As we approach autumn here in America, it’s pretty much a given that pies will start infiltrating media and menus across the country. And if they’re fruit pies, at least they contain one thing that’s good for you.
One of the best options in that category, which is also widely available, is the tart cherry pie, because the health benefits of tart cherries are profound—especially when it comes to warding off cancer. Better yet, forget about the pie, and just eat the cherries or drink the juice.
When you do, you’ll tap into a rich source of cancer-fighting benefits. . .
The only berry with all six of
these cancer-fighting properties…
It started with the 2003 study where researchers compared tart cherry juice to the NSAID, sulindac (the most common preventive anti-inflammatory treatment for colon tumors at the time). The cherry juice reduced the growth of cancer cells. The drug did not.
Researchers went on to determine that it’s the powerful antioxidant load contained in cherries that plays a major role in lowering your cancer risk – the risk of colon cancer in particular. In part, this is because cherries help prevent the formation of carcinogenic chemicals in your body.
Tart cherries are also packed with nutrients like potassium and iron. Tart cherry juice has these elements, all for only 120 calories per one cup serving. But not all cherries are created equal (though all have tremendous health benefits).
Tart cherries, while more sour than their sweeter black cherry counterpart, have a higher number of anthocyanins. They’re also known as the sour cherry or dwarf cherry, and are different from sweet cherries, which is what you’ll commonly find in grocery stores.
Where I grew up, we just called them pie cherries. I’ve never known anyone who baked pies with any other kind of cherry.
Tart cherries tend to be more acidic than sweet cherries, and they’re more often found in juices and foods, but they’re seldom sold for snacking as a whole fruit.
When you read about the health benefits of cherries, it’s generally the tart cherry you’re reading about. The three most common varieties of tart cherry are the Morello cherry (which is dark red), the Amarelle cherry (which is light red), and the Montmorency cherry (the most popular variety).
The miracle-working ingredient in cherries
Anthocyanins are the main miracle worker in tart cherries. These are water-soluble pigments that give cherries their color. Broken down, those pigments may appear red, purple, or blue. And though several other fruits and berries have anthocyanins, tart cherries are the only type of berry that have all six of the key anthocyanins. That list includes:
- Cyanidin 3-glucosylrutinoside (anthocyanin 1)
- Cyanidin 3-rutinoside (anthocyanin 2)
- Cyanidin sophoroside
- Peonidin 3-glucoside
It’s these anthocyanins that are largely responsible for the anticarcinogenic effects of tart cherries – the features that enable them to switch off genes that promote cancer growth as well as trigger apoptosis (natural cell death) in existing cancer cells.
They do far more than fight cancer
Along with their chemo-preventive properties, here are eight other reasons tart cherries should be a staple in your diet:
- They aid digestion and hydration, thanks to being naturally high in potassium. This helps quite a bit when it comes to muscle recovery after workouts. In addition, the potassium content in cherries helps prevent muscle cramps. The magnesium, folate, fiber, and vitamins A, C and E also help.
- They’ll help regulate your metabolism and fight fat. It turns out anthocyanins also help reduce abdominal fat and obesity. Plus, the high fiber content of cherries improves your digestion.
- Cherries fight inflammation and arthritis. A 2012 article from the Journal of Food Studies showed two helpings of cherry juice daily for three weeks made a significant difference in the pain of osteoarthritis, due largely to helping curb inflammation.
- They help you sleep. Those same cancer-fighting anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherry juice also give the body a boost in melatonin, which contributes to longer bouts of higher quality sleep—very similar to the effects of insomnia medications.
- They’ll boost your energy levels. Thanks to their natural sugars, eating cherries or drinking cherry juice is a quick and nutritious way to get a boost in energy. On top of that, they’re a mood enhancer. Just be wary of store-bought juices, which may have added sugar.
- Cherries will help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. The high anthocyanin levels reduce triglyceride levels in your blood.
- They’re a brain food, again thanks to their high antioxidant levels. Cherries are known to enhance memory and may even keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
- Tart cherries also inhibit the early development of diabetes and the inflammatory pathway of gout, due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Easy, tasty ways to eat tart cherries
If you do plan to get your tart cherry fix through pie, I encourage you to make it yourself. Combine four cups of cherries, some butter and cornstarch, plus the tiniest bit of sweetener (I’d recommend honey), and a dash of almond or vanilla extract.
From there, you can take your tart cherry pie filling and throw it in a pie crust. Or, get more creative—mix it with yogurt, put it on top of oatmeal, spread it on graham crackers with cream cheese… the possibilities are endless.
Besides drinking the juice, that’s the best way I know to get your fill of tart cherries and dessert without a hefty serving of sugar. If you prefer the juice, look for 100-percent tart cherry juice with no added sweeteners. Steer clear of “cocktail” versions of cherry juice—those often have sugar and preservatives.
And if you really want to make a difference in your everyday health, choose cherry juice over soda or sports beverages. Add a little carbonated water and you have a healthy natural soda that refreshes and nourishes.
Our last article talked about another powerful cancer-fighter from fruit – citrus fruit, this time. But the benefits come from a part of the fruit most of us throw out. If you missed the article, it’s running again below.