We all know that this season—the transition of one calendar year to another—can be loaded with messages about food and diet that are anything but wholesome. I don’t like to enter into a new year with any intentions of restriction, elimination, or deprivation. But I do greet January as a time to consider how my food nourishes me (and will do so in the twelve months ahead), and I encourage my nutrition clients to do the same.
This echoes how I like to approach nutrition overall: with an emphasis on what food can do for our bodies. And it’s in that enthusiastic spirit that I’m honing in on some of the wonderful benefits of sweet cherries, and sharing 20 reasons to enjoy them in 2020.
When the folks at NW Cherry Growers approached me about this campaign, I couldn’t have been happier! I didn’t grow up loving cherries, but I’ve come to appreciate them over time. Part of why it took me a little while is because I didn’t understand that there are many varieties of cherries, only some of which are my jam (no pun intended).
I love the deep, almost candy-like flavor of sweet cherries, and I’ve loved spending the last few weeks learning about what they can do for my body. I’m sharing twenty of those health-related benefits with you now—followed by a whole grain baking recipe that’ll give you more reason than ever to pick up a bag of frozen sweet cherries ASAP. Or, even better, when Pacific Northwest-grown cherries are in season (the summer months), you’ll remember to pick up a few extra bags of fresh cherries and freeze them to enjoy throughout the rest of the year!
20 Reasons to Eat Sweet Cherries in 2020
1. Sweet cherries contain tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin, which can interact with cherry phenolics to help regulate sleep cycles.1
2. Polyphenols in cherries may minimize or prevent inflammation and oxidative stress, which may be risk factors for diseases like arthritis, diabetes, cancer and hypertension.2
3. Cherries may help to combat inflammation, which is thought to play a significant role in many chronic diseases. Consuming cherries was found in one small intervention study to decrease plasma concentrations of eight biomarkers associated with inflammatory diseases.3
4. In the same study, eating cherries significantly decreased C-reactive protein and nitrous oxide concentrations, which are pro-inflammatory factors.4
5. Compounds in cherries appear to protect neuronal cells from cell-damaging oxidative stress.5
6. Hypertension is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease, along with other health risks. Some studies suggest that phenolic acids found in cherries and produced by the metabolism of anthocyanin (an antioxidant in sweet cherries) may have antihypertensive effects.6
7. In lab studies, the phenolic compounds of sweet cherries appear to inhibit breast cancer cell growth without toxicity to normal cells.7
8. Sweet cherry extracts have been shown to inhibit proliferation of colon and breast cancer cells in several published studies.8
9. The anti-inflammatory effects of the phytonutrients in sweet cherries may help to prevent cardiovascular disease.9
10. That same inflammation-fighting action mechanism may be associated with improved brain and visual function.10
11. Consumption of anthocyanins from cherries appears to improve memory and cognition in older adults with mild‑to‑moderate dementia.11
12. Consumption of cherries can significantly decrease a compound called urate in the blood plasma, which may help to ease gout.12
13. The polyphenols in cherries appear in some research to help diminish hyperglycemia, oxidative stress, and inflammatory markers that are predictors of diabetes mellitus.13
14. Cherry extracts appear to reduce glucose blood levels and protect pancreatic beta-cells (which produce insulin, and which are damaged by diabetes) from oxidative damage, enabling them to continue with normal function.14
15. Various studies have shown that the serotonin contained in sweet cherries is an important neurotransmitter that reduces stress and improves mood.15
16. Sweet cherries are available in frozen form year-round, which means that I don’t have to limit my enjoyment to summer!
17. Sweet cherries are a perfect way to enjoy deep sweetness just as nature created it—or to sweeten desserts and treats while providing nutritional benefits.
18. Cherries are a wonderful snack! I love enjoying them fresh from the farmer’s market in the early summer, or popping frozen cherries into my banana soft serve (with or without cocoa powder) for a treat at any time of year.
20. Dried sweet cherries, with all of their cool health perks, are a great alternative to raisins and cranberries in muesli and granola.
As I said, my favorite way to showcase sweet cherries is to bake with them, and I’ve found that their deep, sweet flavor works beautifully with whole grain baked goods. As we approach the new year, I wanted to create a baking recipe that would be sweet and rewarding but also rich in whole grain flour (for extra fiber) and cherries (for all of those wonderful anthocyanins and other phytonutrients).
These bars are it. They aren’t granola bars. They’re tender, fluffy, and totally reminiscent of coffee cake, right down to the sweet glaze, but they’re sensibly sweet overall. And they’re made with some whole grain flour and with olive oil in place of traditional butter, so they’ve got some added wholesomeness in addition to the goodness of dark, sweet cherries.
Yes, they are a nod to my undying love of cake (should I start a separate cake blog?!). But my own approach to balance is to celebrate all of the disease-fighting goodness that nature gives us while also celebrating the art of treating ourselves, and baking is part of that. Hope you’ll enjoy this lovely, simple, anytime delight.
Vegan Sweet Cherry Bars
- 2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
- 1 cup rye, spelt, or whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup cane or coconut sugar
- 1 1/4 cups non-dairy milk
- juice of 1 lemon
- 12-16 ounces frozen sweet cherries, halved
- Optional: 1 cup confectioners’ sugar + 2 tablespoons non-dairy milk, whisked to create a glaze for topping the cake
Preheat your oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 rectangular baking dish and line the
bottom with a piece of rectangular parchment paper.
Whisk the flours, baking powder and soda, and salt together in mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer).
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, mix the oil,
water, sugar, and vanilla extract together until well-mixed. Add the non-dairy milk and lemon juice and mix well. Add dry ingredients in two additions, mixing on medium speed as you go. When the batter is well mixed (just when no lumps are visible), pour ¾ of the batter into your prepared baking dish. Cover this layer with the halved, frozen cherries. Use a spoon to drop the rest of the batter on top of the cherries. They should be mostly covered, with some still peeking out from under the batter.
Transfer the baking dish to your oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the top is set. Cool the cake completely. If you’d like to glaze it, whisk together 1 cup of powdered sugar and two tablespoons of non-dairy milk till smooth, then pipe or drizzle it over the top of the cake. Cut into slices and enjoy!
I love this with coffee or tea, and I hope you will, too. Here’s to bringing in 2020 sweetly and healthfully, friends. See you soon, for weekend reading.
This post is sponsored by Northwest Cherry Growers. All opinions are my own. Thank you for your support!
1. “Nutrients, Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivity: The Health Benefits of Sweet Cherries.” Ana C. Gonçalves, Catarina Bento, Branca Silva, Manuel Simões, Luís R. Silva. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 2019 15, 208-227.
2. “Consumption of ‘Bing’ sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women.” Kelley, D. S., Rasooly, R., Jacob, R. A., Kader, A. A. & Mackey, B. M. Journal of Nutrition, 2006, 136, 981–986.
3. “Sweet Bing Cherries Lower Circulating Concentrations of Markers for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases in Healthy Humans.” Darshan S. Kelley, Yuriko Adkins, Aurosis Reddy, Leslie R. Woodhouse, Bruce E. Mackey and Kent L. Erickson. The Journal of Nutrition, American Society of Nutrition, 2013, doi: 10.3845/jn.112.171371.
4. “Consumption of ‘Bing’ sweet cherries lowers circulating concentrations of inflammation markers in healthy men and women.” Kelley, D. S., Rasooly, R., Jacob, R. A., Kader, A. A. & Mackey, B. M. Journal of Nutrition, 2006, 136, 981–986.
5. Blando, et al.
6. Blando, et al.
7. “Dark sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) phenolics as dietary chemopreventive/therapeutic compounds for aggressive breast cancer cell growth with no toxicity to normal breast cells.” Layosa MA, Lage NN, Martens-Talcott SU, Talcott St, Pedrosa ML, Chew BP and Noratto GD.
8. “Nutrients, Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivity: The Health Benefits of Sweet Cherries.” Ana C. Gonçalves, Catarina Bento, Branca Silva, Manuel Simões, Luís R. Silva. Current Nutrition & Food Science, 2019 15, 208-227.
9. Blando, et al.
10. Blando, et al.
11. “Acute reduction in blood pressure following consumption of anthocyanin-rich cherry juice may be dose-interval dependant: a pilot cross-over study.” Katherine Kent, Karen E. Charlton, Andrew Jenner and Steven Roodenrys. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2016, 67:1, 47-52.
12. Marcum W. Collins, Kenneth G. Saag, Jasvinder A. Singh. Is there a role for cherries in the management of gout? Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2019; 11: 1759720X19847018. Published online 2019 May 17. doi: 10.1177/1759720X19847018.
13. Gonçalves, et al.
14. Gonçalves, et al.
15. “The consumption of a Jerte Valley cherry product in humans enhances mood, and increases 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid but reduces cortisol levels in urine.” María Garrido, Javier Espino, David González-Gómez, Mercedes Lozano, Carmen Barriga, Sergio D. Paredes, Ana B. Rodríguez. Experimental Gerontology, 2012, 47, 573–580.