So, I’ve sadly come to the end of my 21 Day Cherry Challenge with the support of Seasonal Cherries, Sports Nutritionist Anita Bean, and Nick Littlehales – a Leading International Elite Sports Sleep Recovery Coach. I couldn’t think of a better way to go out with a big bang than to come up with a corker of a recipe – these super gorge Raw Cherry Bounty Bars. They’re not quite like a Cherry Ripe but if you’re a fan of those you’ll no doubt love these too. (If you’re super impatient just scroll down now for the recipe.)
These Raw Cherry Bounty Bars are a healthy alternative to their original Australian coutnerpart. Succulent, flavoursome, and stunning!
The Seasonal Cherries 21 Day Cherry Challenge campaign is based around the notion that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. So basically I’ve been placing cherries into my daily diet, in as many fun ways as possible, all in an attempt to introduce a behavioural challenge focusing around the following 3 key areas; maintaining a balanced diet, reducing inflammation within the body to aid in sports recovery, and to help to regulate my body’s sleep-wake cycle.
In my first post I talked about how to source and prepare cherries, and the overall health and nutritional benefits of eating them. For my final blog post I’m going to discuss how you can improve the quality of your sleep by scoffing down on these little beauties and as promised I’ll be sharing some information gathered by Nick Littlehales, Leading International Elite Sports Sleep Recovery Coach.
How to Improve Your Sleep With Cherries
A report published by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation found that out of 6,700 people roughly a 1/3 were classed as being ‘good sleepers’ whereas more than 1/3 were classed as having chronic insomnia. Respondents that claimed they were in poor health had poorer sleep than those that rated their health as being good, and men had a slightly better sleep score than women – not much of a surprise there! (To read more about sleep problems in the UK head on over to the NHS website.)
“Poor quality sleep will affect your cardiovascular performance, metabolism, the levels of information your brain can process and your emotional response to required tasks, this in turn negatively effects your performance whether it be in sport, work or play.” – Nick Littlehales, Elite Sports Sleep Recovery Coach
Sleep deprivation is certainly no joke – it can put you at risk of severe mental health problems, increase your risk to a whole host of health complications, hinder weight loss, and of course can lead to breakdown in relationships with friends, loved ones, and employers. With today’s modern, hectic lifestyle it’s easy enough to forget how to look after yourself properly – lack of exercise, too much caffeine, and refreshing your Instagram feed after 9pm will all contribute toward poor sleep quality. Making a few simple changes will drastically improve your health and diet is a big player in this.
Understanding Your Sleep Cycle
There are 4 stages of sleep, each of which serve a purpose. Each cycle of stages repeats itself 4 to 6 times within the night and last up to 90 minutes at a time. You must experience all 4 stages in order to wake up refreshed.
Let’s take a closer look at all 4 sleep stages:
- Stage 1 ‘Transition to Sleep’ – This is exactly what it sounds like. Your eyes relax and close, your muscles in your body relax, and your body movement slows down. It takes roughly only 5 minutes to transition into Stage 1 and you can be woken easily. This is also known as being ‘awake’ and you should spend 5-20% in this stage.
- Stage 2 ‘Light Sleep’ – This is the 1st true stage of sleep wherein your heart rate begins to slow and body temperature drops ever so slightly. There is less brain activity during light sleep than in Stage 4 REM Sleep. You should spend 40-60% of your sleep cycle in Light Sleep.
- Stage 3 ‘Deep Sleep’ – Deep Sleep happens in the first half of the night. Your blood pressure will drop, blood flow to your muscles increase, and your breathing, heart rate, and temperature will drop further. You should spend 12-23% of your sleep cycle in Deep Sleep.
- Stage 4 ‘REM Sleep’ – REM stands for ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ and this is when your eyes rapidly move back and forth. Your breathing becomes irregular and shallow, and blood pressure and heart rate increase. All of your limbs become temporarily paralyzed and this is when you will begin to dream. You should spend 15-25% of your sleep cycle in REM Sleep.
Tips to Achieving Sleep Fit for an Elite Sports Star
As promise I’m about to share some serious knowledge from Nick Littlehales, a Leading International Elite Sports Sleep Recovery Coach, on how to maximise your sleep-wake cycle which will spring you back into action and rebuild healthy habits both in day and night. Here are a few of my favourite tips from Nick:
- Understand Circadian Rhythms (24-hour cycle) – Having a better understanding of your every day cycle will help you hit your goals. Our circadian rhythms regulate all of our biological and physiological functions. These functions are triggered by the shift between light and dark, as well as temperature, as the sun rises and sets. If you become out of sync with this process so does your brain, making it so much harder to achieve your goals.
- Catch Your Chronotype – Nick suggests figuring out which chronotype you are – i.e. are you most active in the morning or in the evening? Once you know this you can take preventative measures to ensure that you adopt a routine that won’t be counterproductive to your natural sleep recovery patterns. If you’re morning active it’s likely you’ll be at your best during the first half of the day so maximise that time! Also make sure that you grab an early bedtime. If you’re night active you’ll be more active later in the day and you’ll need to sleep later in the evening and rise later too.
- Identify Your Waking Time – Nick says “One essential part of any SWC (Sleep-Wake Cycle) is to identify a constant everyday wake time (CWT), ideally between 6am and 8am in harmony with the circadian clock (sun up/down). This applies to day, night and shift workers.”.
Where the Cherries Come In…
Tart cherries, particularly Montmorency cherries, have been found to be a natural remedy, promoting a healthier sleep. They are one of the very few natural sources of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for the regulation of our circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycle. If you’re staring at your screen late at night – TURN… IT… OFF! Blue light devices such as smartphones, computers, and tablets all emit high levels of blue light and to our brains it looks like the rays emitted by the sun. This surpresses melatonin levels and causes alertness – and of course insomnia! It’s also believed that the anthocyanins in cherries also play a role too.
“Fresh cherries, for example, are a great natural addition to any diet, because they contain potassium and magnesium which aids every day physical recovery. Due to their high concentration of anthocyanins, cherries may also help reduce inflammation and speed up muscle recovery after a workout. They also contain Melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle to help relax, calm and prepare us for a more natural recovery (sleep).” – Nick Littlehales, Elite Sports Sleep Recovery Coach
Studies found that those who drank tart cherry juice twice a day for 2 weeks became better and more efficient sleepers. They slept for about 40 minutes longer and saw up to a 6% increase in quality of sleep. The best part about this study is that they only drank roughly 2 x 30ml doses of cherry juice a day, over a mere 7 day period!
But what can you do? Well, simply eating a portion of cherries daily, that’s 14 cherries a day or 130g, could be all you need to do. The tarter the cherry the better the benefit! I’d recommend splitting this portion in half – having one half in the morning with your breakfast and the last half as a bedtime snack. If you’ve got a juicer then whip up some fresh cherry juice or if you have a dehydrator you could even dehydrate them for a nice, chewy and portable snack.
So, I hope that you found this post super helpful. If you feel like you’ve got something to add please drop me a comment using the comments box below. And make sure you check out Seasonal Cherries via their Twitter and Instagram for more informational updates, and most importantly – yummy cherry and berry recipes.
Raw Cherry Bounty Bars Recipe (Gluten-Free, Keto, Paleo, Vegan)
If you’re more of a foodie than a scientist you have no doubt scrolled straight down to view this delicious little number – shame on you! Although, I can’t blame you because it is rather tasty. I’ve always had a thing for Bounty Bars – my love for coconut and all things tropical is slightly overwhelming to say the least. One thing that never made it to the UK was the Cherry Bounty Bar, nope, that was reserved for the lucky Australians, who coincidentally not only have the best junk food but the best healthy food in the world. Although the original is super vivid in colour the ingredients list however, is far from pretty:
Sugar, Desiccated Coconut, Glucose Syrup (Sources include Wheat), Cocoa Mass, Milk Solids, Red Cherry Puree, Cocoa Butter, Vegetable Fat, Invert Sugar, Apple Juice Concentrate, Emulsifiers (E471, Soy Lecithin), Humectant (Glycerol), Cocoa Powder, Flavours, Salt, and Colours (E129, E171).
Basically… YUCK! Just yuck! Just please shoot me now…
Okay maybe that was slightly dramatic but I’m just not down with all of those E number and glucose syrup derived from wheat (say what?!). So yeah, that is why I knocked up these super healthy Raw Cherry Bounty Bars for my own enjoyment – and yours too if you’re up for the challenge. To be honest it isn’t really even much of a challenge – you blitz up some sweeteners into a powder, make up your own condensed milk in seconds, blitz in some cherries, stir in some coconut and shape into bars. Once you’ve done that you just double dip in your own raw chocolate. If you can’t be bothered to make your own raw chocolate you can basically melt your favourite chocolate bar and go for it. Too lazy to do that? Then just press your bounty mix into a brownie tin, pour over melted, chocolate, leave to set, and slice into bars.
So without me whittering on about how great they are – here is the recipe for my Raw Cherry Bounty Bars…
- ½ cup erythritol
- ½ cup xylitol
- 2 cups organic coconut milk powder
- 1 tbsp coconut oil (melted)
- 1 tbsp cacao butter (melted)
- ½ tbsp vanilla extract or ¼ tsp vanilla powder
- 1-2 tsp natural coconut extract
- 1 tsp beetroot powder/pitaya powder (optional colouring)
- 50-60 drops Morello Cherry Medicine Flower Extract or 1-2 tsp natural cherry flavouring
- ½ tsp malic acid (optional but gives a fresher, tangier flavour)
- ½ cup freshly boiled water
- 100g pitted fresh cherries
- 450g desiccated coconut
- 150g cacao paste
- 150g cacao butter
- 2-4 tbsp agave/7 tbsp maple syrup/or low carb sweetener of choice (follow manufacturer's instructions)
- Start by preparing your condensed milk like mix. Using a Nutribullet style blender use your milling blade and mill both the erythritol and xylitol until it becomes a powdered sugar.
- Add your powdered sugar mix and the rest of your bounty mix ingredients except for the boiled water, fresh cherries, and desiccated coconut to a high powered blender. Pulse a few times to bring the ingredients together.
- Next pour in your freshly boiled water and blend until smooth, scraping the sides periodically to ensure that the ingredients come together. Add in your fresh cherries and blend again until smooth.
- Pour your condensed milk mixture into a bowl and stir in your desiccated coconut until fully combined and cover with cling film. Place into the refrigerator for 1 hour and chill until firm.
- Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and set to one side.
- Remove from the refrigerator, give a quick stir, and begin to form your bounty bar shapes. I took a fairly generous handful and made roughly 21 bars but it's definitely up to you what size and shape you make. Place your bars onto the lined baking sheet, one by one, until you've used up all of the mixture. Place into the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
- Whilst you're waiting for your bars to firm up it's time to make your raw chocolate coating. Place your cacao paste and butter in a bain marie and place onto a low heat. Heat, stirring occasionally until fully melted. Remove from the heat, stir in your sweetener of choice and leave to cool to room temperature.
- In the meantime set up a wire rack with a piece of greaseproof paper underneath as things are about to get messy!
- Remove the set bars from the freezer and immerse a bar into the raw chocolate mix until fully coated. Remove the bar using two forks, letting as much excess chocolate drip as you can before placing onto the wire rack. Repeat for all of bars. When the chocolate begins to dull down and dry a bit slide a fork underneath each bar and gently lift it off. Repeat the dipping process for each bar until all of the raw chocolate has been used up.
- When each bar has begun to dry lever off with a fork as you did before and place into a box or onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper and place into the freezer until fully set - about 15 minutes. Remove and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator/freezer and consume within 1-2 weeks.
** Prep time largely consists of setting time!