Typically, cherries make us think of the typical Americana summer season; cherry pie, cherry festivals (if you live in or are familiar with Michigan), or even cherry candy. But, are cherries healthy? Turns out, they sure are!
Tart cherries are different than sweet cherries. Sweet cherries include Bing cherries and Rainier cherries and are usually consumed fresh. They are known for their sweet, delicious flavor and either golden-red or red-black color, depending on the type. Tart cherries are, on the other hand, flaming red and hard to find in their fresh form. Unless you are in Michigan; nearly 75% of Montmorency cherries (the most common tart cherry) are grown there. You can find tart cherries dried, canned, or frozen, and either the juice or juice concentrate in most stores.
They have been studied for their extensive health benefits, including reducing cholesterol, inflammation, blood pressure, muscle soreness, and promoting brain health and better sleep in older adults.
NUTRITIONAL PROFILE OF MONTMORENCY CHERRIES
100 grams of tart cherries contain 60 calories, 13.7 grams of carbohydrates, zero grams of fat, and 2 grams of fiber.
They are a rich source of potassium (161 milligrams), and are full of vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and ash. They contain high levels of antioxidants called anthocyanins (specifically cyanidin), which help to give them their signature color. Anthocyanins are also attributed to improved sleep, decreased pain, improved metabolic and cardiovascular markers, among other benefits.
Read on to learn more about the exciting health benefits of tart cherry juice, the best way to consume tart cherries, and for a delicious, healthy tart cherry recipe straight from the kitchen of a Registered Dietitian.
REDUCES INFLAMMATION AND OXIDATIVE STRESS
To help prevent cardiovascular disease (a leading cause of death in the US), managing inflammation and damage from free radicals is key. Free radicals are harmful compounds that enter the body via a poor diet, pollution, smoking, alcohol and other factors. Regular exercise and a healthy diet, rich in antioxidants, is key to combatting inflammation in the body. Research shows that tart cherry juice, which is rich in polyphenolic compounds, primarily proanthocyanins, anthocyanins, and flavonols, helps to reduce biomarkers of inflammation; specifically, C-reactive protein (CRP). It's important to note that managing inflammation and reducing CRP levels can help to reduce symptoms of many auto-immune disorders (including arthritis, Crohn's disease, and fibromyalgia), improving quality and quantity of life. A study showed that older adults who consumed 16 ounces of tart cherry juice daily for 12 weeks had reduced CRP levels and increased DNA repair. With the average age of adults increasing, isn't it amazing to know that something as simple as adding tart cherry juice could improve quality and lifespan?
IMPROVES BLOOD PRESSURE AND CHOLESTEROL LEVELS
The health benefits of drinking tart cherry juice don't stop with reduced inflammation. A small study showed that consuming 16 ounces of tart cherry juice per day promoted lower LDL cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol) and lower systolic blood pressure. Cholesterol medication and blood pressure medication have their own side effects, imagine swapping tart cherry juice for medication? It's important to consult with your medical professional before adjusting any medications, but what an exciting prospect.
PROMOTES BETTER SLEEP
We can all use a great night's sleep, right? Sleep helps the body recover and repair, and prepares you to take on the next day, headstrong. When sleep suffers, we suffer. Studies show that poor sleep can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a major stress hormone), decreased metabolism, and other health risks. Insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, is triggered by stress, poor diet, anxiety, depression, and other health issues, and can get worse as we age. Medications used to treat insomnia may often have undesirable side effects, so more people have been turning to natural alternatives like melatonin, lavender, valerian root, yoga, or meditation. But what about tart cherry juice?
An exciting study conducted by Louisiana State University found that consuming 16 ounces of tart cherry juice (again, 8 ounces in the morning and 8 ounces before bed) extended sleep by 84 minutes! This study targeted older, healthy adults with chronic insomnia, and results showed that quality of sleep was also improved, not just quantity.
Another study showed that melatonin levels in the blood increased after consuming tart cherry juice concentrate, resulting in improved sleep duration and may benefit those that suffer from disrupted sleep patterns.
REDUCES POST-EXERCISE MUSCLE PAIN
Tart cherry juice may help to reduce muscle pain after exercise. One study showed that, when consumed before and after a long-distance race, runners experienced less muscle soreness and increased satisfaction in recovery post-race. The high levels of antioxidants found in tart cherry juice may help to reduce muscle damage and reduce the amount of post-run muscle pain. The study also pointed out that this could be a substitution for NSAID use; NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can cause adverse side effects when used over long periods of time. It’s interesting to note that, for this study, the subjects consumed a 10.5-ounce bottle of tart cherry extract blended with apple juice, which sounds pretty delicious to me.
REDUCES GOUT SYMPTOMS
Gout is the most common form of arthritis in older adults and presents with an excess amount of uric acid circulating through the body. Typical interventions include dietary adjustment and the addition of medications, specifically colchicine and NSAIDs. However, it's not a new concept that the antioxidant content of tart cherries can help to reduce gout flares, and the oldest research dates back to the 1950s! Limited studies have been done in this area, but a quick internet search proves that tart cherry juice is a common homeopathic or natural alternative to gout that has been used by thousands of people (if not more). A peer-reviewed article showed that consuming antioxidants from tart cherry juice can help to prevent interleukin secretion and tumor-necrosis factor, which are two harmful cytokines that can cause damage in the body.
STRENGTHENS BRAIN FUNCTION
Brain health is one of the biggest health industries in the country, with brain health supplement sales soaring over 6 billion dollars in sales in 2018. Everyone wants to keep their brain strong, and tart cherry juice might be one of the ways to do that! A study found that consuming 16 ounces of tart cherry juice per day (8 ounces twice per day) improved memory and recollection (compared to a placebo), improvement in movement time, and reduction in memory error. The article attributes the improvement in brain function to the consumption of polyphenols, potent antioxidants found in tart cherries. The article reminds us that cognitive function is directly related to the quality of life, so if we can promote brain health and improve quality of life by consuming something like tart cherry juice, shouldn’t we at least try it on for size?
HOW MUCH TART CHERRY JUICE IS TOO MUCH?
With all of the promising studies done on tart cherry juice, it might seem that drinking this juice is one of the most important things you could do for your health!
But, is the moderation key?
Is drinking too much tart cherry juice even a thing? Could it have harmful side effects?
There is no recommended daily intake for tart cherry juice, specifically, but average consumption in many studies is about 16 ounces per day. The unsweetened juice can be bitter, so it could be difficult to drink this much every day. It does have some naturally occurring sugar (fructose), which could cause a spike in blood sugar levels. It could be easier to consume tart cherry juice in supplement form, helping your body reap the benefits of the fruit in an easy to swallow capsule or powder mixed with water. The downside to this is that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it's hard to tell how much to take, and if the supplements are high-quality. There could be other ingredients in your tart cherry supplement that interact with medication, so it's of utmost importance that you consult with your physician or medical professional before adding any new supplement to your diet.
You could also consume food products that contain tart cherries, like trail mix or snack bars. Consuming the whole version of the food is always the best, as it includes all of the fiber and any associated nutrients that are lost during the juicing process.
The benefits of tart cherry juice are seemingly endless. Incorporating tart cherry juice into your daily diet is a great way to reap the antioxidant benefits, and we would love to hear your feedback, especially if this is something that you already do.
If you don't, here is a great way to start; we have included a recipe for you to try, straight from the kitchen of a Registered Dietitian.
HEALTHY PEANUT BUTTER CHERRY SMOOTHIE
This delicious smoothie is great post-workout, first thing in the morning, or for an afternoon snack. It's dairy-free, packed with protein, and tastes delicious. Better yet? It's ready in minutes, and perfect if you follow a plant-based diet (or even if you don't!). Add different fruits and vegetables, depending on what you have on hand, and share your thoughts and feedback with us!
- 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (preferable natural or organic)
- 1 cup (8 ounces) tart cherry juice (unsweetened)
- 2 cups fresh, rinsed spinach leaves
- 1 medium ripe banana
- 1/2 cup tofu yogurt (or another non-dairy yogurt), any flavor
- 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or more to taste)
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding a few pieces of ice for a thicker texture.
Nutrition information per serving: 323kcal, 19g fat, 31g carbohydrates, 10g protein, 4g fiber (27 net carbohydrates)