Stress is a common part of anyone’s life, and individuals have long sought natural remedies to alleviate it. Surveys have shown that Americans are turning to plant-based diets for reasons such as improving overall well-being and mood, and with good reason. Many fruits and vegetables contain specific wellness-boosting properties, with the cream of the crop touted as superfoods. Sweet cherries are certainly among them.
A growing number of studies published on the benefits of sweet cherry consumption supports these findings. Researchers from around the world, including the USDA, have identified a host of benefits including effects on certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even gout. And they’ve also uncovered qualities that can help boost stress response.
Here are four top reasons to reach for sweet cherries in times of stress:
1. Make stress eating healthy eating
According to Harvard Medical School, persistent exposure to stress may result in the release of cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite. People under stress often turn to comfort foods that are high in fat or sugar, and the associated relief can create a feedback loop that leads to overeating and weight gain.
If stress eating is an issue, reach for sweet cherries. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of 2002 shows that cherries are rock stars when it comes to their glycemic index of just 22 (on a scale of 0 to 100, with less than 55 considered low) and a glycemic load of just three (below 11 is low). The former number indicates how sugary a food is, while the latter adjusts for serving sizes. Plus, about 2.5g of fiber in each cup of sweet cherries means glucose is released more slowly, helping to stabilize sugar levels. Crunchy, cold and sweet, fresh cherries make an ideal snack fresh from the fridge or frozen.
2. Take the pressure off blood pressure
Stress can influence factors that contribute to hypertension. For instance, stress can encourage the nervous system to produce hormones that constrict blood vessels (vasoconstrictors) and make it more difficult for blood to circulate, causing blood pressure to rise and increasing risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eating sweet cherries has been associated with lower blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic measures. Consuming sweet cherries is correlated with a decrease in vasoconstrictors, but even better, the fruit increases the effectiveness of compounds that help widen blood vessels for easier blood flow.
3. Reduce inflammation
In times of stress, the body will instigate a “fight or flight” response and produce stress hormones, redirecting resources from other functions. With prolonged stress, that continuous state can create an inflammatory response and introduce the potential for chronic diseases.
Research shows that the dark red of sweet cherries comes from anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties that rival NSAIDs like ibuprofen. These powerful antioxidants have been shown in studies of sweet cherry consumption to help reduce oxidative stress that contributes to inflammation.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
Stress and sleep are closely intertwined. When experiencing stress, sleep can be interrupted or cut short as anxious thoughts rise to the surface. At the same time, prolonged sleep disruption can increase stress, as the body has insufficient time to recharge and repair.
Sweet cherries are a good source of tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin, compounds that have a hand in regulating sleep cycles and contributing to feelings of well-being. Experts suggest enjoying a serving of the fruit about an hour before bedtime to benefit.
Stress-free snacking all summer long
While sweet cherries are available year-round in various forms — dried, frozen, canned — there’s something particularly satisfying about fresh sweet cherries. Don’t let stress-induced snacking get the best of you! When the cravings call, protect your health and reach for a summer treat, like sweet cherries, that is both good for you and tastes great.