Is there anything better than sitting outside with a bowl of cherries and just passing some time? The perfect summer snack is a healthy one, too. Cherries’ health benefits run deep. They are a great source of antioxidants, very high in fiber, low in calories, and have the potential to reduce blood pressure, treat gout, and lower systemic inflammation.
Cherries are stone fruits, due to the tiny pit found in their center, and there are many types. The two most popular for eating are sweet cherries (Prunus avium) and tart, or sour, cherries (Prunus cerasus).
Sour cherries are typically used in cherry pies or other cherry recipes (jams, muffins, etc.). They are bright red and, as the name suggests, sour or tart. You’re probably not sitting around snacking on them, but they are the ideal cherry for baking.
On the other hand, sweet cherries are the dark variety—usually a deep purple—that take over the grocery store every summer.
Both varieties are healthy, as fruits and vegetables are. The bright-red or dark skins, as well as the flesh, provide plenty of valuable nutrients that can help produce positive health outcomes.
Cherry Nutrition Facts
When it comes to cherries, nutrition values can vary slightly. Sour cherries and sweet cherries are a little different in terms of their nutritional profile, so we’ll take a look at both.
Because tart cherries are often used in baking unhealthy items and sweet cherries are often consumed on their own, dark cherries may hold a bit of an advantage.
That said, tart cherry juice has been shown to have some health benefits that we’ll look at later. On another note, people can easily get hung up on the amount of sugar in cherries—it’s where the large majority of their calories come from. But don’t worry, when consumed whole, they have a very small glycemic load (around 6 for both) and are packed with fiber.
Nutrition Data for Sour Cherries (Raw, 1 cup, no pits)
|Vitamin A||1988 IU||40%|
|Vitamin C||15.5 mg||26%|
|Vitamin K||3.3 mcg||4%|
Nutrition Data for Sweet Cherries (Raw, 1 cup, pits in)
|Vitamin A||88.3 IU||2%|
|Vitamin C||9.7 mg||16%|
|Vitamin K||2.9 mcg||4%|
Studies have noted that both types of cherries are rich in antioxidant polyphenols and anthocyanins, giving them the antioxidant powers responsible for many of their health benefits.
The most important and bioactive nutrients in these fruits are fiber, polyphenols, carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin.
Research suggests tart cherries have higher concentrations of total phenolic compounds, while sweet cherries have more anthocyanins. The breakdown for fresh, 100-gram servings of each may look like this:
|Phenol Location||Sweet Cherry||Tart Cherry|
|Flesh||134 mg||301 mg|
|Pit||92 mg||157 mg|
|Skin||333 mg||558 mg|
|Anthocyanin Location||Sweet Cherry||Tart Cherry|
|Flesh||26 mg||0 mg|
|Pit||10.4 mg||0.8 mg|
|Skin||60.6 mg||36.5 mg|
Cherries’ Health Benefits
There are a number of potential health benefits you may experience from eating cherries or using cherry-based products like juices and extracts. In some cases, results have been mixed; in others, substantial human studies have yet to be conducted.
All in all, however, a healthy and preventative diet can include some cherry. Benefits all seem promising.
1. Lower Inflammation
A common denominator in chronic illness like heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and more is systemic inflammation.
Anything you can do to limit inflammation will generally produce benefits and reduce risk, and cherries may have the ability to reduce inflammatory markers.
A 2018 review looking at the effects of cherries on inflammation found that in most cases, cherry consumption led to reduced inflammation.
Of the 16 studies they looked at, researchers found that 11 of them indicated cherries were effective in lowering inflammation, four of them produced no change in inflammatory markers, and one study showed increased inflammation.
2. Reduced Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease
Studies have shown cherries can have benefits for people with, or at risk for, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Consuming cherries may lead to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings and lower cholesterol. These two benefits may be the result of antioxidant activity and fiber, allowing arteries to relax and loosen so more blood can flow through.
They may also play a role in a reduction of the LDL cholesterol deposits—known as arterial plaques—that can collect along artery walls.
Because of their low glycemic load, cherries may also help reduce the risk of diabetes, especially when you’re in the mood for a sweet snack.
3. May Help with Sleep
Because of their melatonin content, there is reason to believe that cherries, especially tart cherries, or cherry juice/extracts may be a useful sleep aid.
Studies have shown cherries can help increase both the quality and quantity of sleep, particularly in people suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia. And because there is also research supporting the use of cherries to help with anxiety, stress, and mood regulation, they may also indirectly help with better sleep.
Research has indicated that cherries may lower cortisol levels, which can play a role in improved relaxation and better sleep. Overall, the research on cherries for sleep is mixed, but it is definitely promising and further work could paint a much clearer picture.
4. May Be Useful in Gout Treatment and Prevention
There is research showing the potential benefits of cherry juice to treat or prevent gout attacks.
One small study showed that drinking cherry juice or eating cherries over a two-day period was associated with a reduction in the risk for gout attacks.
Another study showed that drinking cherry juice daily for four months reduced the likelihood of acute gout flare-ups. More research exists on the topic, with one study indicating that drinking cherry juice can lower uric acid levels in healthy volunteers, potentially reducing the risk of gout.
The preliminary results are certainly favorable.
Other areas of potential cherry health benefits include:
- Reducing oxidative stress
- Lowering pain and muscle damage after intense exercise; enhancing muscle recovery
- Potentially helping with osteoarthritis
- Potentially enhancing memory and cognitive function
How to Use Cherries
You can use cherries in a variety of ways, but what you want them for will determine the types you buy.
If you’re looking for baking cherries to use in muffins or a cherry pie, you will want sour cherries. Typically, they are only available canned in grocery stores, and the best place to get them fresh will be your local farmers market or fruit and vegetable stand. This isn’t always the case, but they tend to be less accessible in major grocery stores.
Conversely, sweet cherries are widely available in grocery stores during the summer months and most establishments give them prime-time placement. If you can’t see them, they’re probably sold out! This variety isn’t great for baking, but you can eat them as a snack on their own or add them to yogurt, ice cream, salads, and more. Many brands sell these types of cherries frozen year-round as well.
If you’re cooking with cherries or putting them on a salad, don’t forget to pull the pit out first. You don’t want any broken teeth or cyanide poisoning!
If you’ve bought fresh cherries, it’s best to store them in the fridge for maximum life. In my experience, they don’t stay fresh for very long, so dig in for the next few days—maybe up to 10, if you’re lucky.
If left in a bowl on a countertop, their shelf-life drops down to three days. Cherries can also be sealed and frozen for around six to eight months. You’ll know your cherries have turned if they get soft and wrinkly.
Cherry juice and extracts can also be purchased.
Healthy Cherry Recipes
1. Pork Chops in Sweet Cherry Sauce
Prep time: 15 mins. Total time: 30 mins. Serves: 2
- 2 pork sirloin chops, boneless and 3/4-inch thick
- Coarse sea salt
- Ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
- 1/2 cup cranberry juice
- 1/2 cup fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
*You can also use frozen unsweetened sweet cherries, pitted, thawed, and halved.
- Season pork chops with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
- Grease a large cooking skillet.
- Preheat over medium high-heat. When hot, add the chops. Cook for eight to 10 minutes until the pork center is slightly and juices run clear (160 degrees Fahrenheit). Turn chops once halfway through cooking time. Remove chops from skillet and cover to keep warm.
- In a small bowl, blend together the cornstarch, mustard, and cranberry juice, and then add to skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until thick and bubbly.
- Cook and stir for another two minutes before adding in cherries.
- Pour mixture over chops and serve.
2. Chocolate Cherry Crunch Yogurt
This recipe is great for a healthy breakfast or snack!
Prep time: 5 mins. Total time: 5 mins. Serves: 1
- 1 cup plain yogurt (Greek or other variety)
- 1 tablespoon almond butter (or any nut butter), or a small handful of nuts of your choice
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh or frozen sweet cherries, pitted and quartered or halved
- 1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix.
Final Word on Cherries’ Health Benefits
Don’t be afraid to enjoy some cherries along with the warm weather this season. The compact but juicy fruits are packed with fiber and antioxidants, which may translate into better sleep and a reduced risk for diabetes, heart disease, gout, and systemic inflammation.
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