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Families that eat together may be the healthiest

Researchers find additional evidence that families that eat together may be the healthiest. "Come and get it!" A phrase historically proclaiming that the communal meal is ready, is heard all too infrequently among contemporary American households, especially as children get older. Indeed, over 40% of the typical American food budget is spent on eating out, with family meals often being relegated to holidays and special occasions.

Families that eat together may be the healthiest.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Aside from negative effects on the family budget, eating out has been shown to be generally associated with poor food choices and bad health. Of particular interest to public health experts is growing scientific evidence that fewer family meals may translate to increased obesity risk and poor nutritional status, especially among children. But getting this message out to busy parents in a way that will convince them to spend more time at the dining room table with their children is problematic at best.

To both summarize what is known about this timely topic and create a model that might be used to educate parents and other caregivers as to the importance of family mealtimes, researchers at Rutgers recently evaluated results from 68 previously published scientific reports considering the association between family mealtime and children's health.

Researchers specifically looked at how frequency or atmosphere of family meals was related to consumption of both healthy foods, for example, fruits and vegetables, and those considered less desirable, for example, soft drinks

The researchers also evaluated if scientific evidence actually supports the idea that more frequent family meals can lead to decreased obesity. Their review of the literature revealed numerous benefits to children associated with having frequent family meals, including increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins. In addition, the more a family ate together the less children consumed dietary components thought to be harmful to health.

Although the researchers found only a weak link between family meals and obesity risk, children in families with frequent family meals tended to have lower body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) than those who enjoyed fewer family meals, explains the April 23, 2012 news release, "Researchers find additional evidence that families that eat together may be the healthiest."

The research team was also able to create a simple conceptual image that condensed their findings in a user-friendly fashion, and hope to test the effectiveness of this graphic with parents and other caregivers in the near future. According to the scientists, "Images like this one will be a helpful method to demonstrate the benefits identified in scientific literature to parents in a concise, non-biased method. Often parents will hear tidbits about family meal benefits here and there, but we hope that something like this may be useful to provide information from a reliable source."

Helping families make better decisions about food choices

Clearly, the scientific literature represents a vast store of valuable information that could help families make better decisions about food choices. However, many people do not have the time, inclination, or expertise needed to access, filter, and interpret these scientific reports. Instead, they must often rely on media 'headlines' that focus on a single study, or worse do not accurately report the research that has been conducted.

The authors of this new report hope that their "synthesis of the literature of the links between family meals and child health outcomes and creation of a parent-friendly image that visually summarized these findings will lead to interventions that benefit a wide range of children, " according to the April 23, 2012 news release, "Researchers find additional evidence that families that eat together may be the healthiest." Results from this study were presented on April 23, 2012 at ASN's Scientific Sessions in San Diego, CA.

Jennifer Martin-Biggers, Amanda Berhaupt-Glickstein, John Worobey, and Carol Byrd-Bredbenner (all from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey) were coauthors on this paper. This study was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture. You also may wish to take a look at the website of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Did you know there have been studies that mention how tart cherries could reduce belly fat?

You might check out the abstract of one study (by different researchers), "Regular tart cherry intake alters abdominal adiposity, adipose gene transcription, and inflammation in obesity-prone rats fed a high fat diet," published in October 2009 in the Journal of Medicinal Foods. There also have been numerous other studies on the health benefits of tart cherries from relieving arthritis symptoms to promoting restful sleep.

You also may be interested to take a look at the abstract of the study, "The Effect of Tart Cherry-Enriched Diets on Abdominal Fat Gene Expression in Rats," American Dietetic Association FNCE 2008. The study is published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods, October 2009. Authors are Seymour EM, Lewis A, Kirakosyan A, and Bolling S. Or see the article, "Tart cherries can reduce 'belly fat': rat study."

June and July each year is when most of the fresh, not frozen or juiced cherries in Sacramento are sold in supermarkets and at fruit stands or farmers markets. If you've noticed, there's a lack of frozen cherries in many local supermarkets in the summer, except for the few packages of frozen organic cherries in some natural food stores here.

In another recent study, researchers have concluded that tart cherries have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food. Just make sure you get the organic tart cherries, even if they cost a few dollars more than the same amount of pesticide-powdered cherries you're likely to find in most supermarkets. For example, yesterday, cherries cost $7.99 a pound in one supermarket in the organic section, but in the non-organic foods section, commercial cherries (sweet cherries) were on sale for a few dollars less, and the price changes.

When cherries first came on the market a few weeks ago, they started at $6.99 a pound in some stores, then were reduced a dollar when the cherries stood on the shelf for a few days. But there seems to still be a huge price difference between the cherries in the organic produce area compared to the general produce area in various local supermarkets.

Now another recent human study, "Efficacy of tart cherry juice to reduce inflammation among patients with osteoarthritis," that has been presented back in 2012 at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, May 30, 2012, reinforces antioxidant benefits of tart cherries since scientists discovered eating cherries may elevate antioxidant activity in the body. Athletes frequently use tart cherries or cherry juice to improve their various aches and pains from football or other types of sports injuries. The reason is the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherries.

Researchers say tart cherries have 'the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food

Tart cherries may help millions reduce inflammation to manage pain, according to recent research. Tart cherries may help reduce chronic inflammation, especially for the millions of Americans suffering from debilitating joint pain and arthritis, according to new research from Oregon Health & Science University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM) in San Francisco, California back in 2012. In fact, the researchers suggest tart cherries have the "highest anti-inflammatory content of any food" and can help people with osteoarthritis manage their disease.

In a study of twenty women ages 40 to 70 with inflammatory osteoarthritis, the researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks led to significant reductions in important inflammation markers – especially for women who had the highest inflammation levels at the start of the study.

"With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it's promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications," said Kerry Kuehl, M.D, Dr.PH., M.S., according to the May 30, 2012 news release, "Researchers say tart cherries have 'the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food'." Dr. Kuehl is the Oregon Health and Science University, principal study investigator. "I'm intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults."

Often characterized as "wear and tear" arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Athletes are often at a greater risk for developing the condition, given their excessive joint use that can cause a breakdown in cartilage and lead to pain and injury, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

The inflammation benefits could be particularly important for athletes, according to Kuehl's previous research. In a past study he found that people who drank tart cherry juice while training for a long distance run reported significantly less pain after exercise than those who didn't, according to the study, "Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial." J Int Soc Sports Nutr. May, 2010. Authors are Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, and Chestnutt J.

Go Red Instead to Manage Pain

Along with providing the fruit's bright red color, the antioxidant compounds in tart cherries – called anthocyanins – have been specifically linked to high antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation, at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications, according to another study on tart cherries by different researchers, "Cyclooxygenase inhibitory and antioxidant cyanidin glycosides in cherries and berries." Phytomedicine. September, 2001.

Previous research on tart cherries and osteoarthritis conducted by researchers at Baylor Research Institute found that a daily dose of tart cherries (as cherry extract) helped reduce osteoarthritis pain by more than 20 percent for the majority of men and women, according to the "Pilot study on tart cherry and osteoarthritis of the knees, 2007. Authors are Cush JJ. Baylor Research Institute.

And the same compounds linked to cherries' arthritis benefits have now shown promise for athletes and sports recovery to help relieve muscle and joint soreness

According to Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine, Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, who has incorporated tart cherries into the training menu of both her professional athletes and active clients as a natural and easy way to manage pain that also tastes great, "Why not eat red when there's so much science to support the anti-inflammatory benefits of this Super Fruit? And for athletes whose palates prefer the tart-sweet flavor profile of tart cherries, it's the optimal ingredient."

Available every day of the year in dried, frozen and juice forms, tart cherries are a versatile ingredient to include in any training or inflammation-fighting diet. To learn more about the body of research supporting tart cherries' pain-fighting properties, visit the Choose website to download The Red Report. There, you can also reference The Red Recovery Routine, a guide to help people train to manage pain with tart cherries.

The Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) is an organization funded by North American tart cherry growers and processors. CMI's mission is to increase the demand for tart cherries through promotion, market expansion, product development and research. For more information on the science supporting the unique health benefits of cherries and for cherry recipes and menu ideas, visit the Choose website.

Human study reinforces antioxidant benefits of tart cherries

Scientists in another study have discovered that eating cherries may elevate antioxidant activity in the body. Eating just one and a half servings of tart cherries could significantly boost antioxidant activity in the body, according to research from the University of Michigan reported at the 2009 Experimental Biology meeting in New Orleans. The study is "Pharmacokinetic study of the absorption and metabolism of Montmorency tart cherry anthocyanins in human subjects," published online in the journal Experimental Biology 2009. Authors are Uhley VE, Seymour EM, Wunder J, Kaufman P, Kirakosyan A, Al-Rawi S, and Warber S

In the study, healthy adults who ate a cup and a half of frozen cherries had increased levels of antioxidants, specifically five different anthocyanins – the natural antioxidants that give cherries their red color. Twelve healthy adults, aged 18 to 25 years, were randomly assigned to eat either one and a half cups or three cups of frozen tart cherries. Researchers analyzed participants' blood and urine at regular intervals after they ate the cherries and found increased antioxidant activity for up to 12 hours after eating cherries.

"This study documents for the first time that the antioxidants in tart cherries do make it into the human bloodstream and is coupled with increased antioxidant activity that could have a positive impact," said Sara L. Warber, MD, according to the April 19, 2009 news release, "New human study reinforces antioxidant benefits of tart cherries." Warber (at the time of the news release) is mentioned as a Co-Director of the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine and principal investigator of the study. "And, while more research is needed, what's really great is that a reasonable amount of cherries could potentially deliver benefits, like reducing risk factors for heart disease and inflammation."

Previous animal studies have linked cherries and cherry compounds to important benefits, including helping to lower risk factors for heart disease and impacting inflammation. Dr. Warber's colleagues at the University of Michigan have previously shown in animals that cherry-enriched diets can lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce triglycerides, an unhealthy type of blood fat.

Other benefits of cherries found in animal studies include a 14 percent lower body weight and less "belly fat," the type linked with increased heart disease risk and type 2 diabetes. "It's encouraging when research like ours finds that great-tasting fruit can lead to real-life benefits, continuing to underscore the importance of whole foods in the diet," said Dr. Warber, according to the news release.

It's Easy to Enjoy "America's Super Fruit"

Cherries are not only good for you, but they're also a homegrown "Super Fruit." According to recent data, more than 9 out of 10 Americans want to know where their food comes from, nearly 80 percent say they're purchasing "locally produced" products, and the majority are defining "local" as made in America, according to a survey conducted by IRI Data, 2008.

About 95% percent of cherries consumed in the U.S. are grown here, with most coming from Michigan, Wisconsin, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York. You also may wish to know about the research, "Cherry-enriched diets reduce metabolic syndrome and oxidative stress in lean Dahl-SS rats," published in the journal Experimental Biology, 2007. Information on cherries and health benefits was presented in minisymposium 225, "Dietary Bioactive Compounds: Chronic Disease Risk Reduction."

This homegrown advantage, coupled with potential health benefits, make cherries "America's Super Fruit." Tart cherries come in dried, frozen and juice forms so they're readily available to enjoy all year long.

Funding for the study was provided by the Cherry Marketing Institute, an organization funded by North American tart cherry growers and processors. CMI's mission is to increase the demand for tart cherries through promotion, market expansion, product development and research. For more information on the science supporting the unique health benefits of cherries and for cherry recipes and menu ideas, visit the Choose website.

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