Saturday 4 November 2023

The Surprising Health Benefits of Cherries—and the Best Ones to Eat

 Cherry season is upon us, but are the super sweet, bite-sized fruits even doing our body any good? We asked cherry nutrition experts to break down the health benefits of cherries—including sweet and tart cherries—and how to enjoy more cherries in your diet this summer.

Cherries are a great source of vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, says Jessica Isaacs, R.D., C.S.S.D., an NBA dietitian and member of Cheribundi‘s recovery advisory council. A normal serving of cherries is about one cup of unpitted cherries, a quarter cup of dried cherries, or eight ounces of tart cherry juice, she notes.

But what does this all mean for your daily dose? No matter what kind of cherries you like to dig into, experts break down the health benefits of sweet cherries and even some benefits of tart cherries to keep in mind when digging into the sweet summer fruit.

Cherries nutrition

One cup of pitted cherries provides a significant source of:

  • Calories: 97
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 25 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Sugar: 20 g
  • Magnesium: 17 mg
  • Potassium: 342 mg
  • Vitamin C: 11 mg
  • Vitamin A: 97 IU

Health benefits of cherries

1. They help you sleep

If you’re looking for a natural sleep aid to help you catch some Z’s, research suggests that tart cherry juice or cherry extract can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Stephanie Nelson, M.S., R.D., nutrition scientist and registered dietitian for MyFitnessPal says this is because the cherry juice can impact your tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin levels, which are hormones that manage sleep.

2. Cherries can help fight inflammation

If you’re looking for a plant-based food that fights inflammation, look no further than a bowl full of sweet cherries. Research suggests eating sweet cherries can lower inflammatory biomarkers in your body and help prevent chronic inflammatory diseases like diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. Isaacs adds anthocyanins are strongly associated with lower levels of inflammation.

Additionally, Nelson says that cherries contain polyphenols, which are compounds found in plants that have an antioxidant effect. This can protect against damage and slow down the inflammatory process.

3. They can keep your heart healthy

Nelson explains that heart disease is caused by the hardening of plaque in the arteries, which forms as part of the inflammatory process. Because cherries can reduce inflammation, they can slow down the formation of plaque and work to prevent heart disease. Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., associate professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University and a spokesperson for the Northwest Cherry Growers adds because cherries are high in potassium, they can also improve high blood pressure.

Plus, cherries are one of many foods that can lower your cholesterolResearch suggests foods high in anthocyanins (a potent antioxidant found in deeply colored fruits) have been found to boost HDL cholesterol numbers and lower LDL cholesterol numbers.

4. They may ward off cancer

recent study found dark cherry extracts could be used to treat breast cancer cells in a lab and determine they have cancer-fighting agents that can inhibit cancer cell growth.

5. They can help you reach your weight loss goals

At 3 grams of fiber per cup (that’s a serving of cherries!), Nelson says cherries are a solid source of fiber in your diet. This can be especially helpful for someone who has a weight loss goal because high-fiber foods, like fruits and veggies, can help with satiety, she adds.

Additionally, Pritchett notes that cherries are a low-glycemic food, meaning they can help manage blood sugar due to their high fiber content. This can overall support your weight loss goals.

6. They can improve your skin health.

If fiber wasn’t enough, cherries are very high in vitamin C, Nelson says, which is needed to produce the collagen that makes up your skin. She notes that a serving of cherries can provide 10 mg of the stuff—that’s about 11% of your daily vitamin C needs.

7. Cherries can improve workout recovery

When you experience exercise-related muscle damage (like the tearing of the muscles that naturally occurs), cherries can help you recover quickly and reduce the soreness you experience, Nelson says. Isaacs adds that research indicates tart cherries can enhance endurance exercise performance by increasing oxygen flow to the muscles.

8. They can support brain health

Research also suggests tart cherries and tart cherry juice contain antioxidants and polyphenols that can have a protective effect on brain cells, Isaacs says. Additionally, Pritchett notes anthocyanin present in cherries can help with improved brain and vision function and also improve memory and cognition in adults.

Should you have cherries fresh, frozen, as juice, or dried?

The main difference between the type of cherries is that cherry juice lacks the fiber that whole cherries offer, Nelson says. This may limit the benefits a higher-fiber diet can provide, but it’s possible cherry juice can provide a higher dose of vitamins and minerals, she says. Isaacs adds tart cherry juice versus whole cherries can offer more bang for your buck when trying to maximize benefits for exercise, sleep, and inflammation.

Overall, Nelson says, there isn’t much of a difference between fresh and frozen cherries. Just get what’s convenient for you at the moment. But Isaacs warns to be wary of dried cherries, which may have added sugar and offer less fiber per serving.

Are cherries good for you?

Cherries are not only delicious but can be added to a low-calorie diet for weight loss. Despite their small size, they are surprisingly filling. With just 90 calories per cup, sweet cherries are an excellent low-calorie option that also provides about 3 g of fiber per serving, according to Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D, R.D, C.S.S.D, associate professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University.

What cherries are the healthiest?

Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S, R.D.N, founder of NutritionStarringYOU and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook, suggested eating sweet, tart, rainier, and Montmorency cherries. Due to similar nutritional profiles like vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, these cherry varieties can be a tasty way to add nutritional value to your routine.

How many cherries should you eat a day?

There’s no specific number of cherries you should eat in a day. Your daily intake of the fruit depends on your nutritional goals. Cherries are lower in calories than many other foods and fresh cherries have no added sugar and around 10% of your daily fiber value, Pincus says. Pairing them with foods high in protein and fiber like Greek yogurt with pistachios or cottage cheese and walnuts or pecans ensures a balanced meal. This nutritious mix will leave you feeling satisfied.

When is the best season to eat cherries?

The sweet cherry season typically starts in June and can be enjoyed until mid-August, Pritchett says. It’s always a good idea to check with local farmers’ markets or grocery stores to find out the exact cherry season in your area.

What color cherries are the healthiest?

Pritchett says that darker varieties of Northwest-grown sweet cherries, like Bing cherries, have a deep and rich red color thanks to their anthocyanins. One study found that anthocyanins possess “antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-obesity effects, as well as prevention of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).” So while all cherries feature nutritional benefits, darker cherries may offer more.

How to enjoy cherries in your diet

  • Baked. A classic way to enjoy cherries is to incorporate them into some of your favorite sweets and treats. We’re always a fan of a classic cherry pie, but these Pumpkin-Cherry Breakfast Cookies are a total crowd-pleaser.
  • Sprinkle in your bowl. Whether you like a cool bowl of yogurt or a warm bowl of oatmeal, cherries are a great topper for your breakfast bowl.
  • In a salad. Summer salads are the perfect opportunity to add your favorite fruits to mealtime. We love this Cherry, Mint, and Pistachio Salad as a side for your next cookout, or try this Roasted Squash, Pork, and Kale Salad With Cherries as an entree-worthy dish.
  • As a side dish. Adding a little sweetness to your classic veggie side dish can brighten your seasonal staples. This Seared Pork Chops With Cherries and Spinach is a great way to get a cherry-packed dinner on the table in no time.
  • As a sports drink. If cherries as a whole fruit isn’t for you, Isaacs suggests opting for pure cherry concentrate for on-the-go nutrition during workouts.
  • Blend into smoothies. Another option, if you want to mix up your cherry drinks, is to blend frozen cherries into your favorite smoothie.

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