Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian
A recent visit to California renewed my interest in sweet cherries. The Dole and Del Monte farmlands along the Pacific Coast Highway stretched as far as the eye could see. In them were workers, busy picking crops of various fruits and vegetables. While strawberries seemed to be the crop of choice in the hot June sun, farmstands were also filled to the brim with other produce, including sweet bing cherries. Pleased with the availability of organic produce, good prices and well-run farmstands in the area, we decided to purchase some cherries for the northerly drive taking us from Monterey, through San Francisco and into Sonoma. However, the fruit we purchased was gone by the time we reached Sonoma and all our bellies were full with the healthy goodness of sweet summer cherries.
You, too, can experience the good taste and healthful benefits of cherries this summer. While organic is preferable in terms of the lack of any pesticide residues, they are more difficult to find and often more expensive. The next best choice are the conventional Bing cherries that most grocery stores carry this time of the year.
Cherries make a great, portable, convenient snack, coming in at about 4-5 calories per cherry. That means you could have about 20-25 cherries or close to a cup of pitted, stemless cherries for a total of 100 calories, 3.5 grams fiber, 1-2 grams protein and 22-24 grams carbohydrates. They are also a source of vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium. As you may have guessed from their bright red to purple-black colors, cherries are very high in phytonutrients (plant chemicals that help prevent diseases) including anthocyanins that act as antioxidants and also quercitin – a phytonutrient that works as an antioxidant and also has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. Research appears to show that individuals suffering from gout, seasonal allergies and other inflammatory conditions may benefit from consuming quercitin. Cherry juice is of particular interest to researchers.
Fresh, unbruised cherries should last up to a week if stored properly in the fridge. Best bet is to wash immediately before use, to prevent excess moisture from sitting on the fruit while in storage, thus increasing the risk of spoilage.
To remove the pits (besides the obvious and not so proper technique of spitting them out of your mouth – which of course may be the only option if you pick up some farmstand cherries as you drive along the Pacific Coast Highway!), use a cherry pitter –available at most kitchen stores – or simply use a paring knife.
Search online for recipes to use your cherries. Besides eating them raw, they can be grilled and put on top of green salads, baked into pies or cobblers, made into sauces for fish or chicken, used for juicing or many other preparations. Now is the best time of the year to take advantage of this healthy, delicious fruit. Even if you cannot make it to the west coast farmstands, a quick trip to your local grocer or farmers market could serve you well.