(BPT) - Summer is in full swing, and this year the season is truly one to celebrate as communities return to many favorite festivals, traditions and pastimes. Whether sending the kids off to day camps, reuniting with family over epic barbecues or simply soaking in the sun at outdoor music festivals, there’s one snack that provides a powerful punch of nutrition in a convenient, compact and deceptively delicious package: sweet Northwest cherries. While the crop this year was shortened by snowfalls on the cherry blossoms, the good news is the cherries produced this year are even bigger and sweeter as a result.
Americans are looking for chances to get themselves and their families outside, stay active and healthy, and the timing couldn’t be better. So, whether you’re planning a new healthy eating plan, looking for a show-stopper dessert or a simple grab-and-go snack, sweet juicy cherries are the answer. Growers in the Northwest are harvesting sweet cherries, which will be available fresh in stores all summer long and ready to deliver not only juicy bursts of flavor, but at least five ways to support wellness.
1. Fight inflammation
Sweet cherries are often distinguished by their deep, intense red color — a characteristic that comes from anthocyanins, a type of polyphenolic compound in dark fruits and vegetables. These compounds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help in fighting many chronic conditions linked to inflammation, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain cancers.
Additionally, the anti-inflammatory qualities of sweet cherries have been shown to help muscles recover more quickly after exercise, making cherries an ideal accompaniment to a range of summertime activities.
2. Keep blood sugar steady
Sweet cherries are, not surprisingly, sweet. What may be surprising, however, is that they have a lower glycemic index than almost any other fruit, which means that they are absorbed more slowly. Because sweet cherries release glucose gradually and evenly, they keep blood sugar levels steady longer and avoid causing sugar spikes.
3. Secure a sweet source of fiber
Diets high in fiber can help in the prevention of various conditions and diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. But most Americans don’t get nearly enough in their diets. Just one cup of sweet cherries delivers about three grams of fiber, or roughly 12% of the USDA’s dietary recommendations.
4. Reduce stress levels
Sweet cherries are a natural source of serotonin, which studies have found to be an important factor in reducing stress and improving mood. Of course, simply adding sweet cherries to the weekly shopping list can alleviate the ongoing stress of finding a tasty and nutritious snack that can work with just about anyone’s diet plan.
5. Get a good night’s sleep
In addition to being a natural, plant source of serotonin, sweet cherries contain melatonin and tryptophan. In studies, these three compounds have been shown to help improve the quantity and quality of sleep. Consuming a serving of cherries about an hour before bedtime may aid in stabilizing and regulating sleep patterns.
Sweet cherry season is short, and just like summer, it will be over too quickly. With some planning, however, sweet cherries and their health benefits can be tapped year-round. Now is the time to stock up on fresh Northwest cherries to preserve — freeze, dry, can or even pickle them! — for smart snacking any time of year. To learn more about the health benefits of sweet cherries, visit sweetcherryhealth.org.