"Eat more cherries" is the latest health tip from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

AICR nutrition experts claim that cherries — whether fresh, frozen, dried, or canned — are a powerful triple threat in the body's battle against cancer.

To promote the health benefits of cherries, they have urged all of us to honor George Washington by eating cherry pie. America's first president is popularly identified with the cherry because of Parson Weems' apocryphal story, in which a young George Washington chops down his father's cherry tree but cannot bring himself to lie about it under oath.

...[C]herries — whether fresh, frozen, dried, or canned — are a powerful triple threat in the body's battle against cancer.

Furthermore, Washington State is the world's leading cherry producer. "[Low−fat cherry pie] is a great way to get a strong dose of cancer−fighting phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals during the cold winter season," says Jeff Prince, VP of Education at the institute.

According to the AICR, cherries are rich in the compound perillyl alcohol, a phytochemical that attaches itself to protein molecules and blocks growth signals that stimulate the development of tumors. Clinical studies indicate that perillyl alcohol can shrink pancreatic tumors, as well as help prevent tumors of the breast, lung, liver and skin. Cherries also contain antioxidants such as anthocyanins, as well as large amounts of fiber and potassium, both of which are desirable in a healthy diet.

TheDoctor's Joel B. Mason, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine and Nutrition and Acting Chief of Tufts University's Division of Clinical Nutrition, expressed some skepticism about the announcement. "This is just the most recent of several other fruits and vegetables that have had their 15 minutes of fame as anticancer agents," he comments, "I would like to see more solid scientific data supporting the anticancer potential of cherries."

Dr. Mason adds that the best dietary approach to cancer prevention is not to look for one "magic" food, but rather to make sure you eat a healthy diet in general. "There is no doubt," he says, "that a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables is a potent anticancer approach. Given how little we know at this point about the relatve anticancer potencies of each fruit, it would probably be in an individual's best interest to consume a wide variety of produce, rather than concentrating on one item.

That is something all experts can agree on. "Cherries are not alone in their anti−cancer potential," says Melanie Polk, M.M. Sc., R.D., Director of Nutrition Education at the AICR. "All fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans contain powerful natural substances that show the ability to fight cancer and other chronic diseases. That's why AICR recommends a predominantly plant−based diet rich in a variety of these foods."

Reviewed by: Joel B. Mason, M.D.