to have an impact on their health. Fresh cherries have a lower ORAC score (similar to other fruits but less than some berries) than tart ones that are made into juice, dried, or frozen:

* Fresh sweet cherries: 580 ORAC units per 3.5 ounces
* Cherry juice concentrate: 12,800 ORAC units
* Dried cherries: 6,800 ORAC units
* Frozen cherries: 2,033 ORAC units
* Canned cherries: 1,700 ORAC units

For more information on antioxidants, visit American Dietetic Association, Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic and search "antioxidants." For more on cherries, see www.choosecherries.com.

- Jeff Koelemay

 

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