BY JENNIFER MOTL
Here’s another reason to enjoy summer cherry season: Tart cherries may ease arthritis pain, help athletes recover faster and lead to deeper sleep.
First, the news on sleep, since sleep difficulties affect a quarter of Americans. A study of older adults suggested that those who drank cherry juice daily were able to fall asleep about 17 minutes faster than those who did not drink the juice.
Another study found less daytime napping among those who drank cherry juice. And a small British study suggested that drinking tart cherry juice concentrate helped volunteers sleep longer and more deeply because it increased levels of melatonin, a natural sleep hormone.
University of Rochester Medical Center scientists said tart cherry juice was just as useful a sleep aid as two other natural remedies, melatonin and the herb valerian. (However, none of the natural remedies were as strong as sleeping pills or cognitive–behavioral counseling.)
So if you have insomnia, consider seeing your doctor, as well as drinking cherry juice.
CHERRIES FOR ARTHRITIS
If you have arthritis, eating more cherries may help ease your pain. Though not a substitute for a doctor’s care, tart cherry juice eased osteoarthritis pain by 20 percent for most men and women in a study at Baylor Research Institute.
Cherries can ease joint and muscle pain because they contain anti-inflammatory compounds. In fact, the natural anthocyanins from raspberries and sweet cherries work similarly to ibuprofen and naproxen (brand names Advil and Aleve), according to scientists at Michigan State University.
Cherries contain natural versions of COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors just like the drugs, although in smaller amounts. Cherries also contain several other antioxidants not found in pills.
Cherries also are useful for folks with gout, another type of arthritis. Gout is a disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. The uric acid forms sharp crystals in the joints, causing pain. When volunteers ate 10 ounces of cherries, their uric acid levels dropped 15 percent.
GOOD FOR ATHLETES
Tart cherries can help weight-lifters and runners. Lifting weights temporarily damages muscles and causes a temporary weakening before the muscles get stronger. Volunteer weight-lifters who drank 12 ounces of cherry juice daily for over a week lost only 4 percent of their strength, compared with 22 percent losses in folks who didn’t receive cherry juice. Researchers at University of Vermont did that study.
Cherry juice helps runners, too. Drinking 12 ounces of tart cherry juice daily for seven days prior to and during a long-distance race can minimize muscle pain. That’s according to research at Oregon Health and Science University.
Another study found that marathon runners who drank cherry juice recovered their leg strength more quickly. The cherry juice reduced inflammation, according to British researchers.
Not all cherries are the same. It’s easier to find sweet Bing cherries than tart cherries in grocery stores. That’s because tart cherries are so fragile.
Tart cherries, also called sour cherries or pie cherries, are in season now in Virginia, so check your farmers market or local orchard. If you can’t find fresh tart cherries, you can always buy tart cherry juice year round as well as dried cherries and frozen cherries.
A cup of fresh or frozen tart cherries has only 60 calories, less than many other fruits, and cherries are rich in beta-carotene.
You can use dried cherries like raisins: sprinkle dried cherries over your breakfast cereal; try adding them to oatmeal cookie dough or brownie batter, or use them to top salads, along with pecans and cheese.
Fresh or frozen cherries can be added to muffin mixes, used as a topping for ice cream or cheesecake, stirred into yogurt or blended into smoothies.
However you eat them, cherries may ease pain and insomnia.
CHILLED TART CHERRY SOUP (HUNGARIAN MEGGYLEVES)
- 4 cups water
- 1 pound fresh or frozen tart cherries,
- 2 cinnamon sticks and 6 cloves
- cup sugar
- 7 ounces Greek yogurt
- (whole milk, not nonfat)
- 1 tablespoon flour
- Add water, cherries, sugar, and optional cinnamon and cloves to saucepan. Boil for 10 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved and cherries are tender.
- In a mixing bowl, add yogurt and flour to a cup of the hot cherry liquid and whisk until smooth.
- Add yogurt mixture to cherry soup pot and simmer for about 5 minutes to thicken.
- Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves, if used.
- Cover and chill soup in refrigerator before serving. If juice separates, simply stir soup before serving.
Nutrition facts: Calories 204, Total fat 2.5 grams, Saturated fat 1.8 grams, Trans fat no grams, Cholesterol 6 milligrams, Carbohydrates 41 grams, Fiber 2 grams, Protein 6 grams.
Cook’s note: In Hungary and surrounding countries, tart cherries are sought after for a traditional summertime dish, chilled cherry soup. This luscious, pink appetizer or dessert is traditionally made with sour cream, and you can substitute Greek yogurt to boost the nutrition yet preserve the wonderfully creamy taste. Use whole-milk Greek yogurt, not the nonfat variety, for richer taste. The overall recipe is actually still low in fat.
Recipe adapted from: visitbudapest.travel
Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin. Jennifer Motl welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or by email at email@example.com.