Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Welcome, welcome! Hi! Let's chat! Let's have a cheery chat on cherries!
Fill up a bowl - wait, no - a chest! And let's chat and chomp and chew on cherries.
Inhale in ---- and exhale out ---- ahhhh. Your cherry chakras are aligning.
Inhale in ---- and exhale out ---- ahhhh. Your greatest health is now refining.
Okay, let's get cherrious....
Unimpressive Nutrition Label
Cherries provide some awesome health benefits, but let's get the not-so-exciting facts on the table first. On the surface one may not be so impressed by the nutritional composition of cherries.
The nutrient profile differs between sweet and sour (also called, tart). Per cup of the sweet, you'll get less than 20% of your daily need for vitamin C, and not even 10% of your daily need for potassium. Comparatively, tart cherries have a significantly greater vitamin A concentration, containing 40% of your daily need in one cup, along with 26% for vitamin C.
That's all the micronutrient excitement of cherries to share. Other vitamins and minerals are not abundant, nor is fiber. Per cup, you'll get around 18 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of protein.
It's not to say that the vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and other low concentrations of nutrients can't contribute a health benefit. But diving deeper into these delicious stone fruits, we'll find there are several other health benefits attributed to the compounds that aren't advertised on the nutrition label.
Cherries contain melatonin, a chemical that has a strong influence on the sleep-wake cycle in humans and is associated with sleep-promoting properties. Compared to sweet cherries, tart cherries contain greater concentrations of melatonin, with the Jerte Valley variety showing to have the most.
Many studies have shown that tart cherry juice is effective with treating symptoms of insomnia. If you often have trouble sleeping, you may consider trying 8 fl. oz. of tart cherry juice in the morning and 8 fl. oz. in the evening for one to two weeks. Both Pigeon et al. and Howatson et al. had seen an association between this dosage and reduced severity of insomnia.
Keep in mind: no single factor can solve the issue of poor sleep. Engaging in a lifestyle that prioritizes nutritious foods and consistent healthy eating patterns, includes movement, and manages stress increases the likelihood of better sleep.
Reduced Symptoms of Gout
Gout is a complex form of arthritis that involves severe pain, swelling and redness - most commonly in the big toe. It's caused by the accumulation of urate crystals in the joints. Urate crystals are formed when there are high levels of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is a byproduct of purines which are found in many foods, most notably red meats, some seafood, and alcohol.
For decades cherries have shown to be beneficial at reducing uric acid in the blood. Cherries contain a high concentration of polyphenols that have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Anthocyanins are one of those polyphenols that are present in substantial concentrations compared to other fruits.
One mechanism by which anthocyanins support better managed inflammation is by inhibiting the actions of cyclooxygenase (you can say it!). Cyclooxygenase is an enzyme involved in the development of inflammation.
Anthocyanins also reduce the formation of molecules and substances that increase inflammation such as cytokines in the joints and C-Reactive Protein in the blood.
Treating gout with cherries may come in the form of tart cherry juice, or cherry extract. Considering other health conditions are likely to be present in addition to gout, seeking the guidance of a trusted health professional is strongly advised.
Sore Muscle Relief and Recovery
Strength and endurance exercise are forms of stress to the body. Stress, whether it's physical or mental, is one way we become stronger, as it challenges us to adapt and grow. Physical stress caused by strength and endurance training leads to exercise-induced muscle damage where, following exercise, we can experience some reduced range of motion and muscle soreness. These physical manifestations are a result of oxidative stress and increased inflammatory markers such as C-Reactive Protein and interleukins.
Anthocyanins and other phenolic compounds in cherries have been shown to help mitigate oxidative stress and reduce inflammatory markers. Research has even shown that athletes supplementing their diet with tart cherries have improved their average race pace.
Studies regarding this subject primarily focus on the use of cherry juice. It appears that a minimum of 16-24 fl. oz. daily (8-12 fl. oz. twice a day) is effective in reducing muscle soreness, muscle recovery, and improved performance.
Other Health Benefits of Cherries
While research specifically on cherries and their role in managing blood sugars appears to be limited, we do know that anthocyanins can improve insulin secretion. Cherries also have a low glycemic index of 22, therefore posing a reduced risk to raising blood sugars.
Some research has shown that tart cherries are associated with reduced levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, insulin, and markers of oxidative stress.
Altogether, the supplementation of cherry juice or cherry extract may have a place in your lifestyle if you experience trouble with sleep quality, gout, muscle repair and pain reduction relative to athletic training. Cherries are normally a rich source of phytonutrients that impart health benefits anyway, so whether you suffer from the aforementioned, or you're fortunate to have fabulous health, you can't really go wrong enjoying them where, when and how you like!
Selecting and Storing Cherries
The most important characteristics to look for when selecting cherries is rich, vibrant color and firmness. A green stem is indicative of fresher cherries, though stemless cherries aren't exactly proof of spoiling. Look first for those most important characteristics. If the cherries appear wrinkled or shriveled, pretend you don't even see them! As cherries move beyond ripeness, their vitamin C content declines, as does their palatability. Eat the freshest cherries for both nutrition and for their deliciousness!
STORE CHERRIES IN THE REFRIGERATOR - NOT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE! Cherries begin to deteriorate the moment they're picked from the tree. Keeping them chilled is the best way to prevent them from spoiling and to preserve their nutrient quality. Wash cherries just before you eat them, rather than wash and then store. Washing cherries before placing in refrigeration will accelerate their spoilage.
You may consider selecting frozen or dried cherries as well. The colder and shorter the storage, the better! Anthocyanins are greatly reduced if frozen or dried cherries are stored for more than three months. If you have a deep freezer, keep your frozen cherries there for greater anthocyanin retention!
Five Easy Ways to Enjoy More Cherries
Eat 'em whole and spit their pits sophisticatedly across the air into the grass.
Pit fresh cherries and add to whole milk plain yogurt; pair with pepitas and dry rolled oats.
Use frozen tart or sweet cherries in smoothies.
Eat fresh or dried cherries with almonds or cashews as a quick and healthy snack.
Add dried cherries to homemade granola.
Cheers to Cherries!
Alba C, M. A., Daya, M., & Franck, C. (2019). Tart Cherries and health: Current knowledge and need for a better understanding of the fate of phytochemicals in the human gastrointestinal tract.Critical reviews in food science and nutrition,59(4), 626–638. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2017.1384918
Collins, Marcum W et al. “Is there a role for cherries in the management of gout?.” Therapeutic advances in musculoskeletal disease vol. 11 1759720X19847018. 17 May. 2019, doi:10.1177/1759720X19847018
Fernández-Lázaro, D., Mielgo-Ayuso, J., Seco Calvo, J., Córdova Martínez, A., Caballero García, A., & Fernandez-Lazaro, C. I. (2020). Modulation of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage, Inflammation, and Oxidative Markers by Curcumin Supplementation in a Physically Active Population: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 12(2), 501. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12020501
Howatson, G., Bell, P. G., Tallent, J., Middleton, B., McHugh, M. P., & Ellis, J. (2012). Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality.European journal of nutrition,51(8), 909–916. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7
Ma, Y., Fu, L., Hussain, Z., Huang, D., & Zhu, S. (2019). Enhancement of storability and antioxidant systems of sweet cherry fruit by nitric oxide-releasing chitosan nanoparticles (GSNO-CS NPs).Food chemistry,285, 10–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2019.01.156
McCune, L. M., Kubota, C., Stendell-Hollis, N. R., & Thomson, C. A. (2011). Cherries and health: a review.Critical reviews in food science and nutrition,51(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390903001719
Pigeon, W. R., Carr, M., Gorman, C., & Perlis, M. L. (2010). Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. Journal of medicinal food, 13(3), 579–583. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2009.0096
St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.),7(5), 938-949. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.012336
Vitale, K. C., Hueglin, S., & Broad, E. (2017). Tart Cherry Juice in Athletes: A Literature Review and Commentary. Current sports medicine reports, 16(4), 230–239. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0000000000000385