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You may think of cherries as a super-yummy staple of the summer months, but this stone fruit is available year-round, and it packs an incredibly nutrient-dense punch. Yes, they're harvested in the summer, no matter where they come from — in the U.S., they're grown mainly in Michigan, Utah, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York —but you can find them frozen and dried no matter what time of year it is.
And here's a fun fact: There's more than one variety of cherry, and all of the several types, whether sweet or tart, come with great health benefits. In the U.S., the most common type of sweet cherry is the Bing cherry — especially great for baking and for making jam — and when it comes to tart cherries, the one you'll see most often is the Montmorency cherry (often used in tart cherry juice). They're different in taste, but both are rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, anthocyanins and vitamin C.
If you want to incorporate more of this healthy, delicious fruit into your diet, it’s important to note that while fresh and frozen cherries have many of the same health benefits, dried varieties and cherry juice often have added sugar. So it's a good idea to look for unsweetened options. It's not hard to find unsweetened dried cherries online and in stores; because the natural sugar is more concentrated, the recommended serving size is 1/3 cup. They're a great addition to trail mix (try them instead of raisins!), as well as baked into healthy cookie or bar recipes.
Cherry nutrition facts
Serving size: 1 cup, without pits (154 g)
Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 0 mg
Total carbohydrate: 25 g
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Vitamin C: 11 mg
Potassium: 342 mg
Manganese: 0.1 mg
Vitamin K: 3.2 mg
Vitamin B6: 0.1 mg
Magnesium: 16.9 mg
Health benefits of cherries
1.Cherries are rich in antioxidants
Some experts believe the darker the color of a fruit, the greater the antioxidant level, and with cherries' dark red color, they fall into this category; that dark hue comes from the high levels of anthocyanins they contain. Experts know that different types of antioxidants — such as anthocyanins — have many health benefits; among other things, they're associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, among others. And that's important for everyone, since heart disease is a top killer of both men and women. "Cherries are packed with antioxidants, which are thought to have a role in preventing or delaying cellular damage that can open the door to certain diseases and conditions," explains Giuliana D. Noratto Stevens, PhD, associate research scientist at Texas A & M College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and advisor to the Northwest Cherry Growers. There's an added bonus too: Cherries are a fruit that's also rich in the antioxidant vitamin C, which works to promote collagen production and can benefit the health of your skin.
2. They may play a role in cancer prevention
“Research has found that compounds found in sweet cherries inhibit cancer cell growth in vitro, meaning in lab tests — including cells for breast, colon, liver, lung, pancreatic and skin cancers," says Noratto Stevens. "Dark sweet cherries contain phenolic acids, flavonoids and anthocyanins, which have been shown to inhibit breast cancer cells from multiplying and invading surrounding tissue. The compounds target certain cellular signaling pathways, having the effect of promoting apoptosis for breast cancer cells and discouraging their invasive behavior." More research is needed, but it's another way that eating cherries could give you a health boost.
3. Cherries may combat symptoms of arthritis and gout
Researchers from the Department of Agriculture reviewed 29 studies on both tart and sweet cherries, and the findings indicate that these fruits have been shown to decrease oxidative stress and inflammation. For people with inflammatory conditions like arthritis and gout, that's welcome news. And because additional studies have indicated that drinking cherry juice can reduce uric acid levels, this could reduce the number of gout flares, although experts say that more research is needed to make a strong recommendation for drinking this juice to help ease the pain of gout.
4. Cherries may aid in exercise recovery
Along with those healthy antioxidants, cherries contain anti-inflammatory properties. And the combination of those two works to help with muscle recovery after exercise to relieve pain, studies indicate. "Sweet cherries offer an abundance of health benefits and can be a great natural health aid for sports recovery, decreasing muscle soreness. Several studies involving athletes suggest that cherry consumption can reduce muscle soreness and also help return loss of strength,” says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, associate professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University. It's also thought that cherries work in a similar manner to how naproxen and ibuprofen help reduce inflammation. "By incorporating fresh, frozen or dried cherries into their diets, people may recover more quickly for the next workout," adds Pritchett.
5. They may promote restful sleep
There are only a few fruits that contain melatonin, which is a natural hormone produced by your body and also a dietary supplement that can help with insomnia. And cherries are one of them! Experts say the can help increase the natural levels of melatonin in your body, and studies indicate that tart cherry juice may be an effective treatment for insomnia. It is also thought to help people stay asleep longer because it increases the presence of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that the body itself can't produce; the body uses it to produce melatonin and serotonin.
6. Cherries may benefit cardiovascular health
In a review of multiple studies, research indicates that anthocyanin-rich fruits, such as cherries, could decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease because it may decrease the levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol, among other potential benefits. Since heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States, this seems like a terrific reason to work cherries into your meals, snacks, or healthy desserts!
7. They may help lower your blood pressure
Another way that cherries could potentially help your heart: They contain potassium but only a small amount of sodium. According to the CDC, foods with this combination — more potassium and less sodium — can decrease your risk of heart disease by lowering your blood pressure.
8. Cherries may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
There are two reasons why cherries could have a positive effect on blood glucose levels: They're considered a low-glycemic food, and they contain fiber. According to a 2018 study, chowing down on cherries is associated with a reduced risk of metabolic disorders related to type 2 diabetes.
Are cherries good for you?
The nutrients packed into cherries are good for your body, head to toe. "Cherries are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap. "In fact, many research studies have found cherries offer a variety of health benefits from supporting heart health to exercise recovery to sleep."
Another benefit, Blatner continues: "Cherries are very versatile and can be enjoyed as-is, or you can use them in a variety of ways: mixed into oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, for instance, or dipped in dark chocolate for dessert."
How many cherries should you eat in a day?
"You can eat a cup of cherries — that's about 16 cherries," says Blatner. "The general fruit recommendation for most people is two cups a day, and it's best to get a variety of fruits, rather than just one type." The more variety of produce that you eat, the greater the chance of getting all the nutrients you need! If you eat more cherries than that recommended dose, there are some potential downsides, adds Blatner:
GI distress. "Cherries contain fiber, fructose and sorbitol, which in large amount can cause issues such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea," says Blatner. "Paying attention to portions is particularly key for those who have digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), since cherries are considered high FODMAP, which means they are easily digested by bacteria in the gut and may cause GI discomfort."
Blood sugar spikes. "Although fruit is good for you and contains fiber and other important nutrients, it still has a significant amount of natural sugar, so it's best to keep an eye on portions," Blatner says.
Are cherries safe for everyone?
"Cherries are safe for everyone to enjoy, although there are two groups of people who need to be more mindful: Young kids and people with digestive issues," says Blatner. "This is because fresh cherries have pits, which can be a choking hazard for young kids —so the cherries should be pitted for them. And because cherries are high FODMAP, people with digestive issues might want to go easy on them."
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