One of the things I try to do as a dietitian is to focus more on what people should eat as opposed to what they should not.
So many reports seem to concentrate on "don't eat this," "limit that," and "stay away from this." I think it is much more empowering for people to focus on the positives of what they can do to help take care of themselves rather than the negatives. There are so many foods out there that have cancer-fighting properties that we should be encouraging our patients (and everyone else) to consume.
Today I want to highlight cherries because along with their many other health benefits, they are one of those cancer-fighting foods. I live in the South so we don't have locally-grown cherries here but we do get them "in season" from cherry-producing regions. Taking advantage of foods in season can bring some variety and excitement to cooking and offers the opportunities to try out new recipes.
Health benefits of cherries
- Cherries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins can neutralize free radicals that may damage cells. They also have been found to aid in memory and reduce insulin resistance and inflammation. Anthocyanins give cherries their red color, which range from the light coral of Rainier cherries to the deep purple of Bing cherries. Generally, the darker the color of the cherry, the higher the content of anthocyanins.
- Cherries contain melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate circadian rhythm to promote restful sleep.
- Cherries are high in antioxidants vitamin A, C, and E, and are also high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
Cherries are a powerhouse of good nutrition. One cup (about 21 cherries) contains 90 calories, 19 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, and 270 mg potassium.
Tips on incorporating cherries into your diet:
- Enjoy them straight up as a snack, tossed in a salad, or mixed into yogurt.
- Freeze cherries to use in smoothies.
- Try dipping cherries in dark chocolate for a sweet, healthy treat.
- Toss onto hot or cold cereals (adding to oatmeal makes a nutrient-packed breakfast).
- Mix chopped cherries into pancake or muffin batters.
- Use to make a savory sauce to go on pork or chicken or a sweet sauce for frozen yogurt or grilled fruit such as peaches.
One of my favorite foods is dried cherries. I love to add them to salads (especially spinach salads) or make a trail mix with dried cherries, walnuts, toasted oatmeal, and a high fiber cereal. But store bought dried cherries usually contain added sugar or corn syrup. I recently experimented with drying them myself.
Simply wash and pit the cherries. Spread them out on a sheet pan and place it in a 140 degree oven for six to 12 hours (my oven won't go that low in temperature, so I set it to the lowest possible temperature and kept towards the shorter end of the time range). The cherries should be dry but still slightly sticky when they're done. Store them in an airtight container or bag.
So, stock up on cherries when they are in season (and hopefully on sale!), then freeze or dry them for use year round. The Website Northwest Cherries has some great cherry recipes!