10 surprising facts about cherries

You know it’s summer when the deliciously sweet and juicy Bing, Ranier and other fresh cherry varieties are available at your supermarket or local farmers market. Enjoy them now because their season is short — from May through August.

Here are 10 reasons why you should seize the cherry moment:

They pack a nutritional punch. A serving of sweet cherries (5 ounces, 1 cup or about 21 cherries) provides 90 calories and 3 grams fiber, and is a good source of potassium and vitamin C. Cherries are also a great source of anthocyanins, bioactive compounds that provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, cardiovascular and other benefits. Research shows that melatonin, catechins and flavanals in cherries contribute to the fruit’s healthfulness, too.

They stabilize blood sugar levels. Cherries have among the lowest glycemic index and glycemic load values of all fruit. The glycemic index for cherries is 22, and the glycemic load is three. The glycemic index measures the effect that a carbohydrate-containing food has on blood sugar levels. A score of zero to 55 is considered low. The glycemic load measures the blood sugar response in a standard serving of the food.

[See: The Best Diets to Prevent — and Manage — Diabetes.]

You can count on quercetin. Cherries are rich in quercetin, a natural flavonoid that is associated with strong antioxidant and health properties. Quercetin helps neutralize potential DNA damage caused by free radicals and may help protect against heart disease and certain cancers, including breast, colon, prostate and lung. In addition, it has strong anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects. In one animal model study, a quercetin-rich cherry extract helped mitigate the negative health effects associated with a high-fat, obesogenic diet.

They’re all-American. The United States is the second-leading producer of cherries in the world (Turkey is No. 1). Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are grown primarily in Washington, Oregon and California, while tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) are grown primarily in Michigan, Utah and Washington.

They help ease joint pain. Several studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory properties of cherries can help temper inflammation that affects individuals with arthritis and gout, and contributes to achy joints. A study from USDA study found that Bing cherries specifically helped lower participants’ blood uric acid levels. High blood uric acid is associated with gout. Another study found that cherry consumption was associated with a 35 percent reduction in incidence of a gout attack over a two-day period. Cherry intake coupled with traditional gout pharmaceuticals reduced incidence of attacks by 75 percent.

They act as an all-natural sleep aid. Research with tart cherry varieties show that they are rich in melatonin, a compound that helps regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake patterns. Studies show that supplements with cherry juice concentrate have been associated with improved sleep.

[See: The Best Foods for Sleep.]

You’ll get more out of your workouts. Cherries and cherry juice are often promoted for recovery post-exercise because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed that strength athletes who consumed tart cherry supplement experienced better recovery from intensive strength training, compared to when they took a fruit juice control beverage. Other studies with endurance athletes also link cherry compounds to enhanced recovery following exhaustive exercise.

They’re more than just pie filling. Cherries can be incorporated into a wide variety of dishes — from cocktails and appetizers to side dishes and desserts. Add juicy cherries to your salads, incorporate them into whole grain dishes, make a BBQ sauce with them (like this recipe)or prepare a better-for-you spritzer to keep you refreshed.

You can learn to cherry-pick cherries. The freshest sweet red cherries will feel firm and will reach their natural full color, which varies depending upon the variety, from the deep-crimson Bing to the super-sweet yellow with red blush Ranier. A bright green stem is also a sign of freshness. Avoid cherries with bruises, blemishes or cracks.

[See: How to Lose 50 Pounds Without Really Trying.]

There are storage secrets, too. To keep fresh cherries at their peak, store unwashed and uncovered in your refrigerator for up to a week. Rinse with water before eating cherries. You can also freeze them. Simply rinse with cold water with stem and pit and let drain. Pack into freezer bags or containers and freeze. They will keep fresh for up to up to a year.

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10 Surprising Facts About Cherries originally appeared on usnews.com

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