Cherries are popular because of their sweet and juicy characteristics, but more and more research suggests that cherries are extremely beneficial to your health too. The nutrients and bioactive components in cherries support their preventive health benefits; cherry intake is associated with the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and Alzheimer’s disease. The benefits of cherries come from their high levels of antioxidants that fight free radical damage and protect our cells. Recent research also indicates that cherries help remove excess body fat and increase melatonin, supporting a healthy sleep cycle.
The cherry is a fruit of the genus Prunus. There are two well-known types of cherries, the species derived from the Prunus avium (the sweet or wild cherry) and those derived from the Prunus cerasus (the sour cherry). These edible cherries are distinguished by having flower clusters and smooth fruit. They’re native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with two species in America, three in Europe and the remainder in Asia.
Irrigation, spraying, labor and their tendency to damage from rain and hail make cherries relatively expensive, but demand is still high for the fruit. The peak season for cherries is the summer months. In many parts of North America, they’re among the first tree fruits to ripen, while in Australia and New Zealand cherries are widely associated with Christmas because they peak in late December.
In the United States, most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, California, Oregon, Wisconsin and Michigan. Sour cherries are grown in Michigan, New York, Utah and Washington.
Cherry Nutrition Facts
One of the benefits of cherries is they’re a nutritionally dense food rich in anthocyanins, quercetin, hydroxycinnamates, potassium, carotenoids and melatonin. In addition, cherries are a high-fiber food and excellent vitamin C food source. Sweet cherries also have a lower glycemic index of 22, which is surprisingly lower than apricots, grapes, peaches, blueberries and plums.
One cup of sweet cherries has about:
- 87 calories
- zero grams fat
- 22 grams carbohydrates
- 3 grams dietary fiber
- 18 grams sugar
- 1 gram protein
- 10 milligrams vitamin C (16 percent DV)
- 2.9 micrograms vitamin K (4 percent)
- 88 international units vitamin A (2 percent DV)
- 306 milligrams potassium (9 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (5 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (4 percent DV)
- 15.2 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams iron (3 percent DV)
- 17.9 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
8 Benefits of Cherries
1. Promote Weight Loss
In a 2009 study that was published in the Journal of Medical Food, rats that received whole tart cherry powder for 90 days, mixed into a high-fat diet, didn’t gain as much weight or build up as much body fat as rats that didn’t receive cherries. Tart cherry intake was associated with reduced concentration of fats in the blood, percentage fat mass and abdominal fat weight.
The rats’ blood showed much lower levels of inflammation, which has been linked to diseases like heart disease and diabetes. By consuming tart cherry juice, or a cherry supplement, you reduce inflammation and lipids in the blood, which lead to heart conditions and weight gain.
2. Boost Heart Health
Research done at the University of Michigan suggests that tart cherries provide cardiovascular benefits and can reduce the risk of stroke. The study showed that tart cherries activate PPAR isoforms (peroxisome proliferator activating receptors) in many of the body’s tissues. PPARs regulate genes that are involved in fat and glucose metabolism, and when modified they can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. There are prescribed medications that do the same thing, but they come with serious side effects, such as heart attack and stroke.
3. High Source of Antioxidants
Anthocyanins and cyanidin are two components of cherries that provide powerful antioxidants, making cherries a high-antioxidant food; in fact, a study published in the Journal of Natural Products found that the nthocyanins and cyanidin isolated from tart cherries exhibited better anti-inflammatory activity than aspirin.
Anthocyanins from sour cherries have been shown to not only possess strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, but to inhibit tumor development in mice and the growth of human colon cancer cell lines. The body uses antioxidants to prevent itself from the damage caused by oxygen, which plays a major role in diseases today and has been linked to health conditions like cancer, as well as heart disease and dementia.
Another one of the benefits of cherries is they fight free radicals that damage eyes. Macular degeneration and glaucoma are caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. Macular degeneration is age-associated vision loss and blurry vision related to damage to the macula, or center of the eye; it can eventually affect one’s ability to read and perform many everyday tasks. Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of fluid in the eye that puts pressure on the optic nerve, retina and lens; the pressure can permanently damage the eye if not treated. Cherries serve as a natural treatment for macular degeneration and natural treatment for glaucoma because of their powerful antioxidants that help prevent eye damage.
4. Treat Gout
Gout is a painful, arthritic condition mainly afflicting the big toe. The big toe becomes stiff, inflamed and painful as a result of excess uric acid leading to crystals formed in joints. These high levels of uric acid are called hyperuricemia, and the pain comes from the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response to the crystals. High uric acid levels can lead to more serious health issues, such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease.
A study published in Arthritis & Rheumatism evaluated 633 individuals with gout who were treated with cherry extract over a two-day period. This cherry treatment was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of gout attacks. When cherry intake was combined with allopurinol use, a prescribed medication for gout and kidney stones, the risk of gout attacks was 75 percent lower. So you might want to add cherries to your gout diet for instant relief.
5. Reduce Inflammation
Cherries are one of the top anti-inflammatory foods. A study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition evaluated cherries’ ability to reduce muscle damage and pain during strenuous exercise. In the study, 54 healthy runners ran an average of 16 miles over a 24-hour period. Participants drank 355-milliliter bottles of tart cherry juice or a placebo cherry drink twice daily for seven days prior to the event and on the day of the race.
While both groups reported increased pain after the race, the cherry juice group reported a significantly smaller increase in pain compared to the placebo group. This is thought to be because of the anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries; the post-run muscle pain was minimized because the cherries were able to reduce inflammation.
Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition evaluated 10 healthy women ages 22–40. The women consumed two servings of sweet cherries after an overnight fast. The blood and urine samples that were taken before and after the cherry dose indicate that cherries decreased inflammation, inhibited inflammatory pathways and lowered plasma urate, which is the salt derived from uric acid.
6. High in Potassium
A cup of cherries fulfills 9 percent of your recommended daily value of potassium. While you snack on this delicious potassium-rich food, you feed your body a required mineral for the function of several organs, including the heart, kidneys, brain and muscular tissues. Potassium reduces the risk of stroke, alleviates hypertension and high blood pressure, reduces muscle cramping, and improves muscle strength.
7. Treat Osteoarthritis
The most common type of arthritis impacting 33 million American adults is osteoarthritis. It occurs when the cartilage between the bones and the joint wears down; this allows the bones to rub together rather than giving them the protection and cushion of cartilage.
A study done at the Osteoarthritis Research Center evaluated 58 non-diabetic patients with osteoarthritis who drank two eight-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice daily for six weeks. As a result of the study, Western Ontario McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (known as WOMAC) scores decreased significantly after the tart cherry juice treatment. High sensitivity scores also declined after the cherry treatment — suggesting that the tart cherry juice provided symptom relief for patients with osteoarthritis.
8. Help Sleep Cycle
Tart cherry juice contains high levels of phytochemicals, including melatonin, a molecule critical in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. In a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, 20 volunteers consumed either a placebo or tart cherry juice concentrate for seven days. As a result of this treatment, total melatonin content was significantly elevated in the cherry juice group.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland, a small gland in the brain; it helps control sleep and wake cycles. The cherry tart treatment also led to significant increases in time in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency. This data suggests that tart cherry juice or supplements can benefit sleeping patterns and help people with disrupted sleep or those who can’t sleep.
Cherries History & Interesting Facts
The sweet cherry has been consumed since prehistoric times. A cultivated cherry, as well as the apricot, is recorded as having been brought to Rome by Lucius Licinius Lucullus from northeastern Anatolia, which is historic Armenia, in 72 BC. By order of Henry VIII, who had tasted the cherry in Flanders, it was introduced into England at Teynham, near Kent.
Today, cherries are in demand. The cherry trees are actually difficult fruit trees to grow and keep alive because they don’t tolerate wetness; they’re also susceptible to several viruses, as well as bacterial canker, cytospora canker, brown rot, root rot and crown rot. In commercial production, cherries are harvested by using a mechanized “shaker,” but hand picking is also widely used to harvest the fruit and avoid damage to the cherries and trees.
How to Use & Preserve Cherries
There are a ton of fun and healthy ways to use cherries. When they’re in season, the fresh fruit can be added to oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, salads, desserts, drinks and smoothies. They can also be eaten plain, of course. It’s easy to take out the pit of a cherry, just use a knife and cut the cherry in half — the pit will come right out.
The cherry season is short, so thankfully cherries freeze very well. You can keep cherries in the freezer for up to a year! Off season, you can also snack on dried cherries, which are great in granola and oatmeal. Cherries can also be canned in water, apple juice, white-grape juice or syrup.
The healthiest way to can cherries is in plain water — cherries are sweet enough, you don’t need the extra sugar. Start by washing the cherries and pitting them (you don’t have to pit them before canning, but it makes it easier to eat later). Fill half of the jar you’re using with water, then add your cherries. Keep tapping the jar on the counter to remove air bubbles; then add the rest of your water. Before putting the lid on, make sure the cherries are completely covered, and tap the jar a few more times.
An easy way to get cherries into your diet is with my Cherry Limeade Recipe. Because cherries are only in season from May to July, they can be hard to find in other months. This recipe calls for frozen cherries that can be bought year-round.
My Very Cherry Snack Bar is a great way to get kids the antioxidants that they need. It’s easy to make, and the kids love it! Plus, it has fiber, healthy fats and potassium.
Check out these 40 healthy smoothie recipes. There are a ton of healthy and delicious ideas that allow you to mix it up throughout the week. The Cherry Almond Smoothie is smooth and creamy because of the blended almonds and coconut oil; you will love it.
This quinoa salad with dark cherries is a refreshing, delicious and healthy addition to any meal. It’s packed with the vitamins and minerals that keep your body running properly.
- 2 cups pitted and halved dark red cherries
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 1 cup chopped raw kale
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped raw or sprouted nuts — almonds, cashews or pecans
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Soak quinoa at least 15 minutes to remove the bitter coating.
- Cook the wild rice in 3 cups of water over high heat for 15 minutes.
- Drain the quinoa and add it to the wild rice.
- Continue to cook for 15 minutes more just until the quinoa is done. It should be al dente, not mushy.
- Drain the mixture.
- Combine the quinoa and wild rice mixture, vegetables, cherries and nuts in a large bowl.
- Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper and pour over the salad.
Possible Side Effects of Cherries
Consuming sweet and tart cherries is completely safe for adults and children. Cherries may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive. There is not enough research to indicate if large doses for medicinal purposes are completely safe. If you consume large doses, or cherry supplements, inform your doctor and keep track of your bodily responses before continuing the treatment.
Consuming cherries is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, but the safety of taking large doses for medicine is unknown because not enough research has been done. There are no known cherry interactions at this time.