Cherries are a favorite summer treat and the nutrients in them provide numerous 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.
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 and Lung 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. PPAR activation has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Cherries, courtesy of their high vitamin C content, may also stave off exercise-induced asthma, the symptoms of which include cough, wheezing and shortness of breath when exercising. A meta-analysis from Finland found vitamin C may reduce bronchoconstriction caused by exercise by nearly 50 percent.
3. High Source of Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention
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 anthocyanins and cyanidin isolated from tart cherries exhibited better anti-inflammatory activity than aspirin. Cyanidin possesses powerful antioxidant activity. By promoting cellular differentiation, it reduces the risk of healthy cells transforming into cancer cells.
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.
Cherries also contain several other powerful antioxidants:
Beta carotene, which converts into vitamin A (retinol), important for healthy vision as well
Vitamin C, the mother antioxidant, which helps neutralize cell-damaging free radicals Quercetin is one of the most potent antioxidants and has a wide range of other health-promoting properties as well.
Ellagic acid, this polyphenol prevents the binding of carcinogens to DNA and strengthens connective tissue, thereby preventing the spread of cancer cells. It also inhibits DNA mutations and inhibits cancer by triggering apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells.
Cherries may even lower your risk of dementia. Inflammation and oxidative stress are associated with an increased risk for dementia. The polyphenols in tart cherries effectively combat both, thereby lowering your risk of cognitive decline.
4. 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.
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.
6. Treats 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.
7. Helps The 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.
8. An Endurance-Boosting Super Food
In one recent study, tart cherries, taken in the form of a juice concentrate, were found to improve athletic performance and recovery among semi-professional soccer players, decreasing post-exercise inflammation and muscle soreness. Similarly, athletes consuming tart cherry juice prior to long-distance running experienced less pain than those who did not. Other research has confirmed tart cherry juice is a valuable endurance sports drink.
9. Helps Gout
The anthocyanins and bioflavonoids in cherries slow down the enzymes cyclooxyygenase-1 and -2, which helps to relieve and prevent arthritis and gout. Gout occurs when the metabolic processes that control the amount of uric acid in your blood fail to do their job effectively.
Don’t Gorge on Cherries!
Just beware that cherries, both sweet and tart, are relatively high in fructose. One cup, about 10 pieces, contain about 4 grams of fructose. It’s best to keep total fructose below 25 grams per day if you’re otherwise healthy, or as low as 15 grams if you struggle with health issues associated with insulin resistance. For those following a high fat, low carb nutrition plan watching the amounts of sweet carbs is key! Fortunately, you don’t need to eat much more than a handful to get good amounts of antioxidants.
Storage and Washing
To retain the best flavor, consume fresh cherries within two days if kept at room temperature, or store in the refrigerator for longer shelf life. Avoid washing them before storing, as this accelerates deterioration. Instead, wash them immediately before eating.
Here’s a great salad recipe that incorporates cherries:
Total Time: 50 minutes
- 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.