Study co-author Dr. Steven F. Bolling of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center said tart cherries -- sold dried, frozen or juice, contain powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins -- which provide the bright, rich red color.
Rats, some obese, were fed a Western diet, characterized by high fat and moderate carbohydrate, in line with the typical American diet -- with or without added whole tart cherry powder -- as 1 percent of the diet.
The at-risk, obese rats fed the cherry-enriched diet saw significant decreases in body weight and fat while maintaining lean muscle mass. After twelve weeks, the cherry-fed rats had 14 percent lower body fat compared to the other rats who did not consume cherries.
Cherry-enriched diets also reduced total cholesterol levels by about 11 percent and two known markers of inflammation -- commonly produced by abdominal fat and linked to increased risk for heart disease, Bolling said.
The findings are scheduled to be presented Sunday at a meeting at the American Dietetic Association in Chicago.
The study was funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute but it was not directly involved in the design, conduct or analysis of the project.