Pat Little  /  AP file
Cherries contain natural substances that seem to fight cancer and are a significant source of fiber and potassium.
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updated 2/20/2004 2:24:35 PM ET 2004-02-20T19:24:35

Historians now say that George Washington never did chop down his father’s cherry tree. They say an early biographer invented the story to fill a gap in the record of Washington’s childhood. But eating cherries is still a good way to honor America’s first president.

Research has shown that fresh, frozen and canned cherries offer many health benefits. Washington would have approved.

And besides: It’s National Cherry Month.

Cherries contain several natural substances that seem to fight cancer. One such compound, perillyl alcohol, binds to protein molecules to inhibit the growth signals that stimulate tumor development. In laboratory studies, this phytochemical has caused pancreatic tumors to regress. It has also shown the potential to help prevent cancers of the breast, lung, liver and skin.

Also found in cherries are anthocyanins, a class of compounds which act as potent antioxidants. These substances isolate certain destructive by-products of metabolism and usher them safely from the body.

Cherries also are a significant source of dietary fiber and potassium.

More than pie filling
All fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans contain powerful natural disease-fighting substances, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). So AICR recommends a predominantly plant-based diet rich in a variety of these foods. Fruits and vegetables have been found to be particularly important to cancer prevention.

AICR recommends five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day for optimum health benefits. According to national surveys, however, the average American gets two to three.

Cherries can be much more than pie filling. Fresh sweet cherries make a quick, easy snack. They can be pitted and thrown into waffles, pancakes or muffins. Dried cherries can be tossed into salads, sprinkled over yogurt and cereal, or added to meatloaf.

Tart cherries (also known as sour or pie cherries) are seldom sold fresh. They are smaller, softer and generally too sour to eat raw. Instead, they are canned or frozen for use in pie fillings or sauces.

Cherry salsa can be a spicy-sweet condiment for chicken, turkey or pork. Or try it as a side dish, or as a dip with crackers, preferably whole-grain.

Cherry Salsa

  • 1 cup dark sweet cherries (frozen or fresh and pitted)
  • 2 Tbsp. basil, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. green bell pepper, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • Salt, to taste (optional)

Chop cherries into small dice and combine with the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 29 calories, 0 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat), 7 g. carbohydrate, less than 1 g. protein, less than 1 g. dietary fiber, 7 mg. sodium.

Nutrition Notes is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

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