I look forward to summer fruits all year, and now new research from Texas A & M University finds that a particular type can also help ward off metabolic syndrome and weight gain. Stone fruits, or drupes, which include nectarines, plums, peaches and cherries, contain natural substances that fight inflammation and create a domino effect that protects against diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
The scientists found that fruits’ phenolic compounds have anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties. The compounds work on different cells in the body, including fat cells, immune cells and cells that line the circulatory system, to protect them from aging and disease. They also found that each fruit contains similar phenolic compounds, but in different proportions that compliment each other, which means that eating a variety is a smart strategy.
They’re all in season now, so to take advantage of their superfood effects, here’s how to select the best of the bunch and some delicious ways to enjoy them:
Fortunately, picking ripe cherries is pretty straightforward. Just choose those that are firm but give a little when touched with plump, shiny skins and green (not brown) stems and avoid those that are mushy, dull, or have brown spots. Color isn’t a give away either, because it varies based on variety. For example, while Bing cherries are deep red, Rainier are golden pink. Cherries don’t ripen further after being picked, and unripe cherries will have less flavor and fewer nutrients, so look for cherries that are just right. Also they’re highly perishable, very delicate, and they absorb odors easily and dry out quickly, so keep them in a sealed container in the fridge and eat them up within a few days or freeze them.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Them
Cherries are amazing on their own but they also pair well with many other healthy foods. One of my favorite is with dark chocolate! Just melt a few tasting squares, dip the bottom of each cherry in the chocolate and place on parchment paper to dry. Or removed the stems and pits and whip up a cherry smoothie.
Peaches, Plums, Nectarines
Like cherries these fruits should slightly give to the touch and for optimal nutrition should be ripe, almost to the point of spoilage – a recent study found that the more ripe the fruit the higher the antioxidant levels. These fruits will continue to ripen after picking, so if they’re too hard leave them at room temperature for a few days.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Them
There’s nothing like biting into a juicy, aromatic, ripe peach, but there are many ways to incorporate them into meals and snacks. Slice and grill plums, nectarines and peaches in foil with a pinch of herbs or spices, from cinnamon, cloves or fresh grated ginger to rosemary or basil. Enjoy grilled fruit in a parfait. Layer it with toasted oats or cooked, chilled red quinoa, yogurt (regular or nondairy) and sliced or chopped nuts, or as a savory snack – spread a slice of hearty whole grain bread with organic nonfat cottage or ricotta cheese or crumbled organic extra firm tofu and top with grilled fruit and nuts or seeds. Or make fruit tacos like these; just swap the strawberries for peaches, plums or nectarines.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.