Sweet cherries are a sweet and delicious treat. They’re almost the perfect summer fruit and one that many of us can’t get enough of. They have an amazing flavor too, one that is sometimes featured in cherry liqueur and even cherry brandy.
Then there are the sour cherries, also called tart cherries. These have a different flavor profile, with much less sweetness, but they’ve become incredibly popular for their potential health benefits.
There are plenty of varieties for each type, all with their own features. But, regardless of the type, the question here remains the same, are cherries good for you? Could these treats provide health benefits or are they nothing more than a guilty pleasure?
Are Cherries Good For Your Health?
- Tart Cherries Versus Sweet Cherries
- Why Cherries Are So Important
- How Cherries Could Be Harmful
- Are Cherries Keto Friendly?
- Is Tart Cherry Juice Powerful?
- Final Thoughts
Tart Cherries Versus Sweet Cherries
Before we can do anything else, we need to talk about sweet cherries and tart cherries. Sweet cherries are the delicious ones that you buy fresh in the local store and eat as a snack. They’re common in the summer and rare out of season, so we tend to enjoy them when we can.
Tart cherries, on the other hand, aren’t often found fresh. They’re more likely to be seen as cherry juice, frozen, dried, or in the form of a powder.
The names say all you need to know about the flavor – sweet cherries are sweet, while tart cherries have a sharper flavor, which often makes them ideal in baking.
Flavor isn’t the whole story though.
Tart cherries appear to offer more health benefits and may be higher in some important compounds, including antioxidants and melatonin. They’re also much lower in sugar.
- Calories: 97
- Carbohydrates: 24.7 grams
- Fiber: 3.2 grams
- Sugars: 19.7 grams
- Vitamin A: 2% of your daily requirements
- Vitamin C: 18% of your daily requirements
- Calories: 77.5
- Carbohydrates: 18.9 grams
- Fiber: 2.5 grams
- Sugars: 13.2 grams
- Vitamin A: 40% of your daily requirements
- Vitamin C: 26% of your daily requirements
Both types contain smaller amounts of other nutrients, including potassium, copper, manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. As you can see, tart cherries tend to be a better choice for nutrients, sugars, carbs, and calories, but sweet cherries do contain more fiber.
Most of the time, then, sour cherries should be better for you. Still… don’t rule out sweet cherries just yet. We’ll talk more about them too as we go through this post.
Sweet cherries might even offer more benefits than we know – as most studies have focused on sour cherries. In fact, there are now more than 50 studies on a single type of sour cherry, Montmorency cherries.
The sweet versions do have many of the same compounds (they’re the same type of fruit, after all), so we’d expect similarities in health benefits too.
Why Cherries Are So Important
May Help Improve Your Sleep
Cherries are thought to help improve your sleep, as they contain the compound melatonin. Melatonin is important in our bodies, helping to regulate sleep cycles.
Theoretically then, getting melatonin from your food may improve your circadian rhythm and promote sleep, making it easier to drift off. Plus, a natural product like fresh cherries or cherry juice is much safer than taking sleeping pills or melatonin supplements.
The effect has been mostly studied in tart cherries, but a decent amount of melatonin may be present in sweet cherries as well.
Can Decrease Inflammation And Oxidation
Not surprisingly, cherries are also a source of many important plant-based compounds, ones that can help to decrease chronic oxidation and inflammation. These effects are incredibly important, as too much oxidation or inflammation may increase your risk of disease.
A group of compounds called polyphenols is particularly important in cherries. These are responsible for many of the health benefits. You’ll find them in other foods too, but cherries are a fantastic source of them.
Interestingly, the anti-inflammatory effects may be strongest in sweet cherries compared to sour ones (with the large bing cherries being one of your best choices). This is partly because sweet cherries tend to have a richer red color, while sour cherries are often lighter – and pigment molecules are powerful antioxidants.
A Decent Source Of Fiber
This is a decent amount, especially if you’re snacking on fresh cherries.
Most of the benefits from fiber are well-known, but they’re still worth mentioning. The main area is digestion, as fiber helps to keep us regular and ensures that we digest food well.
Fiber can also help with blood sugar levels and cholesterol. As such, a high fiber diet might decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, along with various other conditions.
Now, fiber isn’t unusual. You’ll find it in most plant-based foods, including nuts, seeds, and legumes. Despite this, most of us aren’t getting enough fiber. So, if you can increase your fiber intake with a delicious treat like cherries, why not do so?
Valuable For Athletes
Surprising as it may seem, cherries may offer multiple benefits for athletes, including helping with exercise recovery and decreasing muscle pain after exercise. It’s even possible that cherries help with exercise performance.
Many of these effects are linked to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of cherries.
Most studies on this topic have focused on tart cherry products, including tart cherry juice and powdered tart cherries. These products are concentrated sources of plant-based compounds from cherries, so the effects might not carry over into fresh cherries (fresh cherries are also higher in fiber, so you might get fiber-related side effects from them before you see any athletic benefits).
May Decrease Heart Disease Risk
Earlier on, we mentioned the link between fiber, decreased cholesterol, and decreased heart disease risk. That effect is just one way that cherries may help with your heart health.
Another way comes from the potassium in cherries. Potassium is important for balancing the effects of sodium and decreasing blood pressure levels. Then there are the antioxidants in cherries, which can also decrease your risk of heart disease.
When you put all these effects together, how can you lose?
How Cherries Could Be Harmful
The fructose in fruit is considered a FODMAP. That acronym refers to a group of sugars that can be fermented in our guts. While FODMAPs aren’t a problem for everyone, people with sensitive guts can experience significant side effects from them.
While all fruit contains some fructose, the amounts vary – making some options better on a low FODMAP diet than others.
Cherries, unfortunately, fall into the high FODMAP category. This means that anyone with irritable bowel syndrome or a sensitive gut might need to avoid cherries entirely. Kiwis, oranges, and blueberries tend to be safer choices.
Still, you can experiment for yourself. Try cutting cherries out of your diet for a while and then reintroduce them. This will help you to see whether they give you side effects. The approach is powerful because reactions to FODMAPs can vary considerably. You might find that some high FODMAP foods give you significant side effects, while others don’t at all.
Pesticides are another thing to think about. Pesticides are often used when growing fruits and vegetables, so many types of produce end up being contaminated with the pesticides.
Cherries are particularly concerning, as they make it onto EWG’s list of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables. This means that pesticides are regularly detected on them, at higher levels than with many other fruits and vegetables.
The pesticide levels are still very low, so cherries are still considered safe from the FDA’s point of view. Even so, there are plenty of concerns about the long-term impacts of being regularly exposed to pesticides.
Choosing organically grown fruits and vegetables is an easy way to avoid the risk of pesticide contamination. Even if you don’t do so for all of your produce, doing so for heavily contaminated fruits like cherries just makes sense.
Might Make You Run For The Bathroom
Some people find that eating too many cherries leads to a laxative-like effect, which can be embarrassing if you get caught off guard. This happens because of the fiber in cherries, which bulks out your stools and makes things move through easier (too easily, sometimes).
To minimize your risk, keep a close eye on your serving size. Perhaps start with half a dozen cherries, then wait a while and see how your body reacts.
Because cherries are so delicious, it might help to grab your portion and put the rest of your cherries away. This reduces your temptation to overdo it.
Having other food at the same time may reduce side effects from the cherries, so try to avoid having them on an empty stomach. Doing so also makes it easier to stick to your desired portion size.
Are Cherries Keto Friendly?
Cherries aren’t the best fruit for keto dieters, as there are lower carb options like raspberries and strawberries. Even so, cherries are low enough in carbs that you can fit them into your diet, if you’re careful.
After all, the whole idea of keto is to keep your carb intake low, rather than cutting carbs out. This means that almost any type of food can be included on a keto diet if you plan well and keep your portion sizes small.
With cherries, you might just have one or two cherries, rather than a whole handful.
Sour cherries are the best choice, as they contain fewer carbs than the sweet ones. However, they aren’t sweet and can be difficult to find fresh – factors that might influence your decision.
Remember too that fruit does contain important antioxidants and plant-based compounds. These compounds play many roles in your health, so it’s still very important to get some fruit in your diet, even if you’re being very strict about your carb intake.
Is Tart Cherry Juice Powerful?
Tart cherry juice is often seen as the most powerful way to access the compounds in cherries. There is even tart cherry concentrate, which is basically the same thing, just with less water. The concentrate version has a much stronger flavor, so you might drink it like a shot, rather than sipping on it.
Not surprisingly, the juice offers many of the same benefits that you see with tart cherries themselves, like helping to promote sleep, improving immune function, decreasing inflammation, reducing muscle soreness, and more. The juice is a rich source of antioxidants too.
Just as importantly, tart cherry juice is easy to find, regardless of the season. The same isn’t true for cherries, particularly if you’re looking for tart cherries.
There are some limits though.
First, many brands use additives to improve the color or flavor. Those additives are technically safe, but they are never going to provide health benefits. If you’re going to use tart cherry juice, look for brands that rely on cherries, water, and little else.
Second, you might see added sugar, in an attempt to make the juice more palatable. While the added sugar does improve the flavor of your juice, it doesn’t do your health any favors.
Also remember that we’re still talking about fruit juice. Even if you choose a good brand that relies on the cherries and little else, it’s still going to contain a decent amount of sugar (like 29 grams for an 8 fluid ounce serving).
Regular sweet cherries are a delicious summer treat that provides plenty of antioxidants and some fiber. They can help to improve your sleep and perhaps even decrease the risk of some diseases. They’re also easy to use, regardless of whether you eat them as-is or include them in recipes.
Tart cherries are more often used found in the form of powder or tart cherry juice. You might find fresh ones too, but these are normally used in baking, as the sour flavor is too strong to enjoy them on their own.
While tart cherries tend to be lower in antioxidants and fiber than sweet cherries, studies have linked them to a large number of different health benefits. In the end then, you’re likely to see benefits regardless of whether you use sweet or tart cherries. Just watch out for the sugar content of the cherries and cherry juice, as this can add up quickly.