Like most fruits and vegetables, cherries can be a healthy addition to your diet. But, believe it or not, this tasty summer fruit can trigger gas, bloating, stomach pain and diarrhea for some people, especially those with underlying digestive conditions.
Here, learn more about how cherries affect your digestion and how to actually enjoy eating them without wreaking havoc on your GI tract.
Cherries and Digestion Problems
It's important to understand why cherries can be the bad guy when it comes to your digestive system.
Cherries are high in fructose as well as sorbitol, according to Food Intolerance Diagnostics, so they're considered a FODMAP, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.
FODMAPs are a specific kind of carbohydrate, per Harvard Health Publishing. Dairy, beans, certain fruits and veggies and some grains are on the list too, along with honey and other sweeteners.
The small intestine doesn't absorb FODMAPs very well. So, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or another digestive condition and you eat cherries, you may pay for it later with gas, bloating, stomach pain and diarrhea.
1. Cherries and Gas
Cherries and other FODMAPs are quickly fermented by microflora (gut bacteria) living in the colon, which produces gas — and gas equals flatulence and burping.
This can happen to anyone, but people who have IBS might have more bacteria in the small intestine, which would produce more gas.
2. Cherries and Bloating
Sorry to say, but gas is just the beginning. The sugar in cherries can draw water into your digestive tract, causing bloating, says Ray Scott Daugherty, Jr., MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at Baton Rouge General.
When this happens, it also affects how the muscles in the bowel wall contract, and sometimes constipation occurs — which leads to yet more belly bloat.
3. Cherries and Stomachache
The gas and bloating caused by cherries can lead to stomach pain and discomfort, Dr. Daugherty says.
And the discomfort associated with cherries and other FODMAP foods can actually be excruciating for those with IBS, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders reports. People have described their stomachaches as feeling like cramping, stabbing and sharp.
4. Cherries and Diarrhea
According to Harvard Health Publishing, sugar, namely fructose, is a big offender when it comes to diarrhea. Sugars stimulate the GI tract to put out water and electrolytes, which loosen bowel movements.
About 75 percent of people who consume more than 40 to 80 grams of fructose daily will get diarrhea, per Harvard Health. And a cup of cherries (sans pits) has just over 8 grams of fructose, per the USDA.
How to Eat Cherries Without Digestion Problems
One way to avoid all of these problems is to stop eating cherries, but that's a real bummer. So LIVESTRONG.com asked Ashley Kravitz, RD, founder of Nutrition Specialists of New Jersey, for suggestions on how to eat cherries and avoid digestion problems.
1. Eat in Moderation
"An appropriate serving size would be 1/2 cup, although IBS is very individualized — some people are able to tolerate more foods than others," she says.
If you have IBS, try a smaller portion (say, 1/4 cup) and see how you feel.
2. Don’t Eat Them on an Empty Stomach
Too much fructose at once can mess with your digestion. Instead, try eating cherries with other foods that have low or no fructose, like lean meats, cheddar cheese, oats, eggs or nuts and seeds.
3. Avoid Other Triggers
What's tolerated well by one person may not be tolerated by another. But if you're sensitive to FODMAPs, you might want to avoid other foods with these carbs, per Johns Hopkins Medicine, including:
- Some other fruits, like apples, pears and peaches
- Some vegetables, like artichokes, asparagus, onions and garlic
- Beans and lentils
- Dairy products, including cow's milk, yogurt and ice cream
- Wheat-based foods, such as bread, crackers and cereal
4. Chew Slowly
The more your food is broken down, the easier it is to digest, Kravitz says.
To know for sure if cherries are causing your digestive symptoms, you can try cutting them out of your diet completely for a few weeks and then slowly re-introducing them. "If you don't experience any symptoms when you introduce the food back into your diet, you know it's not a trigger food for you," Kravitz says.
Of course, if none of these suggestions work and you're sure that cherries are causing gas, bloating, stomach pain or other digestion problems, you really may need to cut them out completely.
But before you make any decision regarding what's on and what's off your menu, Dr. Daugherty suggests talking to your doctor. That's because these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, so you'll want to make sure cherries are the culprit and not something else.
Is This an Emergency?
- Food Intolerance Diagnostics: "Sorbitol Content of Food"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Try a FODMAPs Diet to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "The Low FODMAP Diet Approach: Effects of FODMAPs on the Gut"
- Brigham Young University: "Osmosis"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Pain in IBS"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Something in Your Diet Causing Diarrhea?"
- USDA: "Cherries, sweet, raw"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "FODMAP Diet: What You Need to Know"