Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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J ames Michael believes the health benefits of sweet cherries could increase consumption in a big way. He can imagine promoting sweet cherries with the phrase "enjoy a slice of pie made from sweet cherries as a way to improve your health." Michael, as vice president of marketing-North America for the Northwest Cherry Growers, knows that with the expansion of cherry acreage in the Pacific Northwest and western states, larger crops are coming. He's looking for any angle to increase sales and put cher- ries in the shopping carts of consumers. And part of that equation includes positioning sweet cherries as a super- fruit packed full of healthy compounds. But health mes- sages must be backed by peer- reviewed science and face rigid review and approval. That's why funding health research has been a top pri- ority of the Northwest Cherry Growers, the promotional arm for cherry producers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. The grower group, administered by the Washington State Fruit Commission, has annually budgeted $100,000 for health studies in recent years. A scientific advisory board was formed in 2008 by cherry industry representatives from Washington, Ore- gon, and California to help guide the Northwest Cherry Growers through a maze of health research projects and scientific jargon. The board includes nationally recog- nized scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Arizona, and University of California, San Diego. Though cherry health research has moved slowly, in part because much of the research must take place when cherries are in season, pieces are beginning to come together. "The research dollars of Northwest Cherry Growers are finally starting to pay out," Michael said during an interview with Good Fruit Grower. Moreover, with recent developments in technology and growing interest in the subject, the research pace is picking up. Last season, Northwest cherries made big news with release of a study led by USDA's Dr. Darshan Kelley, chemical scientist at the Western Human Nutri- tion Research Center in Davis, California. The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that con- suming sweet Bing cherries can significantly decrease circulating concentrations of inflammatory biomark- ers in the body and help to prevent chronic inflamma- tory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. The good news gained notice on a giant reader board in New York's Times Square and went around the world, picked up by Yahoo-Singapore Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, among others. "In essence, researchers found that consuming Bing cherries lowered the levels of C-reactive protein, a bio- marker of inflammation," said Michael. Frozen plasma samples from a 2006 Bing eating study were reanalyzed with new technology. The original project studied men and women between the ages of 45 and 61, all of whom had slightly elevated C- reactive protein levels. The partic- ipants consumed the equivalent of a handful of cherries three to four times a day. 40 MAY 15, 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Northwest cherries made the news in New York City's Times Square last summer when a major health study was released. PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHWEST CHERRY GROWERS Sweet cherry health connection Health research is a priority for the Northwest Cherry Growers. by Melissa Hansen

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