Health Benefits of Cherries

There are two main types of cherries: sweet and tart. Each type offers different benefits.

There are more than 100 types of cherries, but they are grouped into two major types: sweet and tart. While all cherries provide vitamin C, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, the two types can each provide different health benefits. Those benefits of cherries range from improving sleep to preventing disease (Kelkey, 2018).

A woman holds a bowl of cherries
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Benefits

All cherries offer benefits. Sometimes, certain benefits come from sweet cherries (like Bing cherries) vs. tart cherries (like Montmorency cherries) (Kelkey, 2018).

Help reduce inflammation

Chronic inflammation is considered a key threat to health because of its relationship to diseases like stroke, cancer, and diabetes (NLM, 2022). Research shows that cherry consumption helps reduce inflammation markers in the blood (Kelkey, 2018). A recent analysis of 10 previously published studies found that tart cherries specifically had a significant effect on decreasing blood levels of some inflammation markers (Gholami, 2022).

May combat gout

Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that is very painful. When gout symptoms like pain are present, it is known as a gout attack or flare. While the condition has no cure, its symptoms can be managed and even prevented (CDC, 2020). In fact, cherries may help reduce the risk of gout attacks (Faienza, 2020).

One study looked at 633 people with gout who had at least one gout flare in the previous year. Those who had consumed fresh cherries had a lower risk of gout attacks compared with those who didn't eat cherries. And the more cherries people ate, the less likely they were to have a flare (Faienza, 2020).

This protective effect against gout might be because of cherries' effect on uric acid, a waste product in your blood that, when built up, can cause gout (CDC, 2020). Sweet cherries have been shown to lower the levels of uric acid in women (Faienza, 2020).

May help prevent or manage diabetes

Research shows that antioxidants called anthocyanins in cherries may decrease blood sugar levels by slowing how sugar is broken down from complex carbohydrates and affecting hormones that help regulate blood sugar and insulin (Kelkey, 2018).

Cherries rank lower than many fruits on the glycemic index (Kelkey, 2018). That means they don't trigger spikes and crashes in your blood sugar and insulin levels. This makes them both protective against diabetes and important for managing the condition if you already have it.

May help promote exercise recovery

A review of past studies shows that cherry consumption can significantly reduce muscle pain, soreness, and loss of strength after exercise. The effect seems to be related to the fruit's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The exercise-related studies used a range of tart cherry product types and amounts, the amounts of which would be equivalent from anywhere between 50 to 270 cherries a day (Kelkey, 2018).

May improve sleep

Consuming both sweet and tart cherries has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity. The effects were seen within three days of consuming 25 sweet cherries per day. The effects were also seen within five days of drinking 240 mL (8 ounces) of tart cherry juice, the equivalent of approximately 100 cherries per day (Kelkey, 2018).

The effect might be due to cherries' natural melatonin content (Kelkey, 2018). Melatonin is a hormone the brain produces in response to darkness. The hormone helps maintain the body's natural internal clock and supports sleep (NCCIH, 2020).

In a small, preliminary study with people aged 50 years and older with insomnia, participants were randomly assigned to either a placebo or 8 ounces of cherry juice twice a day for two weeks. The cherry juice drinkers experienced an increase in sleep time and an improvement in sleep efficiency, which is the ratio of total sleep time to time spent in bed (Losso, 2018).

Their juice might help manage certain health factors

Cherries—both sweet and tart—can be enjoyed in various forms, including juice. The juice is more concentrated than cherries themselves and may provide certain benefits.

May help manage cholesterol levels

Cherry products might help keep cholesterol in check for some people.

One study found that, after they consumed tart cherry juice for four weeks, adults who were overweight or had obesity and who had high levels of blood fats had a decrease in "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. They also experienced positive changes in the ratio of triglycerides and "good" HDL levels (Kelkey, 2018).

However, other research has shown that neither sweet cherries nor tart cherry concentrate had an impact on blood lipids among healthy adults (Kelkey, 2018).

May help manage blood pressure

Within two hours of a single dose of 300 mL (10 ounces) of Bing cherry juice, young and elderly adults in one study experienced a significant reduction in both systolic (the upper number) and diastolic (the lower number) blood pressure. The levels returned to baseline levels at six hours (Kelkey, 2018).

How much of the sweet cherry juice is taken in at a given time could play a factor in this effect, though. When the amount was split into three even doses—each given one hour apart—there was no change in blood pressure (Kelkey, 2018).

Other research shows that timing was a factor when tart cherry concentrate was used. Systolic blood pressure was significantly decreased one and two hours after consumption, but not four and five hours afterwards (Kelkey, 2018).

More research is needed to determine whether this temporary lowering can be maintained with regular, long-term consumption of cherries (Kelkey, 2018).

Nutrition

One cup of sweet, raw cherries without pits provides: (USDA, 2019)

  • Calories: 97
  • Fat: 0.31g
  • Carbohydrates: 24.6g
  • Fiber: 3.23g
  • Protein: 1.63g
  • Vitamin C: 10.8mg, 11% of the daily value
  • Potassium: 342mg, 7% of the daily value

Fresh sour cherries are more difficult to find, but one cup of these fresh cherries without pits provides: (USDA, 2019)

  • Calories: 77.5
  • Fat: 0.47g
  • Carbohydrates: 18.9g
  • Fiber: 2.48g
  • Protein: 1.55g
  • Vitamin C: 15.5mg, 17% of the daily value
  • Potassium: 268mg, 6% of the daily value

Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and is important for healthy skin, bones, and connective tissue. It also promotes healing and helps the body absorb iron (MedlinePlus, 2021).

Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte. It's needed to build proteins and muscle and to break down and use carbohydrates. Potassium also plays a part in controlling the electrical activity of the heart and the pH balance in the body (MedlinePlus, 2020).

Keep in mind that other forms of cherry might have different nutritional values. For instance, tart cherry juice is more concentrated than fresh or frozen cherries—eight ounces, or 1 cup, of tart cherry juice provides 159 calories and 36.9 grams of carbohydrate (USDA, 2019).

Tips for Consuming

There are plenty of ways to enjoy cherries and reap their nutrients and potential benefits:

  • Enjoy fresh cherries as is.
  • Remove the pits and add the cherries to sweet dishes like peanut butter toast, chia pudding, and cobbler or to savory recipes like garden salads, slaw, salsa, and compote.
  • Incorporate frozen cherries into smoothies.
  • Thaw frozen cherries so you can add them to oatmeal, overnight oats, cereal, or yogurt.
  • Drink cherry juice as is, blend it into smoothies, or add splashes to sparkling water or tea.

Summary

Both sweet and tart cherries offer potential research-backed benefits for various health conditions. Even if you don't have one of those health conditions, cherries can still be a nutritious, anti-inflammatory food to include in your diet.

If you don't have specific health concerns, enjoy cherries in moderation in a variety of sweet or savory meals; or use them strategically to support exercise recovery. If you have a health concern that cherries may help with, talk to a healthcare professional about whether cherries are a good fit for your personal health goals. And then follow their guidance on the form (whole or juice) and amount to consume, as well as the frequency and timing.

Sources:

  1. Kelkey D, Adkins Y, Laugero K. A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries. Nutrients. 2018; 10(3):368. doi:10.3390/nu10030368
  2. National Library of Medicine. Chronic inflammation.
  3. Gholami A, Amirkalali B, Baradaran HR, Hariri M. The beneficial effect of tart cherry on plasma levels of inflammatory mediators (not recovery after exercise): A systematic review and meta-analysis on randomized clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2022;68:102842. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2022.102842
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gout.
  5. Faienza MF, Corbo F, Carocci A et al. Novel insights in health-promoting properties of sweet cherries. J Funct Foods. 2020;69:103945. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2020.103945
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Melatonin: What You Need To Know.
  7. Losso JN, Finley JW, Karki N, et al. Pilot Study of Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms. Am J Ther. 2018;25(2):e194–e201. doi:10.1097/MJT.0000000000000584
  8. US Department of Agriculture. Cherries, sweet, raw.
  9. US Department of Agriculture. Cherries, sour, red, raw.
  10. MedlinePlus. Vitamin C.
  11. MedlinePlus. Potassium in Diet.
  12. US Department of Agriculture. Cherry juice, tart.
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