Cherries: Pucker Power

Sweet cherries, the kind of cherries most of us enjoy fresh from a roadside stand on hot summer days, are low in fat, high in fiber and-if you believe a common folk remedy-able to help cure gout.

Yet, it’s actually the sweet cherry’s sour cousin-the sour cherry we usually bake into an all-American pie on the Fourth of July-that packs the most nutritional power.

Sour packed with three of the nutrients-beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E-usually referred to as antioxidants.

Together, these three nutrients form a powerful defense against molecular mavericks called free radicals, which are released by your exposure to toxic chemicals, radiation and sunshine. Without that protection, scientists suspect, these free radicals can damage your cells and trigger cataracts, cancer and heart disease.

Notice how all those diseases are the ones we normally associate with aging? Some of the things we normally characterize as an “inevitable” part of old age may not be so inevitable. Eating antioxidant-packed fruits such as sour cherries may very well slow the hands of time.

In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, for example, people who reported eating more than 1 ½ daily servings of antioxidant-rich foods were almost four times less likely to develop cataracts than those who said they ate less. There are basic ways that cataracts form, the researchers subsequently reported. And one or another of the antioxidants tends to counteract them all.

Antioxidant foods also seem to protect against cancer. In a 20-year study of more than 4,000 men conducted in Finland, researchers found that the more antioxidant fruits nonsmoking men ate, the less likely they were to develop lung cancer. And a study of women found that a diet rich in antioxidants apparently cut the women’s risk of cervical cancer in half.

And in another Finnish study, scientists found that antioxidants were able to reduce factors that affect the way red blood cells clump together to form heart-stopping clots.

Unfortunately, while sour cherries are such a nutritional bargain, they are also a bit too tart to enjoy eating them raw. Cooking them, however, destroys some of the vitamin C.

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