(BPT) - Bring the gift of nutrition to holiday gatherings by incorporating sweet cherries into your favorite menu. It may not seem the season for cherries, but this is the time to raid the summer stash that has been frozen, dried or canned. Adding a bright, festive touch, sweet cherries will provide a boost of flavor and nutrition to power you into the new year.
"The holidays are a perfect time to unleash the goodness locked into preserved sweet cherries to help stay in peak health during the busy season," said Mia Syn, a registered dietitian nutritionist. "Change up traditional cranberry sauce with a cherry-cranberry version - it's low in sugar, quick, easy and versatile. Add some ginger or orange peel to complement your menu, and you may have a new, nutritious winter favorite."
Try your hand at cherry-cranberry sauce, and make the holidays brighter with these five hidden health benefits:
1. Reduce oxidative stress
If there's a time to reduce stress, the holidays are it. Oxidative stress results when free radicals and antioxidants are out of balance in your body. Normally, free radicals help fight off pathogens that can lead to infection or disease, but too many can attack the body's fatty tissue, protein or even DNA, increasing susceptibility to heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, among other diseases.
Sweet cherries are rich in polyphenols and vitamin C, which have potent antioxidant properties. Adding them to a diet can return the body to a healthy balance by increasing antioxidant capacity and reducing oxidative stress.
2. Ease inflammation
Are cooler temperatures spurring arthritic pain? Research has shown that sweet cherries feature anti-inflammatory properties, introducing a natural remedy for those suffering from rheumatic diseases such as arthritis.
Cherries contain anthocyanins, which work to shut down enzymes that cause tissue inflammation and behave in much the same way as ibuprofen.
3. Relieve gout
Don't get caught sitting down. Gout, a form of arthritis, causes severe pain, redness and joint tenderness and is linked to elevated levels of uric acid in the blood - which has been shown to decline with diets including sweet cherries.
In studies of gout patients consuming sweet cherry products, patients had a 35 percent lower risk of an attack after two days and a 75 percent lower risk when cherries and the common gout medication allopurinol were combined.
4. Improve sleep
Getting a good night's sleep is always a challenge, but even more so during the bustling holidays. Enhance sleep quality and quantity, lift your mood and ease anxiety with sweet cherries. According to researchers, sleep cycles benefit when enjoying the fruit about an hour before bedtime.
The reason? Sweet cherries pack a compelling combination of tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan helps produce serotonin, which aids in regulating sleep, mood and appetite. Meanwhile, melatonin works on maintaining our internal clocks, such as sleep and wakefulness patterns.
5. Lower blood pressure
Give the gift of lower blood pressure by serving up dishes featuring sweet cherries. Studies have shown that making a habit of eating sweet cherries can reduce systolic and diastolic measures of blood pressure.
Eating cherries is linked to decreasing a powerful vasoconstrictor, a compound that narrows blood vessels and restricts blood flow. At the same time, they increase the effectiveness of vasodilators, compounds that help widen blood vessels and reduce pressure.
This holiday, indulge for impact
Don't wait for warmer temperatures to enjoy sweet cherries! Add them to your favorite holiday foods to combat common health complaints and celebrate the season knowing you're taking steps toward a better well-being.
The rich fruitiness of sweet cherries helps blunt the sharp edge of fresh cranberries. Cooked together, these anthocyanin powerhouses make a great holiday staple that can be used as a base ingredient for cocktails, a glaze for meats, a spread for sandwiches, a topping for yogurt and more.
Equal portions fresh cranberries and dried/frozen Northwest cherries
3/4 cup water or pomegranate juice
3/4 cup maple syrup, molasses, or sugar to taste
Optional: 4 -2" peels fresh ginger, 3 tbsp citrus zest, black pepper, fresh herbs, raspberries
In medium-sized sauce pot, add 3/4 cup water, preferred sweetener and cranberries.
Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally and more frequently as the sauce begins to form.
Add sweet cherries, continue stirring.
Once reduced, remove from heat, incorporate other flavorings if desired.
Cool for 30 mins - 1 hour before transferring to wider, shallow pan to speed cooling.
Once cooled, refrigerate in air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.
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