The goodness of red fruit

Saturday, August 07, 2010

= Sweet and sour cherries. Plump, juicy strawberries and raspberries.
Cool, refreshing watermelons. With their vibrant colors and flavors, and versatility in the kitchen, easy-to-find red fruit are easy to love. Lucky for you, they're also powerful guardians of your health.

Red fruit are loaded with beneficial plant compounds called phytochemicals, which preserve your health in several ways. These phytochemicals can keep your brain agile as you age, guard against heart disease and cancer, ease arthritis, and ward off urinary tract infections and ulcers. Many phytochemicals are antioxidants, which fight off health-

Here's a closer look at six standout red fruit, plus six delicious recipes to help you reap their benefits.

Did You Know Cherries Can Erase Pain?

Whether you eat them in pie or by the handful, cherries are a worthwhile treat. Ripe, juicy cherries yield a surprising range of health benefits, from arthritis relief to sleep enhancement to cancer prevention. Muralee Nair, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the University of Michigan at East Lansing have identified at least 17 antioxidant compounds in cherries. Tart cherries and sweet cherries (which are different varieties) have the same compounds, but tart cherries have higher levels of them. A group of these compounds called anthocyanins inhibits enzymes that cause inflammation. In fact, Nair's research shows that the anthocyanins in just 35 tart cherries reduce pain and inflammation better than aspirin. Although many people swear by drinking tart cherry juice for arthritis relief, Nair cautions that his research was done on whole cherries, not juice, and that cherry juice may not contain all the compounds found in the fruit.

Cherries are also a great source of melatonin, a hormone that your body uses to regulate its sleep patterns. They're a significant source of quercetin, a flavonoid that has shown anti-cancer and antioxidant power in test tube and animal studies. And they contain perillyl alcohol, which has been found to inhibit breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Can You Believe Cranberries Help Your Heart?

Tiny, tart cranberries have phytochemical powers that belie their size. They contain more of a class of antioxidants called phenols than any fruit tested. Jess Reed, Ph.D., a cranberry researcher at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, says that the phenols in cranberries belong to a group of compounds similar to those found in red grapes, which have been studied extensively for their heart-protective benefits. Although more research is needed, Reed has conducted animal studies that show that cranberry phenols reduce both total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

In addition to their role in Thanksgiving relish, cranberries are famous for their ability to ward off urinary tract infections. This health benefit comes from a puckery-tasting group of phenols called condensed tannins, which prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. Test tube studies have shown that compounds in cranberries also work against dental plaque and the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (which can cause intestinal and stomach ulcers).
Although fresh cranberries offer the greatest health benefits, cranberry juice is good for you, too. Researchers have found that you can get the benefits of tannins and other phenols by drinking a cranberry beverage that contains at least 27 percent cranberry juice. Studies show that drinking 10 ounces of this kind of beverage a day reduces the amount of infection-causing bacteria in the urinary tract.

Are You Aware Red Grapefruits Lower Cholesterol?

A lot of people know that grapefruits contain vitamin C. But these super-size citrus have more than that under their skins. They contain high amounts of several beneficial compounds. One is pectin, a soluble fiber that has a well-documented ability to lower total cholesterol. Researchers at Texas A&M University at Weslaco found that pectin can also hold cancer-cell growth in check. One of the researchers, Bhimu Patil, Ph.D., says it's better to eat grapefruits to get these beneficial effects, because there isn't much pectin in grapefruit juice. Another compound is D-glucaric acid, which has been shown in animal studies to reduce LDL cholesterol. Grapefruits have more D-glucaric acid than other common fruit or vegetables. Grapefruits also offer appreciable amounts of glutathione, an amino acid compound that enhances the antioxidant activity of vitamin C and boosts immunity. And they contain naringin, an antioxidant flavonoid that has been shown in animal studies to reduce atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries).

So why are we singling out red grapefruit over the other shades? Because in addition to all of the above compounds, they give you two important bonuses: the antioxidant pigments beta carotene and lycopene. Both of these carotenoids have cancer-protective effects, and the redder the fruit, the more they contain.