21 February 2000

Fight cancer with cherry pie!

by Kate Melville

Americans celebrate George Washington's birthday (Feb 22) with lots of cherry pie. Quite why this is so remains a mystery as the story of Washington chopping down a cherry tree is just that, a story concocted by a biographer to fill a large gap in the record of Washington's childhood.

In any case, those people who actually like cherry pie can now feel even more smug as cherries, whether they be fresh, frozen or canned, apparently offer surprising health benefits. In an interesting twist, Washington State now produces over 40% of all sweet cherries consumed, making it the world's leading producer.

"We are calling on all Americans to celebrate Presidents' Day (Feb 21) and Washington's Birthday (February 22) by eating a piece of cherry pie - a lower-fat version, of course. It's a great way to get a strong dose of cancer-fighting phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals during the cold winter season," said Jeff Prince, Vice-President of Education at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). According to AICR, cherries contain several substances that fight cancer individually and in concert. Cherries contain perillyl alcohol, which binds protein molecules to inhibit the growth signals that stimulate tumor development; they also have anthocyanins, a compound that acts as a potent antioxidant.

Studies indicate that phytochemicals like perillyl alcohol can cause tumors to regress and may help prevent skin, lung, breast and liver cancer.

Therefore, what we can say is that cherries should be in a healthy, balanced diet (along with just about every other food stuff you care to think of).

Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, published by ACR, provides lots of evidence of the protective power of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. It analysed 4,500 studies that looked at the links between diet and cancer and is possibly the first international effort to try and find some consensus in this diverse field of study.

So on Feb 22, eat some cherries and at least 4 other serves of fruit and vegetables. Do the same on Feb 23, 24, 25,………etc.