Health Benefits of Cherries
Pictured Recipe: Cherry, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad
Several good reasons to reach for cherries this summer.
Bursting with a perfect combination of sweet and tart flavors, fresh cherries are one of summer's most perfect offerings. Pop them in your mouth one by one to enjoy as a sweet and healthy snack, or add cherries to a wide variety of sweet or savory dishes for a dash of flavor and color. Best of all, these small stone fruits also boast some impressive health benefits—making them an even sweeter summertime treat.
Pictured Recipe: Pork Fajitas with Smoky Cherry Salsa
Types of cherries
While dark-red sweet cherries may be the first kind that springs to mind, there are many varieties of cherries to choose from, each varying in color, size and sweetness. Most cherry eaters divide the fruit into either a sweet or sour category—but there are also several varieties that exist within those two categories. Sour cherries are most commonly found in the Midwest and along the East Coast, with popular varieties including the bright-red Montmorency and Morello varieties called for in many pie and cobbler recipes. Because they're mouth-puckeringly tart, sour cherries are best cooked with some sugar or other sweetener.
Sweet cherries (also known as black cherries) are generally better raw than cooked, which makes them perfect in salads, piled high atop a fruit tart, or straight from a bowl. At the supermarket, you're most likely to see Bing cherries, which have an intense flavor that's markedly sweeter than pink or yellow cherries. Found mostly in the Pacific Northwest, pink and yellow cherries such as Rainier or Royal Ann cherries are less overwhelmingly sweet than black cherries—but still delicious when eaten out of hand.
Cherry nutrition facts
Here is the nutritional information for 1 cup (138 grams or about 5 ounces) of cherries, with pits, according to the USDA:
Fat: 0 g
Sodium: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 22 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 18 g
Protein: 1 g
Besides being extremely tasty, cherries—both sweet and sour—pack a ton of nutritional goodness into every bite. They are a great source of vitamin C and also have some potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and folate. Together, these vitamins and nutrients help maintain your immune system, keep your skin healthy, regulate your blood pressure, help your muscles contract and help maintain muscle and nerve function, among other benefits. They're also rich in fiber (about 3 grams per cup), which helps promote healthy gut bacteria and can help keep you regular.
See more: Cherry Nutrition Benefits
Cherries have anti-aging properties
Cherries are rich in antioxidants, which help to fight free radicals and oxidative stress that contributes to the aging process. According to a review of cherry nutrition research, people who ate cherries and cherry products experienced reduced oxidative stress while enjoying the benefits of a diet rich in antioxidants—and potentially enjoying age-defying benefits like smoother, younger-looking skin.
They're an anti-inflammatory snack
Struggling with arthritis, gout, cardiovascular disease or another ailment linked to inflammation? Cherries can actually help to reduce these symptoms, due to their high concentration of polyphenols that provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies show that polyphenols, melatonin, carotenoids and vitamins E and C contribute to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cherries. These nutrients help to suppress inflammatory proteins and uric acid build-up that can lead to swelling and pain in your joints. Tart cherry juice is also associated with faster recovery post-workout.
Pictured Recipe: Anti-Inflammatory Cherry-Spinach Smoothie
Cherries can help you sleep
Before you reach for melatonin supplements to combat sleep issues, try a handful of cherries first. Cherries (and particularly tart cherries) are naturally high in melatonin, which is a sleep-inducing hormone that can help you nod off faster and stay asleep longer. Some researchers recommend eating a handful of cherries a day to reap the melatonin benefits; other studies suggest that a glass of Montmorency tart cherry juice may also help improve sleep.
Cherries may promote weight loss
Even though they taste like a treat, cherries may be beneficial if you're looking for ways to help control, maintain or lose weight. In addition to being low in calories, cherries are a great source of fiber, which may help to control hunger and keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals. Cherries are also a low-glycemic food, which means they only cause a small rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. So how can this help? Studies suggest that a simplified approach to weight reduction that emphasizes an increased fiber intake—rather than a complicated diet regimen—may be a reasonable weight-loss alternative for people who have trouble adhering to traditional "diets."
The best time to buy cherries
If you're a true cherry lover, you're in luck, because frozen, dried or preserved cherries can be purchased at any time of the year in most grocery stores. That said, fresh cherries hit the markets during hot summer months, and shouldn't be missed. Look for firm, shiny cherries without brown spots or mold.
How to enjoy cherries
For best results, refrain from washing your cherries until you are ready to eat them. Be sure to store them in a resealable bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator to keep them nice and fresh.
You can reap the health benefits of cherries in a variety of ways. Try adding a handful of cherries to a bowl of Greek yogurt for a protein-packed, antioxidant-filled breakfast, or toss a few cherries into your favorite salad. You can also include them in a combination of sweet and savory dishes to add sweetness, color and texture.
And if you're looking to update your beauty regimen, try pureeing a few cherries and mixing them with a teaspoon of honey for a quick and easy facial mask. This may help reduce the appearance of dark spots and improve your skin tone, thanks to the high levels of antioxidants in the fruit.
Pictured Recipe: Cherry Cobbler on the Grill
The bottom line
Cherries are very nutritious and boast a variety of health benefits, from plentiful antioxidants, to good-for-you vitamins, nutrients and a healthy dose of fiber. Including cherries in your daily diet regimen may provide anti-aging benefits, reduce inflammation, improve sleep and aid in weight loss.
Both sweet and tart cherries are absolutely delicious and can be used in a variety of recipes. Eat them as a fresh snack during the summer months, or enjoy them frozen, dried or naturally preserved throughout the year.