Cherries on Low Carb? by Dana Carpender

Gosh, I love cherries. Talk about Nature’s Candy – cherries couldn’t be sweeter or more delicious. I have a vivid memory of a summer afternoon in my youth, when I ate a whole pint of cherries while walking home from the grocery store. Even my pug, Dexter, loves cherries! (And really, it’s hard to think of a more charming diversion than feeding cherries to a pug.)

Cherries are among mankind’s oldest foods; cherry pits have been found in the detritus of paleolithic settlements. Wild cherries were abundant in Europe and Asia, and it’s believed that cherry cultivation began well before written history.

Cultivated cherries, both sweet and sour varieties, were brought to the Americas by European immigrants, who wouldn’t have dreamed of doing without them. Michigan is the chief producer of sour cherries, while Washington and Oregon grow most of our Bing cherries. (Interesting factoid: Bing cherries are named after Ah Sit Bing, a Chinese immigrant who helped develop the breed.)

Let’s look at the numbers. One cup of fresh sweet cherries has a big 74 calories. Sweet cherries are fairly high in sugar; you’ll get 18.7 grams of carbohydrate, with 2.5 grams of fiber. However, they have a glycemic index of just 22, so the glycemic load will be a low 4.1. You know better than I how carb intolerant you are, but clearly cherries are not for Atkins Induction – but I can eat a handful with no problem. You’ll get 40% of your vitamin A, 26% of your vitamin C, and 8% of your potassium, with a smattering of B vitamins, a little folacin, and even a touch of calcium and iron.

Sour cherries are little higher in calories than sweet — 88 in a cup. Logically enough, you’ll get less sugar than in sweet cherries, just 12.5 grams, with 1.6 grams of fiber. Sour cherries have considerably less vitamin C than sweet cherries, just 9% of your RDA, and a little less vitamin A, 37%. They’re a surprisingly good source of iron, with 19% of your daily requirement.

But as is so often the case, the big news about cherries isn’t the vitamins. Cherries are bursting with antioxidants. Take a look:

  • Quercetin, which show great anti-tumor potential. One study published in the British Journal of Cancer showed that the combination of quercetin and ultrasound therapy killed 90% of cancer cells, without hurting normal cells. Quercetin also appears to combat inflammation of many kinds, including allergies and asthma, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Ellagic acid, which also appears to have anti-cancer properties, killing cancer cells in lab tests. Ellagic acid may also improve liver function.
  • Queritrin and isoqueritrin, which lower inflammation, are particularly high in sour cherries. They may also slow the aging process. Gives new meaning to calling something well-preserved “cherry,” doesn’t it? Again, these antioxidants appear to fight cancer.
  • Anthocyanins, which are responsible for the rich red color of cherries, also lower inflammation. Indeed, they are comparable to ibuprofen and naproxen in their ability to calm arthritic joints and relieve pain.
  • Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, is also a potent antioxidant, and cherries are one of the best food sources. This means that cherries not only combat oxidation in your body, but may also help you to sleep. Consider cherries for a bedtime snack.

Some list! Makes me want to run to the fridge for some cherries right now.

One caution: Cherries are among the fruits likely to have high levels of pesticide contamination. You could buy organic cherries, but around here the difference in price between conventionally grown and organic cherries is $2-5 per pound. I certainly would understand if you simply washed your cherries well. I plan to plant cherry trees in my yard so I can get unsprayed cherries free.

Please tell me I don’t have to explain how to eat cherries! What part of “stuff them in your face, get stains all over your tee shirt” don’t you understand? Sour cherries I used to make cherry cheesecake. I prefer this to cherry pie, since Splenda works well in cheesecake recipes — try it!

Still, if you’d like to take fresh sweet cherries uptown, try this:

Bing Cherries, Seriously Gilded

  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon stevia/FOS blend OR 1 1/2 teaspoons Splenda
  • 1/8 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 pound fresh ripe Bing cherries

In a small, heavy skillet, stir the pecans over a low flame till they smell toasty. Remove from the pan immediately, to avoid burning.

Stir together the light sour cream, stevia/FOS blend or Splenda, blackstrap, and lemon zest, until well-combined.

To serve, put a little dish of the sour cream mixture on each of two plates. Add a tablespoon of toasted pecans, in a little pile, and a dozen cherries to each plate. Eat by dipping each cherry in the sour cream mixture, then the pecans.

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2 servings, each with: 87 Calories; 6g Fat (55.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber

Note: If you can tolerate more carbs substitute a half-tablespoon of Sucanat for the stevia/FOS or Splenda and the molasses.

© 2010 by Dana Carpender. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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The holidays are straight ahead, and with them piles and piles of carby junk, and worse, people nagging you to eat the stuff. Why so many people think that saying things like "But you have to eat it! It's traditional!" and "I worked all afternoon making it just for you" constitutes an expression of holiday goodwill, I have no idea, but sadly this behavior is all too common. You need to think ahead about how to respond to this sort of thing.

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