6 cherry-licious health benefits to preserve year-round

(BPT) – It’s hard to beat summertime and its boon of fresh produce harvested at the peak of flavor, from farm-fresh vegetables to sun-ripened superfruits like sweet cherries. A surge in sweet cherry research in recent years has uncovered six health-promoting benefits packed into these snackable treats, such as combating cancer, promoting sleep and more. Fortunately, some easy preservation tips can help you lock in sweet cherry goodness to enjoy long after your summer tan has faded.

1. Crank up the cancer-fighting compounds

Studies suggest that sweet cherries may help in the fight against cancer, thanks to the presence of ellagic acid and anthocyanins. These compounds appear to help stem the growth of cancer cells. The luscious fruit also contains perillyl alcohol, which has been linked to anti-carcinogenic activity in pancreatic, breast, liver, colon, skin and lung cancers. More research is underway to explore the full cancer-fighting benefits of sweet cherries.

2. Ward off disease with a natural anti-inflammatory

As noted, sweet cherries contain anthocyanins, which are pigments that lend rich red and purple coloring to the fruit. Anthocyanins have a role in reducing tissue inflammation, as they appear to inhibit an enzyme that causes it, similar to how ibuprofen or naproxen work. Increased inflammation is thought to be an underlying cause for a host of chronic human diseases, including arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. Cherries are also helpful in recovering from exercise-related inflammation.

3. Reduce your bouts with gout

Gout is a painful form of arthritis that can result from elevated levels of uric acid in your blood. Roughly 8.3 million Americans are coping with the disease. Sweet cherries have been shown to provide some sweet relief, as their consumption is associated with lower levels of uric acid in the blood. Additionally, when combined with prescribed medication, cherry consumption can further reduce the chances of an attack.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

Sweet cherries may help you get a night of sweet dreams. With their combination of melatonin, tryptophan and serotonin, sweet cherries are a natural and flavorful aid in improving sleep quality. To experience the best potential results in stabilizing and regulating sleep patterns, enjoy sweet cherries about an hour before bedtime.

5. Keep blood sugar levels on an even keel

If you have a sweet tooth, reach for sweet cherries to satisfy your cravings. Cherries boast a lower glycemic index and glycemic load than many other fruits. Since they release glucose slowly and evenly, your blood sugar levels can stay steady longer.

6. Up your fiber intake to lower health risks

Most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets, despite the correlation of a high fiber diet with healthy weight maintenance, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Just a cup of sweet cherries delivers about three grams of fiber, or about 12% of the USDA’s daily value recommended for women and 10% for men.

Preserve sweet cherries to boost health year-round

Fresh sweet cherries are only around in the summertime, but you can easily preserve their flavor and health benefits for year-round enjoyment. To start, prepare the sweet cherries by destemming; then wash, drain and dry them. Pit the fruit if desired.

For freezing, arrange the sweet cherries in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the fruit to a freezer bag, removing excess air, and you’ll be able to scoop out handfuls for a refreshing snack or to use in your favorite recipes.

If you prefer dried sweet cherries — to sprinkle on granola, in salads, into baked goods and more — you can invest in a food dehydrator or simply use your oven. The trick is to use a low temperature for several hours. Northwest Cherry Growers recommends drying at 140-degrees Fahrenheit for six to 12 hours. Once dry, they can be stored in plastic bags, sealed with excess air removed, and stored in a dark, dry, cool place.

Visit Northwest Cherry Growers for more tips on how to freeze, dry and can sweet cherries to turn your summertime snack into an all-the-time staple of a nutritious diet.