When dark red cherries are in season, it's hard to resist the sweet, healthy fruit. A handful of cherries provides powerful antioxidants and important nutrients that offer many benefits, including digestive support and possibly even help with sleep.
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The United States is one of the leading growers of cherries in the world, producing two main types: sweet cherries and tart or "sour cherries," per Washington State University.
Dark red cherries are packed with plant-based nutrients that promote good health. "The darker and deeper the color, the more phytonutrient-rich," says Susan Greeley, RD, Health-Supportive Culinary Arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education.
The majority of sweet cherries are eaten fresh. On the other hand, 97 percent of tart cherries are processed primarily for cooking and baking, per a March 2018 study in Nutrients.
When you imagine the fresh summer fruit you might enjoy at a picnic, you're thinking of sweet cherries, which are available in many varieties and colors — ranging from dark red to yellow. The most common sweet cherry in the U.S. is the dark-red Bing cherry, per Oregon State University Extension Service.
Dark Red Cherries' Nutrition Facts
One cup of whole red cherries with pits (about 21 cherries) is equal to a single serving and contains:
- Calories: 87
- Total fat: 0.3 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Total carbs: 22.1 g
- Dietary fiber: 2.9 g
- Sugar: 17.7 g
- Added sugar: 0 g
- Protein: 1.5 g
- Total fat: One cup of whole red cherries has 0.3 grams of total fat, which includes 0.07 milligrams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.06 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0.1 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: One cup of whole red cherries has 22.1 grams of carbs, which includes 2.9 grams of fiber and 17.7 grams of naturally occurring sugars.
- Protein: One cup of whole red cherries has 1.5 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Vitamin C: 11% DV of your Daily Value (DV)
- Copper: 9% DV
- Potassium: 7% DV
- Vitamin B5:5% DV
- Vitamin B6: 4% DV
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 4% DV
- Magnesium: 4% DV
- Manganese: 4% DV
The Health Benefits of Cherries
Dark red cherries will instantly add a pop of flavor to summer meals, but many people wonder if cherries are good for you. Here's a breakdown of the many cherry benefits you need to know.
1. Cherries Promote Healthy Digestion
One of the major benefits of cherries comes from their healthy dose of fiber, which is important for keeping your digestive system, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and heart healthy, per the Mayo Clinic. Cherries contain 2.9 grams of fiber per cup, which is 10 percent of your daily value.
We should eat about 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Fiber helps you feel fuller after meals, which may help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and it can also help prevent constipation and diverticulosis (a condition in which pockets form on the walls of your digestive tract).
A diet high in fiber may also reduce your risk of colon cancer, according to an October 2015 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
2. Cherries Support Your Immune System
Cherries are an especially good source of vitamin C, which has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Vitamin C supports your immune system and helps to protect you from disease, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In fact, when a high dose of vitamin C is taken at the onset of a cold, it can reduce the duration of the cold and lessen its symptoms, per a July 2018 meta-analysis published in BioMed Research International.
The vitamin C in cherries also helps your body produce collagen, a protein needed to heal wounds, per the NIH. Cherries offer small amounts of other antioxidants that help fight free radicals, including beta carotene and vitamin E. Together, these nutrients may offer protection against chronic diseases.
3. Cherries May Alleviate Gout Pain
Although more research is needed, cherries may play a role in managing pain from gout. A complex but common form of arthritis, gout causes sudden, severe attacks of pain and swelling in one or more joints (typically the big toe), per the Mayo Clinic.
Cherries have antioxidant properties and may reduce the body's inflammatory response to the urate crystals that cause gout. They may even lower the bone resorption that is characteristic of bone erosions in gout, per a May 2019 review in Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease.
That said, large randomized controlled trials are needed to determine the use of cherries in the treatment of gout. "It would seem that this is long overdue and may provide additional evidence as to the role cherries could play in the future management of a burdensome disease," note the authors of the review.
Meanwhile, researchers found that eating cherries over a two-day period was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of gout flares in participants with an existing gout condition, per a December 2012 study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
4. Cherries Could Help You Sleep Better
If you eat dark red cherries for an after-dinner snack, you may help eliminate restlessness at bedtime.
"Cherries may help you sleep better," says Mia Syn, RDN. "Studies suggest that cherries are a natural source of melatonin, which helps control your body's internal clock and regulate your sleep patterns."
Your body produces melatonin naturally, and as levels of this hormone rise in the evening, it puts you in a state of quiet wakefulness that promotes sleep, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. You probably make enough melatonin for sleep on your own, but certain things can hinder its sleep-triggering signals, including staring at a screen or sitting under bright lights.
5. Dark Red Cherries Can Reduce Oxidative Stress
Cherries are filled with antioxidants, which stave off cell damage caused by oxidative stress. This oxidative stress is created by free radicals that form when you exercise, digest food, or are exposed to environmental sources like cigarette smoke, air pollution and sunlight, per the NIH.
Experts believe oxidative stress plays a role in several diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Polyphenols — a type of antioxidant in cherries — may have a blood pressure-lowering effect and protect your cardiovascular system, according to a November 2013 study in the journal Molecules. The researchers also found that black cherries are higher in polyphenols than dark-hued fruits such as plums and grapes.
Cherries are particularly rich in anthocyanins, per a March 2018 study in Nutrients. Anthocyanins are a type of polyphenol that's linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cancer cell growth, diabetes prevention, improved vision and a lower risk of heart disease, per an October 2015 report in the Journal of Food Processing & Technology.
Sour Cherry Benefits
Sour cherry, also called tart cherry or Montmorency cherry, is another type that has several health benefits. As the name implies, they have a sour taste compared to dark red cherries. They're lighter in color and generally smaller than sweet red cherries, but they have similar properties.
Much like their sweeter counterparts, sour cherries also contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that fight oxidative stress and are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, per the Journal of Food Processing and Technology report.
Sour cherries also have vitamin C and beta carotene, and they may even help you get some sleep, according to December 2012 research in the European Journal of Nutrition.
What sets them apart from sweet cherries is that sour cherries contain quercetin, an antioxidant that's tied to significantly decreased blood pressure, according to a July 2013 study in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Quercetin may also help improve immune function and lower inflammation in conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatits, per a May 2020 review in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.
The quercetin in sour cherries may interact with blood-thinning medications, such as Warfarin, according to April 2017 research in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy.
People taking blood thinners should talk to their doctor before adding sour cherries to their diet.
Cherry Health Risks
Of course, you want to be careful not to eat too many cherries, or you may end up with a stomachache. "Overeating any fruit can lead to gastrointestinal upset, particularly due to the fiber," Syn says. "Most Americans, however, do not get enough fiber."
Some people who are allergic to pollen may also experience Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome (PFAS) when eating cherries, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. This is caused by cross-reacting allergens found in pollen and raw fruits, vegetables and some tree nuts. PFAS may cause an itchy mouth or scratchy throat after you eat cherries. If you always experience these symptoms after eating cherries, speak to an allergist.
Cherry Preparation and Tips
Dark red cherries can make a delicious addition to your regular meals, savory or sweet.
"I like picking up cherries when they are in season and adding them to my weekly fruit rotation," Syn says. "I mix them into Greek yogurt bowls and oatmeal. They also add a delicious pop of sweetness to salads." You can also bake with cherries to add a fiber boost to scones, muffins or even pies and crumbles.
When shopping for dark red cherries, look for shiny, firm fruits with green stems (which are an indicator of freshness), per the Victorian Cherry Association. Store cherries unwashed in the coldest part of the refrigerator and wash before eating.
Alternatives to Dark Red Cherries
Per a September 2015 review in Advances in Nutrition, other anthocyanin-rich fruits that you can eat in place of cherries include:
- black currants
- Washington State University: "Varieties — Cherry"
- Nutrients: "A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries"
- Oregon State University Extension Service: "Growing Quality Cherries"
- MyFoodData: "Cherries (Sweet)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer and incident and recurrent adenoma in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin C"
- BioMed Research International: "Extra Dose of Vitamin C Based on a Daily Supplementation Shortens the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of 9 Randomized Controlled Trials"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gout"
- Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease: "Is there a role for cherries in the management of gout?"
- Arthritis & Rheumatism: "Cherry consumption and decreased risk of recurrent gout attacks"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Antioxidants: In Depth"
- Molecules: "Nutraceutical Value of Black Cherry Prunus serotina Ehrh. Fruits: Antioxidant and Antihypertensive Properties"
- Journal of Food Processing & Technology: "Health benefits of anthocyanins"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome"
- Victorian Cherry Association: "Storing"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Anthocyanins"
- European Journal of Nutrition: Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality
- Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology: Quercetin with the potential effect on allergic diseases