Are Cherries Good for You?
This classic summer fruit may help control inflammation
This is the season when piles of fresh cherries are spilling over at your local farmers market or grocery store. And those small red fruits aren’t only delicious to snack on but also provide a surprising array of important nutrients.
There are two types of cherries: sweet and tart (also called sour). The sweet ones (the most common variety is Bing) typically have dark red skin and are best eaten raw. Tart cherries (such as Montmorency) are sometimes sold fresh and can be eaten raw but are more frequently found dried, pressed into juice, or frozen or canned for use as cherry pie filling.
Sweet and tart cherries may have different culinary uses, but both lay claim to several potential health benefits. Cherries, tart cherry juice, and cherry supplements have been linked to improvements in arthritis pain, gout, blood pressure, muscle soreness, and sleep. But can cherries really do all that? We looked at the latest science.
Cherries’ Nutritional Secret Weapon
Both sweet and tart cherries pack a significant nutritional punch. For example, in a cup of sweet cherries, you’ll get 3 grams of fiber, about 10 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, and 6 percent of the daily value for potassium. A cup of tart cherries have roughly the same amount of fiber and potassium, and supply 16 percent of the daily value for vitamin C.
Sweet Cherry Benefits
Thanks to their inflammation-fighting anthocyanins, much of the research involving sweet cherries has looked at their potential impact on chronic inflammatory diseases.
In studies that have shown benefits, the possibilities are promising. An early study by Kelley and colleagues at the USDA, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that a daily dose of 45 sweet cherries reduced levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) in the blood by 25 percent after 28 days. Levels remained lower when checked again 28 days after stopping cherry intake. And Noratto has conducted several in vitro studies, using cells in a lab rather than human subjects, that saw decreases in breast cancer tumor growth when the tissue was treated with anythocyanins extracted from sweet cherries.
Tart Cherry Benefits
Much of the hype around tart cherries involves their purported abilities to speed post-exercise muscle recovery and help you sleep better.
After a hard bout of exercise, your muscles experience cell damage (also called oxidative stress) and may ache while they recover. Some studies have found that supplementing with tart cherries—usually in the form of juice or powder— reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, which helps speed healing and reduce muscle soreness. A 2021 study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, looked at the effect of taking 500 mg of tart cherry extract on post-exercise recovery. They found that the group taking the supplement before a strength training workout had lower markers of oxidative stress in their blood as well as less evidence of muscle damage later on.
Tart cherry juice’s claim as a sleep aid is typically based on the fact that the fruit contains melatonin, and several small studies have found that tart cherry supplementation can help people stay asleep longer. But cherries actually contain very little of the sleep-inducing hormone. A third of a cup of cherries has just 0.135 microgram of melatonin—and the dose typically recommended for sleep is much higher (1 to 5 mg). Some researchers theorize that other compounds in tart cherries—such as certain antioxidants or tryptophan—may contribute to any possible sleep benefits.