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Today, the U.S. is the biggest producer of tart cherries, including Montmorency, the most popular in the U.S. America does love its traditional slice of cherry pie, yet beyond the cherry's irresistible sweet-sour taste, this tiny fruit packs a powerful punch of health-promoting nutrients.

The folklore

Tart cherries, also known as sour cherries, are thought to be a cross between the sweet cherry and a wild ground cherry that grew in eastern and central Europe. The Greeks were the first to cultivate these deeply red gems, which made their way into Italy, Europe, England, and the New World.

The facts

There are several varieties of tart cherries (Prunus cerasus), including Morello, amarelle and Montmorency. A stone fruit, named for their hard, large seeds, cherries are related to plums, peaches, and apricots. A one cup serving has just 88 calories and 11 percent DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of satiating dietary fiber, 19 percent DV of fatigue-fighting iron, and 37 percent DV of cell-protecting antioxidant vitamin A. Tart cherries are also plump with anthocyanins, the natural compound that gives them their rich ruby hue and a plethora of health benefits.

The findings

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A good source of polyphenols, powerful plant compounds which include anthocyanins, cherries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress in the body contributes toward development of several inflammatory diseases in humans. A review of 29 studies on cherries (20 tart, 7 sweet, 2 unspecified) found that consumption of tart cherries, juice, powder, concentrate, and capsules decreased markers for oxidative stress, inflammation, exercise induced muscle soreness and loss of strength, blood pressure, arthritis, and improved sleep (Nutrients, 2018).

The finer points

Montmorency cherries are harvested in July, but you'd have to be in the northeast states of the country where they're grown to enjoy them fresh. Fortunately, they are available frozen, canned, and dried, as well as in juice and in concentrated form. Tart cherries are a natural in baked goods like galettes, quick breads, and muffins. Dried tart cherries are the perfect addition to oatmeal, granola, and salads, or try them served as an appetizer with sliced whole grain bread and soft cheese.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)

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