In the 1600s settlers brought cherry trees to America, and for good reason. Cherries, bright red, juicy and delicious, are so much more than just a sweet treat. It turns out, they’re packed full of beneficial nutrients and may even prevent certain diseases. Here’s why you should include cherries in your diet — every day!
1. Fights damaging free radicalsThe dark red color of cherries comes from their high concentration of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants. Both sweet and tart cherries supply these beneficial antioxidants, although tart cherries contain more. Antioxidants help prevent cellular damage — the road to cancer, aging and many diseases. That means by eating antioxidant-rich foods like cherries you can replace free radicals in the body before they damage cells. In fact, even the antioxidants found in cherry juice and dried cherries, sweetened and unsweetened, are similar to fresh cherries. While frozen and canned cherries are somewhat lower in antioxidants, they’re still significant, suggests the American Institute for Cancer Research.
2. Helps relieve osteoarthritis
A study on osteoarthritis assessed the value of tart cherry juice in treating pain and other features of knee osteoarthritis. Researchers evaluated 58 non-diabetic patients with osteoarthritis who drank two eight-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice daily for six weeks. Tart cherry juice provided symptom relief for patients with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis.
3. Promotes heart healthCherries might actually be better than drugs for cardiovascular benefits, according to animal studies from the University of Michigan. Apparently, tart cherries can reduce the risk of stroke. Drugs called PPAR agonists, which help regulate fat and glucose, were considered promising for patients with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that link to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But, studies have shown that long-term use of PPAR drugs can also increase the risk of stroke. Research now suggests that tart cherries provide similar cardiovascular benefits as the prescribed medications. In addition, tart cherries also reduce the risk of stroke, even when taken with other drugs.
4. Reduces muscle pain
Drinking tart cherry juice may have a significant impact on reducing muscle damage and pain during strenuous exercise. Endurance athletes often use NSAIDs during competition to prevent or reduce pain. But we now know how dangerous NSAIDS can be for some people.
So, the Oregon Health & Science University’s department of medicine studied the effects of tart cherries on athletes for pain management. Marathon runners drank tart cherry juice or a placebo drink twice daily for seven days before their race. While both groups experienced pain, those who drank the cherry juice had significantly less post-run muscle pain.
5. Reduces cancer-causing carcinogensSubstances in tart cherries can reduce the formation of carcinogens that develop from the charring of meat, like hamburgers. But carcinogens in any form has the potential to cause cancer. Carcinogen exposure can come through inhalation, ingestion or absorption. Carcinogens affect DNA, causing dangerous changes at the cellular level. These changes can lead to abnormal cell growth with the potential to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body.
Interestingly, researchers at Michigan State University decided to add tart cherries to ground beef patties. Adding cherries to hamburger meat not only retards spoilage but also reduces the formation of suspected cancer-causing compounds. These compounds are known as HAAs (heterocyclic aromatic amines). Researchers found that burgers containing 15 percent fat and 11.5 percent tart cherries had “significantly” fewer HAAs when pan fried. Meanwhile, cherry burgers have become increasingly popular on school lunch menus in 16 states throughout the U.S.
6. Helps you sleep better
If trying to drift off to sleep seems like a nightmare, then cherries could be the answer. Tart cherry juice contains high levels of phytochemicals, including melatonin. Researchers at Northumbria University in the UK collected 20 volunteers for a sleep study. Some consumed tart cherry juice concentrate, while others consumed a placebo, for seven days. The study found that those who consumed cherry juice showed total melatonin content significantly elevated.
Melatonin is a hormone created by the pineal gland. It helps control sleep and wake cycles. Drinking cherry juice leads to significantly more time spent in bed, total sleep time and sleep efficiency. The study suggests that tart cherry juice can improve sleeping patterns and help people improve disruptive sleep patterns.
7. Improves eyesightMost people know that carrots are good for the eyes thanks to beta-carotene. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A, which is an important nutrient for eye health. But did you know that cherries also contain beta-carotene? While there’s less beta-carotene in cherries than carrots, there’s 19 times more beta-carotene in cherries than blueberries. That’s pretty remarkable, and a sound argument why a varied whole food diet is so important for overall health.
8. Protects against goutGout, a form of inflammatory arthritis, is triggered by a crystallization of uric acid within the joints, causes excruciating pain and swelling. A study published in a journal of the American College of Rheumatology followed participants with gout for one year. Researchers documented 1,247 gout attacks from males, averaging 54 years of age. Ninety-two percent experienced gout at the joint at the base of the big toe. Thirty-five percent ate fresh cherries and two percent drank a cherry extract. Additionally, five percent consumed both fresh cherry fruit and cherry extract. The study found that those who consumed cherries reduced gout attacks by 35 percent. In fact, when combined with a uric-acid reducing drug, gout attacks reduced by a whopping 75 percent.
9. Promotes weight loss
Cherries may reduce triglycerides, fat mass and abdominal fat, suggests a study published in the Journal of Medical Food. Apparently, rats fed a high-fat diet mixed with tart cherry powder gained less weight than rats who didn’t receive cherries. In addition, the animals showed less inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. By consuming tart cherry juice, you reduce inflammation and lipids in the blood (which otherwise lead to heart conditions and weight gain).
10. Reduces inflammationInflammation is the root cause of many diseases, including obesity, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, thyroid issues and cancer. And cherries are one of the top anti-inflammatory foods. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition assessed 10 healthy women ages 22 to 40. After fasting overnight, the women ate two servings of sweet cherries. Blood and urine samples were taken before and after the cherries were consumed. The study found that cherries decreased inflammation, inhibited inflammatory pathways and lowered plasma urate.
11. High in potassiumPotassium plays a key role in providing minerals for bodily organs such as the heart, kidneys, brain and muscular tissues. Also known as an electrolyte, potassium helps to maintain a healthy balance of fluids in the body. Deficiency, while not uncommon, is often misdiagnosed. Symptoms may include muscle weakness, fatigue, constipation and faintness. But just one cup of cherries can fulfill nine percent of your recommended daily requirement of potassium. Potassium reduces your risk of stroke, improves hypertension and high blood pressure, reduces muscle cramping and improves muscle strength.
Cherries offer so many health benefits. In addition to the many reasons above, cherries are a high-fiber food and an excellent source of vitamin C. Sweet cherries also have a lower glycemic index of 22, and one cup contains only 87 calories. So the next time you’re hankering for a snack, grab a bowl of cherries!
— Katherine Marko