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. So what are the benefits of cherries, and what makes them so beneficial?
The nutrients and bioactive components in cherries support their preventive health benefits. A 2018 review of the health benefits of cherries published in the journal Nutrients summarized the results of 29 published human studies that examined the positive effects of cherry consumption. Researchers found that eating cherries and products made with cherries decreased oxidative stress, inflammation, exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, arthritis symptoms, and loss of sleep. (1)
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. This supports a healthy sleep cycle.
Next time you roam the aisles of the grocery store, pick up some fresh, frozen or dried cherries and reap their many health benefits. They taste great and pack a nutritional punch too.
What Are Cherries?
The cherry is a fruit of the genus Prunus. There are two well-known types of cherries. These include 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 their 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.
1. Promote Weight Loss
Not only are cherries low in calories, but research suggests that they help reduce the concentration of fats in your blood too.
In a 2009 study 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. (2)
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
The antioxidants found in cherries are known to improve cardiovascular 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 peroxisome proliferator activating receptors (PPARs) isoforms 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)
Research also suggests that the anthocyanins and fiber in cherries contribute to heart health by reducing metabolic risk factors, improving LDL cholesterol levels and benefiting glucose metabolism. (4)
3. High Source of Antioxidants
Anthocyanins and cyanidin are two components of cherries that provide powerful antioxidants. Their presence help make cherries a high-antioxidant food. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Natural Products found that the anthocyanins and cyanidin isolated from tart cherries exhibited better anti-inflammatory activity than aspirin. (5)
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, heart disease and dementia. (6)
Another one of the benefits of cherries is they fight free radicals that damage the 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.
Because cherries are rich in vitamin C, they can improve the health of your skin. Benefits of cherries for skin include their ability to reduce inflammatory conditions that affect your skin, improve elasticity and reduce signs of aging. (7)
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. This leads 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. (8)
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. (9)
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. Plasma urate is the salt derived from uric acid. (10)
6. High in Potassium
A cup of cherries fulfills about 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. Potassium is vital for the heart, kidneys, brain and muscular tissues.
Plus, cherries are beneficial during pregnancy because they provide potassium, which is needed to help keep your fluid and chemical balance as your blood volume expands.
7. Treat Osteoarthritis
The most common type of arthritis impacting 33 million American adults is osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. 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 from 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. This suggests that the tart cherry juice provided symptom relief for patients with osteoarthritis. (12)
A 2015 study published in the journal Cell Stress & Chaperones found that when 20 osteoarthritis patients received sour topical cherry seed extract, which is a major protectant against oxidative stress, they experienced significantly less joint pain. (13)
8. Help Sleep Cycle
Tart cherry juice contains high levels of phytochemicals, including melatonin, a molecule critical in regulating the 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. (14)
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.
One of the benefits of cherries is that they’re a nutrient-dense food that’s 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 (approximately 138 grams) of sweet cherries has about: (15)
- 87 calories
- 22 grams carbohydrates
- 1.5 grams protein
- 0.3 gram fat
- 3 grams dietary fiber
- 10 milligrams vitamin C (16 percent DV)
- 306 milligrams potassium (9 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (5 percent DV)
- 2.9 micrograms vitamin K (4 percent)
- 0.1 milligram copper (4 percent DV)
- 15.2 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram iron (3 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram pantothenic acid (3 percent DV)
- 29 milligrams phosphorus (3 percent DV)
- 17.9 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
- 88 international units vitamin A (2 percent DV)
Uses in Traditional Medicine
Cherries are known for their warming properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are used to build qi, boost blood circulation, improve skin health and relieve exhaustion and fatigue.
They are believed to help build blood, which can benefit health conditions that require cleansing or detoxification. These conditions include diabetes and inflammatory conditions. The cherry is also used to strengthen the spleen, relieve digestive issues like diarrhea, rejuvenate the body and stimulate appetite.
One of the most powerful benefits of cherries is its high antioxidant content. This is recognized by practitioners of traditional medicine and used to help patients with conditions related to inflammation, including gout, arthritis and fibromyalgia.
The melatonin in cherries is also valued for its ability to induce a feeling of calmness and help relieve insomnia, headaches and irritability.
Cherries vs. Grapes vs. Cranberries
Cherries, grapes and cranberries have similar nutrition profiles and share some health benefits too. Here’s a quick breakdown of their similarities and differences:
- Cherries are a fruit of the genus Prunus. There are two types of cherries: sweet cherries and sour cherries.
- Peak season for cherries is in the summer months.
- Cherries are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, and they are known for their anti-inflammatory effects.
- Cherry nutrition includes a good amount of dietary fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
- The health benefits of cherries include its ability to improve cardiovascular health, relieve inflammatory conditions, reduce pain from inflammation, improve sleep and promote weight loss.
- Grapes are considered part of the berry family, and they belong to the genus Vitaceae.
- The kind of grapes that we eat or use in recipes are called “table grapes.” There are also wine grapes and raisin grapes.
- Grape season is long — lasting from May to October, with fall the peak season.
- Like cherries, grapes are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants, including flavonoids.
- Grapes nutrition also includes micronutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C and copper.
- Because grapes are full of disease-fighting phytonutrients, they can help improve brain function, boost cardiovascular health and relieve inflammatory conditions.
- Cranberries are closely related to blueberries. Both fruits belong to the genus Vaccinium.
- Fall is the best time for cranberries, especially September and October.
- Like cherries and grapes, cranberries boast protecting phytonutrients and antioxidants that work to boost our overall health. In fact, cranberries have a higher score of antioxidant capacity than blueberries and strawberries, which are considered superfoods.
- Cranberries also contain micronutrients like vitamin C and manganese, and they provide a good amount of fiber.
- Cranberry nutrition contributes to the fruit’s health benefits. Those benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease, aiding digestion, improving immune function, treating UTIs and reducing inflammation.
How to Use
Cherries are widely available in grocery stores, especially when they are in season during the summer months. Off season, you can find frozen or dried cherries and cherry juice. One of the favorite varieties of cherries, called bing cherries, are only available in July. They are known to be the most delicious type of cherry because of their natural sweetness.
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 grainless granola and oatmeal. Cherries can also be canned in water, apple juice, white grape juice or syrup.
How to Preserve Cherries
Get your hands on some fresh cherries during the summer months and make jams, jellies and preserves that you can enjoy all year long. The healthiest way to preserve cherries is in plain water. Cherries are sweet enough, so you don’t need extra sugar. Start by washing the cherries and pitting them. (You don’t have to pit them before jarring, but it makes them easier to eat later.)
Fill half of a jar with water, and 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.
To make a jam or jelly with cherries, use a saucepan to cook the cherries down over medium heat. Add a little water, and give them time to break down. If you want to add extra sweetness, use a bit of honey or maple syrup, which are both great natural sweeteners. You can also add spices that complement the taste of cherries, like cinnamon or nutmeg.
An easy way to get cherries into your diet is with this Cherry Limeade Recipe. Because they 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.
This 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 healthy smoothie recipes. There are a ton of healthy and delicious ideas that allow you to mix it up throughout the week.
Another cherry recipe to try is this Quinoa Salad with Dark Cherries and Kale Recipe.
The sweet cherry has been consumed since prehistoric times. A cultivated cherry, as well as the apricot, was brought to Rome by Lucius Licinius Lucullus from northeastern Anatolia, which is historic Armenia, in 72 BC, according to records. 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 handpicking is also widely used to harvest the fruit and avoid damage to the fruit and trees.
Risks and Side Effects
Consuming sweet and tart cherries is completely safe for adults and children. They 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 exists. There are no known cherry interactions at this time.
If you are thinking about feedings cherries to your dog, it’s not recommended it because they are known to cause gastrointestinal upset in pets.
- The cherry fruit, which comes from the genus Prunus, comes to two varieties: sweet and sour.
- The benefits of cherries are vast because of their antioxidant content. They are known to reduce inflammatory conditions and oxidative stress.
- They have a lower glycemic index, provide three grams of fiber per cup and are low in calories.
- As a source of antioxidants, vitamin C and potassium, this fruit boasts a number of health benefits, including:
- promoting weight loss
- boosting heart health
- treating gout
- reducing inflammation
- treating osteoarthritis
- aiding sleep