Fruit Facts: Cherries

Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on November 14, 2011

The cheerful cherry — it's as well loved for its plump, shiny, red appearance, as it is for its tangy, candy-like sweetness. In fact, the cherry is so charming, it's been the subject of songs, kitschy fabric prints and so many a mouthwatering pie. But cherries are more than adorable and fun — they're nutritious, too.

Cherry picking. Cherries ripen early and have a pretty short growing season. For that reason, you should keep a keen eye out for cherries when they show up at your grocery store. Thanks to modern growing methods, cherries are more available than they used to be, but they're hard to find well out of season and can be expensive. You know you've found nice ripe cherries when they are deep reddish purple (unless you're picking an unusual variety). Cherries store happily in a bowl, lightly covered, in the refrigerator for more than a week. No matter how long you've kept them, however, if your cherries are moldy, mushy and black, they've probably turned bad, and you shouldn't eat them.

Cherries protect. Anthocyanins are colorful antioxidants, and cherries are literally bursting with the powerful stuff. Anthocyanins exist in berries and fruits and provide color from blue to red. These chemicals shield cells from harmful free radical damage and may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and may even increase insulin production, according to Science Daily. The anthocyanins in cherries also provide a natural anti-inflammatory reaction, possibly helping with inflammation of arthritis and gout, according to the Mayo Clinic. They may even protect against certain types of cancers, according to an article published on PubMed's Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology website entitled "Sour Cherry Anthocyanins as Ingredients for Functional Foods" by Federica Blando, Carmela Gerardi and Isabella Nicoletti. Cherries also contain vitamin C, another antioxidant.

The magic of melatonin. MSNBC reports that Dr. Russell J. Reiter of The University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio researched the nutritional properties of cherries and found that tart cherries are one of the few foods that contain significant amounts of melatonin. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant that has many interesting properties. It helps regulate sleep, maintain brain function and protect neural cells. Melatonin is also being studied as a treatment for cancer and depression, among other diseases and disorders.

More benefits. Cherries contain fiber that's important for the digestive tract. A diet with fiber may be linked to reduced risk for colon cancer, as well as other digestive cancers. Fiber has also been linked to a reduction in blood cholesterol levels. According to Harvard University Health Services, 12 large black cherries offer 1.3 grams of both soluble and insoluble fiber combined.