Health Benefits of Cherries

I love summer for so many reasons, one of the biggest being the abundance of fresh fruit that comes into season! Juicy peaches, sweet mangos, watermelon, plums, figs, and CHERRIES!!

I have been eating my weight in Rainier cherries. They are so amazingly good!!  Tasty, easy, and delicious...sometimes it's the simplest things that yield the greatest benefits.

"The nutritional benefits of cherries are pretty big, particularly when you consider their small size. Many of the health benefits of cherries are related to the natural chemical that gives them their color.

Anthocyanins give flowers, berries and other fruits the colors ranging from red to blue. Some of the best food sources of anthocyanins are red grapes, chokeberry, eggplant and, of course, cherries.

These pigments attract pollinators, act as a "sunscreen" and protect the plant from radicals formed by UV light, so they act as antioxidants. The antioxidant benefits are transferred to people when the fruits or vegetables are eaten.

The health benefits of cherries and other plant foods containing anthocyanins are many. Anthocyanins are used by the body to produce essential amino acids. As antioxidants, they protect the cells of the body from the damaging, aging and disease producing affects of oxygen, nitrogen and UV radiation.

Anthocyanins are also natural pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. They inhibit the production of COX-2 enzymes, as do over the counter and prescription pain relievers. Natural anti-inflammatories are believed to reduce the risk of many types of cancer. But, there are more nutritional benefits of cherries.

Cherries contain melatonin, another natural pain reliever and COX-2 inhibitor. Melatonin also helps to regulate sleep cycles and has been sold as a natural sleep aid. Reduced levels of melatonin have been associated with heart disease and increased cancer rates in night workers. The human body naturally produces melatonin, but primarily in darkness.

Constant artificial lighting present in most homes and work places reduces the amount of melatonin that the body produces. So, one of the health benefits of cherries to modern day man has to do with replacing some of the melatonin that has been lost to artificial light, unhealthy work schedules and unnatural sleep patterns. And, there are more nutritional benefits of cherries.

Cherries, like most fruits, contain vitamin C. The proven and suspected health benefits of cherries and other vitamin C rich foods are too numerous to be covered in this short article. One of the most exciting and newest discoveries has to do with cancer treatment. In both clinical trials and test tubes, vitamin C has been shown to kill cancer cells and inhibit their replication.

Cherries also contain fiber, which is important for a healthy digestive system. Diets high in fiber are believed to reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer and most other diseases involving the digestive tract.

One of the most recent studies related to the nutritional benefits of cherries had to do with unhealthy cholesterol levels. A group of men with high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels were recruited to participate in this study.

The men were given whole food supplements containing cherries and other fruits. After 4 weeks, total and LDL cholesterol (known as "bad cholesterol") levels were significantly lowered, while HDL (good) cholesterol levels were increased. There were no changes in cholesterol levels in control groups, given a placebo.

In all, the health benefits of cherries and other fruits cover most of the systems of the human body. The healthy function of the digestive system, the immune system and the cardiovascular system are all linked to a healthy diet." (Source)

So eat up and take advantage of the amazing fruits of the season, your body will thank you!!

Photos: Linda Wagner

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Linda Wagner is behind one of our go-to sites for Nutrition and Lifestyle updates, where this post originally appeared.

Cooking with Zucchini, a Healthy Summer Squash

The zucchini is known by many different names around the world. In France, it's la courgette; in Great Britain it's the vegetable marrow. No matter what you call it, this squash can be a tasty addition to dishes ranging from lasagna to muffins. Zucchini is in season for the summer and has some great health benefits, so get cooking with it today! 

The zucchini is a member of the squash family. It grows on a vine and has bright yellow blossoms that are also edible and taste great in salads or deep-fried until crispy. The flesh of the zucchini itself has a slightly sweet taste and a spongy texture, which makes it a popular ingredient in baked goods.

Baking with zucchini can also be a great way to get your kids to eat their vegetables! A plate of cooked veggies can be scary to picky eaters, but baking zucchini into a favorite tasty dish can encourage kids to venture outside their comfort zone. Try your hand at some zucchini bread or zucchini muffins. It's not great just in sweetened bread; you can fold grated zucchini into scrambled eggs, casseroles, brown rice, and more.

Zucchini is great for grown-ups, too. It's packed with fiber, which is beneficial to your digestive system and aids in weight loss as it help keep you feeling fuller for longer. It's also high in vitamins A and C, which act as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and are great for flushing toxins from your system. On top of that, zucchini is perfect if you're counting calories - one cup only contains about 30-40 calories.

Aside from baking, zucchini can be used in some delicious savory recipes. Ratatouille, a Provencal stew of zucchini, eggplant, and tomato makes great use of this squash.

Now that it's in season, look for zucchini at your local farmer's market. If you're a gardener yourself, zucchini is a particularly easy vegetable to grow and is a good addition to a summer garden - it will even grow on a trellis if you're short on space!

What are some of your favorite zucchini recipes?

Ingredient Focus: Cherries

When bright red cherries start appearing at the market, it's official: summer is here. Cherry season starts in June and continues through early August. Whether it's a yellow and red Ranier or a deep maroon Bing variety, cherries bring a smile (and a stain) to many a cherry-lovers face. Cherries are packed with antioxidants, making them a great choice for a healthy snack. Pair with yogurt or ricotta for a healthy dessert, or simply eat plain at the end of a hot June day.

* What to look for: When buying cherries, be sure they are shiny and blemish-free with bright green stems. Another great summer pastime is cherry picking; when picking cherries, be sure to pick from the branch and keep it attached until you're ready to eat.

* A Healthy Snack: Cherries are jam-packed with nutrients including Anthocyanins, which are used by the body to produce essential amino acids. Anthocyanins are also what give flowers, berries and other fruits their vibrant colors and happen to be a great anti-inflammatory for your body. Cherries are natural melatonin carriers, which can be used as a sleep aid and a natural pain reliever. So next time you have aches and pains, reach for some cherries!Like most fruits cherries contain vitamin C, which can protect against immune system deficiencies and even help wrinkles!

* Great For Your Digestive System: Cherries are also high in fiber, which helps your digestive system. Including fiber in your diet can help reduce the risk of colon and rectal cancer and since cherries are a great source, you get health benefits as well as fruity snacks!

* Storage Instructions: Don't let that gorgeous fruit go to waste. Cherries can be stored in your refrigerator for up to 5 days but you can also freeze them by laying them flat onto a baking sheet and freezing until firm then storing in plastic bags. Eat cherries with anything from yogurt to chocolate, or use them in your muffin recipes or fruit salads. The possibilities are endless!

What is your favorite way to eat cherries?

Photo: Dudley Carr on flickr