Quinn on Nutrition: Cherries and humans have similar nutritional needs

October 14, 2016

How many experts does it take to produce a quality cherry? About as many as it takes to keep us healthy. That was one eye-opening fact I learned at a recent symposium sponsored by the Montana Department of Agriculture and attended by cherry growers from Montana, Washington, Idaho and Canada.

Cherries and other dark colored fruits and berries pack a host of health promoting antioxidant substances that some say qualify them for super food status. One cup of sweet cherries also provides 90 calories, 3 grams of dietary fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Incidentally, for people on low potassium diets for medical reasons, cherries are considered a low potassium fruit. And they taste good!

As I listened to these orchardists (a new term for me), plant specialists and researchers discuss the goals and challenges of producing a perfect cherry, I was struck by the similarities between plant and human nutrition.

Understand differences. Silly me. I thought a cherry was a cherry ó some sweet and some tart. But I learned that at least six varieties, including Lambert, Rainier, Sweetheart and Lapin, thrive around the Flathead Lake area of northwest Montana.

Deliver nutrition a little at a time. High quality cherries need nutrients supplied at regular intervals, these plant experts stressed. Meals and snacks spaced throughout the day also help maintain high quality humans.

Stay balanced. We all need balanced nutrition, including fruit trees, noted Canadian cherry grower Greg Norton. But thereís often a misconception that more is better.

"Get an analysis of your tree sap to find out where youíre at nutritionally," he urged growers. (Blood tests work better than tree sap to identify nutritional needs in humans.) "Balance, balance, balance ó thatís what nutrition is all about. Donít overdo anything."

Know what you need. "Nutrition affects the size and firmness of the fruit," explained Oregon cherry orchardist Mike Omeg. "And different types of cherries have different nutrient targets." Thatís one reason why human nutrition is individualized these days.

Stay hydrated. "Fruit trees that donít have enough water donít do well," explained plant physiologist Peter Toivonen. To become firm sweet, cherry trees need adequate amounts of water. We know, right?

Prune appropriately. Extra growth on a tree sucks away energy and makes it more susceptible to disease, says Toivonen. True also for our species if we pack too much growth around our trunks.

Be militant against weeds and pests. "They rob fruit trees of moisture and nutrients," said Omeg. Plant pathologist and insect diagnostician (really) Laurie Kerzicnik from Montana State University explained various sustainable techniques to keep invaders away from food crops. And she emphasized that healthy crops are better able to resist pesky predators. Humans, too, fare better against health-robbing invaders when we are well nourished.

Fresh cherries are best found at their peak during the summer months. Until that time rolls around again, we can find dried cherries, cherry juice, cherry jam Ö even cherry molasses and vinegars. And by the way, B. Beradini Winery makes their cherry wine exclusively from locally grown Montana cherries. Yum.




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