Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 09, 2020
Cherries: A Healthy Choice
Whether you like them sweet or tart, these deep red fruits pack a healthful punch. Cherries are low in calories and chock full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and other good-for-you ingredients. You’ll get vitamins C, A, and K. Each long-stemmed fruit delivers potassium, magnesium, and calcium too. They also bring antioxidants, like beta-carotene, and the essential nutrient choline.
What the Research Says
With all of their nutrients, cherries are clearly good for you. It’s no wonder they have a reputation for all kinds of health benefits. But most studies that aim to support those claims are pretty small. They also use cherries in amounts you probably won't eat on a regular basis -- from 45 to 270 cherries a day -- to get those positive effects. It’s not likely you'll eat enough cherries to see a big difference in your overall health. Check out what the research says.
Potential Cell Defender
Cherries are rich in antioxidants. These are natural chemicals that can help your body deal with day-to-day damage to your cells. The havoc may come from normal metabolism, inflammation, exercise, smoking, pollution, or radiation. Some studies show that both sweet and tart cherries help reduce this damage. One small study found that drinking a little bit of tart cherry juice for 2 weeks helped.
Unclear on Inflammation
Evidence that cherries fight inflammation is mixed. Researchers reviewed 16 studies to get an answer. Eleven showed that eating cherries or cherry products lowered signs of inflammation. But other studies don’t find that benefit. It’s worth noting that many of these studies include very few people. Proof of a health benefit requires large groups of people.
Potential Workout Buddy
Some studies say tart cherry juice helps combat muscle damage from exercise. One showed that when marathon runners drank the stuff for a few days pre- and post-race, they recovered from the long haul better. Another study found that when runners drank tart cherry juice twice a day for a week before a long race, they had less pain from running. The drink might ease muscle damage and pain from tough exercise.
Possible Diabetes Helper
In one small study of 19 women with diabetes, those that drank tart cherry juice every day for 6 weeks lost weight and lowered their blood pressure and blood sugar. That doesn’t mean the tangy nectar would keep you from getting diabetes. But it might offer a little help to those who already have the condition.
Unclear on Cholesterol
In the same study of 19 women, tart juice brought cholesterol levels down, which could cut your risk for heart disease. But other studies hold that neither sweet nor tart cherries change these risk factors in healthy adults. Some researchers say only people who are obese get this particular health benefit from the juice of these tiny red fruits.
May Help Gout Meds Help You
The idea that cherries might prevent attacks of gout has been around for decades. Some small studies suggest this might be true. A recent study in more than 600 people showed that taking cherry extract made the sudden bouts of severe pain less likely. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the extract worked especially well when paired with allopurinol, a drug often used to lower uric acid and protect against such episodes.
Potential Sleep Aid
Eating either sweet or tart cherries may help you get more and better sleep. Studies suggest that this effect of cherries happens within days. But you need to eat a lot of cherries -- 25 sweet or about 100 tart cherries a day. The easier way to get that many cherries is by drinking a more concentrated juice. The reason this works might be because cherries are a source of melatonin, a hormone that’s important for sleep.
Unlikely to Be an Upper
Some studies show that sweet cherries make you feel better. They might lower anxiety and a hormone related to stress. But other studies haven't been able to recreate those effects. Eating cherries probably isn't the most effective way to put you in a better mood.
Possible Brain Booster
The anthocyanins that give cherries their red color have been tied to better brain health, thinking, and memory. One study found that drinking cherry juice every day for 12 weeks improved verbal fluency and memory in older people with mild or moderate dementia. That doesn’t make it cure, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to try it.
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U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Cherries, sweet, raw.”
Nutrients: “A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries.”
Pharmacognosy Review: “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.”
The Journal of Nutrition: “Tart Cherry Juice Decreases Oxidative Stress in Healthy Older Men and Women.”
Randomized Controlled Trials: “A Jerte valley cherry product provides beneficial effects on sleep quality. Influence on aging.”
Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports: “Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running."
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: “Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial.”
Nutrition & Food Science: “Effects of sour cherry juice on blood glucose and some cardiovascular risk factor improvements in diabetic women: A pilot study.”
Arthritis & Rheumatology: “Cherry consumption and the risk of recurrent gout attacks.”
European Journal of Nutrition: "Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality,” "Consumption of anthocyanin-rich cherry juice for 12 weeks improves memory and cognition in older adults with mild-to-moderate dementia.”