Tart cherries might not be one of the first foods that come to mind when you think “heart healty” but maybe they should be. New research from the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center(1) shows that compounds in cherries may be protective against the kind of inflammation that’s been shown to be associated with both heart disease and diabetes.

Researchers fed two groups of rats bred to be particularly susceptible to heart disease the rat equivalent of a typical unhealthy diet (aptly abbreviated SAD for the Standard American Diet). Both groups got the same number of calories, but the diet of one group contained dried extract of tart cherries.

The results were impressive. Markers of inflammation such as TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor) and IL-6 (Interluken 6) went down significantly compared to the group not fed the cherry extracts. Inflammation is a factor in every major degenerative disease, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimers and even cancer, so a reduction in inflammation is a very significant finding. In addition, the cherry fed rats also had significantly lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

The researchers believe that the secret ingredient in cherries may be the anthocyanins, which are the pigment responsible for making cherries dark. The high levels of antioxidants in the fruit may also play a role.

The obese rats fed the cherries were also far less likely to build up fat around the middle. Abdominal fat- in both rats and people- is far more likely to be linked to diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome (a kind of pre-diabetes) than fat that’s deposited elsewhere in the body

How much would a human have to eat to get the same potential benefit? It’s hard to make a perfect extrapolation to a 150 pound human from a rat that weighs a few ounces, but an educated guess is that it would only take about a cup and a half of cherries (fresh or frozen).

Cherries are absolutely delicious, and there’s a real potential upside as far as reducing inflammation. Try eating them frozen with a little yogurt. It’s like a healthy version of Cherry Garcia!

Author's Bio: 

Jonny Bowden has a PhD in nutrition and a Masters degree in psychology and is the author of 5 books on health and nutrition. He invites you to listen to his free Super Foods audio course to learn the 7 Super Foods That Could Change Your Life.