When red cherries are in season, it's hard to resist the sweet, flavorful compact little fruit. Eating a handful of cherries provides powerful antioxidants and important nutrients that contribute numerous health benefits, including giving you energy, aiding in digestion and helping you sleep.
Dark red cherries are packed full of important key nutrients, including antioxidants —vitamins A, C and E — as well as beneficial minerals, especially potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and iron.
About Sweet Red Cherries
The United States is one of the leading growers of cherries in the world with two main types produced. These are sweet cherries and tart or "sour" cherries.
The majority of sweet cherries are consumed fresh, but are also available brined, canned, frozen, dried or juiced. In contrast, 97 percent of tart cherries are processed primarily for cooking and baking.
The familiar summer fruits that are commonly eaten straight out of your hand are sweet cherries (Prunus avium L.). Sweet cherries are available in many varieties, with colors ranging from dark red, to bright red to yellow. The most common sweet cherry is the dark-red colored "Bing," which is the No. 1 variety grown in the U.S.
Nutritional Benefits of Sweet Cherries
One cup of whole, sweet red cherries with pits equates to about 21 cherries. There are only 87 calories in this serving of cherries, according to the USDA. They do not contain any fat or cholesterol. Like most fruit, cherries are not a particularly good source of protein, but they do provide 3 percent of your daily value (DV) per cup, or 138 grams. Sweet, red cherries contain 22 grams of carbohydrates, of which 17.7 grams are sugar.
Every cup of sweet cherries, including dark red cherries, is packed with many essential minerals, according to the USDA:
Calcium: 1 percent DV
Iron: 3 percent DV
Potassium: 7 percent DV
4 percent DV
Phosphorus: 2 percent DV
9 percent DV
Manganese: 4 percent DV
11 percent DV
Vitamin A: 3 percent DV
Vitamin E: 1 percent DV
B Vitamins: Riboflavin: 4 percent DV; Niacin: 1 percent DV; B5: 5 percent DV; B6: 4 percent DV
Cherry Fiber for Good Digestion
One of the major benefits of sweet cherries comes from their healthy dose of fiber, which is important for keeping you regular.
The USDA reports that 21 cherries provides 12 percent of your daily value for fiber. Dietary Guidelines recommend a total daily intake of 25 to 30 grams of fiber, depending on your age and gender. Fiber cannot be fully digested by your body, so it remains intact, absorbing water and adding bulk to your digested food. This results in a softer stool that can pass smoothly and help prevent constipation.
With a properly working digestive system, you reduce your risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis. Additionally, a diet high in fiber may reduce your risk of colon cancer, according to an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published in October 2015.
Keep Your Immune System Strong
Cherries are an especially good source of vitamin C. Your body can benefit from the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of vitamin C to support your immune system and help protect you from infections and disease. Vitamin C has been shown to inhibit bacterial growth, reported in a January 2018 study that researched treatments for E. coli and pneumonia. Results were published in the Journal of Current Research in Scientific Medicine.
If you have a cold, snacking on cherries might just help alleviate some symptoms. A study published in BioMed Research International in July 2018 examined the role of vitamin C in the treatment of the common cold. The conclusion reported that extra intake of vitamin C may shorten the duration and severity of the illness.
In addition, the high content of vitamin C in cherries helps your body make collagen, which is the protein needed to heal wounds. Cherries also contain other antioxidants that help fight free radicals, including beta carotene and vitamin E. Together, these nutrients help lower your risk of illness and offer protection against chronic diseases.
Alleviate Gout and Arthritis Pain
Sweet cherries have been used for decades as an alternative medical therapy for the treatment of inflammation of gout. Evidence suggests that it's the anthocyanins in cherries that may have a positive effect on the painful arthritic condition. Anthocyanin is responsible for the red hue in the dark cherry and has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A study, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism in December 2012_,_ assessed the effect of cherry intake on recurrent gout attacks in 633 patients. Researchers found that consuming 10 to 12 cherries a day was associated with a 35 percent lower risk of gout flares over a two-day period in participants with an existing gout condition.
Eat Cherries Before Bedtime
If you eat dark red cherries for an after-dinner snack, you may help eliminate restlessness at bedtime and have a better night's sleep. Cherries contain an amino acid called tryptophan that acts as a natural sedative.
Tryptophan is a precursor of both serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, mood, appetite and pain and is often used in antidepressants and sleep aids. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in regulating your sleep cycle and is commonly used to help induce sleep for those with insomnia, jet lag or shift-work-related sleep troubles.
In addition to tryptophan, cherries contain the minerals magnesium and calcium, both of which are instrumental in helping you sleep. Magnesium in sweet red cherries helps deactivate adrenaline and is a natural relaxant that facilitates sleep. The calcium in cherries has been associated with decreasing the difficulty of falling asleep.
Reduce Oxidative Stress
The antioxidants in cherries help reduce oxidative stress that may be damaging to cells in your body. Oxidative stress can play a role in the development of many inflammatory health conditions, including heart disease and muscle damage.
An antioxidant in cherries, called polyphenol, may have an antihypertensive effect on protecting your cardiovascular system, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Molecules. When evaluating polyphenol capacity, researchers found black cherries to be higher in antioxidants than other fruits such as plums and grapes. Conclusions of the study reported that black cherry may potentially be useful in preventing and treating hypertension.
If you are an athlete or enjoy working out, snacking on cherries may help combat post-exercise oxidative stress. A study, published in the journal Nutrients in February 2014, investigated the impact of cherry juice concentrate on recovery from strenuous exercise.
Although the study was small, the conclusions indicated a reduction in oxidative stress and inflammation associated with muscle damage in trained cyclists. Further research is suggested to provide application of these findings on other sporting scenarios.
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