March 26, 2023/Nutrition

The Cherry on Top: 8 Health Benefits of Cherries

High in antioxidants and nutrients, cherries can help you sleep better and run faster!

Fresh pickied bowl of cherries in a white bowl on a light blue cloth napkin.

There’s a reason that cherries are always on top. This small yet powerful fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

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Cherries are a stone fruit, which means they have pits or seeds in the middle. You eat the fleshy outer part, which ranges from golden yellow to dark crimson red. And is this stone fruit a healthy addition to your plate? Absolutely! Registered dietitian Carly Sedlacek, MFN, RD, LD, explains the many health benefits of cherries.

Are cherries good for you?

There are more than a thousand cherry varieties grown in the United States that fall into either the sweet or tart category. Whether you prefer the sweetness of dark-red Bing cherries or the mouth-puckering sourness of bright-red Montmorency cherries, there are many benefits of eating cherries. In fact, cherries are a superfood!

1. Fight inflammation and diseases

Red cherries get their rich color from anthocyanins and are high in polyphenols like flavonoids. These phytonutrients, or plant chemicals, have antioxidant properties. “Antioxidants protect against inflammation and fight free radicals, which can cause cell damage and contribute to chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” says Sedlacek.

Snacking on a bowl of fresh cherries also provides antioxidants like:

One review of multiple studies found that eating at least 45 cherries every day reduces inflammation brought on by free radicals. “But if you’re sensitive to salicylates, a natural plant chemical found in cherries and also used in aspirin, eating that many cherries can lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea,” cautions Sedlacek.

2. Promote more restful sleep

The same review showed that tart and sweet cherries help you sleep better thanks to the fruit’s high levels of:

  • Melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Serotonin, a chemical that helps your body make melatonin.
  • Tryptophan, an amino acid that increases serotonin and, as the saying goes, puts you to sleep after a Thanksgiving meal.

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3. Soothe sore muscles

Studies of long-distance runners indicate that tart cherries and tart cherry juice may ease inflammation and soothe sore muscles after a workout. “The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cherries work like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen for reducing or preventing pain. However with cherries, you don’t have the risk of harmful side effects such as potential gastrointestinal, kidney and possible heart issues,” says Sedlacek.

Another study found that consuming a tart cherry powder supplement enhanced exercise performance in endurance runners. Runners who took the supplement for 10 days before a half-marathon had 13% faster race finish times than those who took a placebo. And they felt less achy afterward.

4. Prevent and ease arthritis pain

As many as 1 in 4 people with gout consume cherries, cherry juice or cherry extract to lower their risk of a painful gout flare-up, according to a 2017 survey. A buildup of uric acid causes this inflammatory arthritis, which can make your big toes and other joints feel like they’re on fire. “Eating cherries or drinking cherry juice every day can lower uric acid levels and ease the pain and swelling of arthritis,” says Sedlacek.

In a study of more than 600 people with gout, participants who:

  • Ate fresh cherries for two days had about 33% fewer gout flare-ups than those who didn’t eat cherries.
  • Ate cherries and also took gout medications experienced a 75% reduction in flare-ups.

5. Protect your heart

A cup of fresh cherries has 260 milligrams of potassium, very little sodium and high amounts of plant sterols (phytosterols). “High-potassium, low-sodium foods, eaten in moderation, can help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease,” notes Sedlacek. Plus, consuming plant sterols are an effective and natural way to lower your cholesterol, another heart-healthy move.

6. Improve blood sugar levels

Another benefit of eating cherries: The fruit is low on the glycemic index. Cherries also contain fiber from their skin, which makes them raise blood sugars slower, as long as they’re not canned in syrup. This makes cherries a perfect treat for people with diabetes. Sedlacek notes that they should be enjoyed in moderation, as the fruit is still a carbohydrate.

In one study, people with diabetes who drank 1.35 ounces of concentrated sour cherry juice every day for six weeks saw significant drops in blood sugar levels. Research is underway to see if a healthy diet that includes cherries may reverse prediabetes.

7. Lower cancer risk

“We know that eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables can help lower your risk of different cancers,” says Sedlacek. The high amounts of anthocyanins and melatonin in cherries protect against cancer-causing cell damage. Cherries also have bioactive compounds, chemicals that may help prevent cancer, according to research.

8. Pack a nutritional punch

A cup of pitted sweet cherries has approximately:

Nutrient-wise, a cup of cherries has:

  • 15 milligrams of calcium (1% daily value).
  • 0.42 milligrams of iron (2% daily value).
  • 13 milligrams of magnesium (3% to 4% daily value).
  • 260 milligrams of potassium (6% daily value).
  • 8 milligrams of vitamin C (9% daily value).

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How can I get more cherries into my diet?

You’ll reap cherry benefits regardless of whether you like your stone fruit sweet or sour. Sweet cherries may be more delightful for your tastebuds when you eat them by the handful. Tart cherries are often used in baking.

“Aim for one cup of fresh cherries a day or a quarter-cup of dried ones,” suggests Sedlacek. Try them in your favorite recipes — they can add a tangy twist to your brownies, coleslaw and rice pilaf.

You can buy cherry supplements made from the juice or extract of cherries at your local drugstore. But Sedlacek stresses that you’ll get more nutrients through foods. Summertime is the best time to enjoy freshly harvested cherries. But you can also eat cherry products year-round. Be sure to read the labels, says Sedlacek, to avoid added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Aim to choose canned cherries “packed in its own juice,” “packed in 100% juice,” “unsweetened” or “no sugar added.”

Consider these cherry products:

  • Canned cherries.
  • Cherry jams and purees.
  • Cherry juice.
  • Dried cherries.
  • Frozen cherries.
  • Pickled or brined cherries.

Chances are you already know how delicious cherries are. The fact that they’re good for you is truly the cherry on top!

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