Dried cherries.

I just love it when the foods I crave turn out to be health foods. Red wine was my first thrill in this regard, but since I don’t crave wheat grass or alfalfa sprouts, discovering that the dried tart cherries I crave are a health powerhouse makes me have happy feet.

I don’t know how I got onto this one, but stirring in a handful of those dried tart cherries into a creamy scoop of almond butter was my own private decadence. I would often feel guilty because I found myself jonesing for the concoction right before I headed for bed. Little did I know that I was needlessly wasting all of that costly guilt. I was not only eating a health food but I was helping myself to get a good night’s sleep.

The hottest news in nutrition – at least in my book – is that tart cherries are one of the only food sources for melatonin, the hormone our brains naturally produce that helps us to sleep and even keeps us young. True to its hormonal nature, melatonin decreases with age and thus so does our ability to sleep well through the night, overcome jet lag, lessen inflammation and age well. Eating a handful of dried tart cherries is now being recommended as a way of overcoming jet lag. And, I swear I am sleeping better ever since I started stirring them into my almond butter before bedtime.

The melatonin benefits aren’t the only nutritional kudos cherries have received.

According to the cancer treatment newsletter The Moss Report, the bright red little fruit is higher in antioxidant activity than even Vitamin E.

Like red wine, cherries are abundant with flavonoids, an active plant compound found in colorfully hued fruits and widely known as a powerful antioxidant. The one specific to cherries is called anthocyanin, which has been determined to have the greatest antioxidant capacity of all flavonoids. Besides giving tart cherries its jubilant red color, it also is a pain reliever. Remember those Cyclooxygenase (“COX”) inhibitors that were great at blocking pain and relieving inflammation but were withdrawn from the market due to complications? Well, tart cherries with their anthocyanins naturally do the same thing. Cherries have been known as a folk remedy for arthritis, something my grandmother always promoted. Now science has vindicated her at last.

By the way, all of this healthful abundance is specific to tart cherries, not sweet. And if you blueberry aficionados feel like I’m dissing your famously healthful fruit, you need to get a life. I agree, your berry is a nutritional powerhouse but you just have to face the fact that the Blue One doesn’t contain any of those pain-relieving anthocyanins.

Almond butter.

And if you are thinking that my claim of cherries mixed with almond butter is a healthy concoction is as bogus as if I were to claim that mixing cherry juice with vodka was a health drink, you’ve got another think coming.

Yes, nut butters are sinfully yummy, but they are also healthful, especially a naturally made almond butter without any additives. Tuft University researchers have weighed in on the many health benefits of almonds. They are considered “nutritionally dense” -meaning you get the most nutrition per calorie – and are also rich in antioxidants. A handful of almonds costs you 160 calories but you are getting a great source of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, healthy fats, protein, potassium calcium and iron. They have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol – the bad one – and help maintain your weight. They keep your blood sugar levels stable. This makes almonds a winner for heart health.

Just imagine, with my cherry-almond treat, I can do all that for myself and not even have to eat a pound of broccoli or take a sleeping pill.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at healthspan@mac.com and visit his web site/blog at http://www.HealthspanWeb.comfor more information on the topics covered in this column.


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