How’s this for a cherry jubilee: that cheeky, shiny red berry helps relieve arthritis symptoms, high blood pressure, and insomnia. We’re giving three cheers for cherry nutrition!
This small stone fruit is so pretty, and so delicious, many Americans associate it with indulgence. We’ve even incorporated the cherry into our vernacular: “The pay raise was the cherry on the cake of my day.”
But cherries not only are good, they’re also good for you. So, go ahead. Indulge. Because there are many great health benefits of cherries.
Just make sure you wash them first. Cherries landed on a recent list of “The Dirty Dozen” in produce. The list references types of fruits and vegetables that come with high levels of contaminants. You may want to consider buying organic cherries if you have a little extra money in your budget.
While relatively low in calories for a fruit, they are still sugar calories if you are counting carbs. Nonetheless, cherries rank low on the glycemic index, making them a good fruit pick for keeping blood sugar levels from spiking when you have a sweet tooth.
Here are a few more things you should know about cherry nutrition.
Cherry Nutrition Facts
One cup of cherries fills you up with approximately 87 calories, made up of 80 carb calories, 2 total fat calories, and 5 protein calories. It’s also providing 12% of your daily recommended dietary fiber intake, and even some omega 3 and 6s for good measure. But why we really love cherries are all the free-radical-fighting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that fill up this sweetest of fruits.
Vitamins in Cherries
When did such sweetness become oh-so-good for us? According to Self Nutrition Data, 1 cup of cherries yields approximately:
- Vitamin C: 16% of the recommended daily value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 4% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 3% of the DV
- Pantothenic acid: 3% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 2% of the DV
- Thiamine: 2% of the DV
- Niacin: 1% of the DV
- Folate: 1% of the DV
How exactly do these vitamins work for your health? Let’s get to know them each a little better.
- Vitamin C: This star member of the cherry nutrition team is important for building bones and cartilage. The vitamin C content is an added bonus to eating cherries for arthritis sufferers, who also enjoy rich anti-inflammatory effects from the anthocyanins in cherries.
- Vitamin K: This essential vitamin is an absolute must-have for blood clotting. It also switches on proteins that help build cartilage and bone and activate new cell growth.
- Riboflavin: Otherwise known as vitamin B2, riboflavin helps turn the foods we eat—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—into energy for the body and brain, and keeps the eyes, skin, liver, nerves, and muscles in tip-top shape.
- Pantothenic acid: Or vitamin B5, transforms the food we eat into usable energy and plays a critical role in the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. It also nurtures the health of our hair, skin, and eyes.
- Vitamin A: Our eyes, bones, skin, and other tissues depend on vitamin A, which also acts as an antioxidant to prevent cell damage.
- Thiamine: Vitamin B1, or thiamine, converts carbs into energy for the body and plays a role in muscle, nerve, and heart function as well as glucose metabolism.
- Niacin: Also called vitamin B3, niacin breaks down our food into energy and is a key player in liver and gland function, as well as an ally to the skin, nervous system, and digestive system.
- Folate: This B vitamin is required to produce red and white blood cells, turn carbs into fuel, and generate RNA and DNA. It is especially important to increase your intake of folate, or folic acid, if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Minerals in Cherries
Cherries are also rich in minerals. Here’s a quick glimpse at a 1-cup serving of cherries.
- Potassium: 9% of the DV
- Manganese: 5% of the DV
- Magnesium: 4% of the DV
- Copper: 4% of the DV
- Iron: 3% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 3% of the DV
- Calcium: 2% of the DV
- Zinc: 1 % of the DV
Here’s the key benefits of these essential minerals.
- Potassium: We depend on potassium to help regulate fluid balance, nerve signals, and muscle contractions. Diets rich in potassium have been linked to lower blood pressure, less water retention, and added protection against kidney stones, osteoporosis, and stroke.
- Manganese: Not only is manganese needed for your brain and nervous system to function, but it’s also a key part of enzymes that are necessary for chemical reactions in your body, like processing amino acids, carbs, and cholesterol.
- Magnesium: Playing a key role in over 300 chemical reactions in the body, magnesium can help lower your risk of heart disease by regulating your heartbeat, promoting healthy muscle and nerve function, boosting the immune system, and strengthening bones.
- Copper: Defense against chronic diseases such as heart disease and osteoporosis, copper couples with iron to form red blood cells and support healthy blood vessels, immune function, nerves, and bones.
- Iron: The body needs iron in order to make oxygen-carrying red blood cells. When we don’t get enough iron, our energy and focus lags and we can experience heart palpitations and breathlessness.
- Phosphorus: This essential mineral forms the backbone of our bones and teeth, regulates the body’s use of carbohydrates and fats, and helps to make more protein for cell and tissue growth, maintenance, and repair.
- Calcium: Without enough calcium, our muscles can’t contract, our bones and teeth become frail, blood clotting is compromised, heart beat and fluid balance within cells become deregulated, and nerve impulse and transmission start to falter.
- Zinc: This immune system booster is required for cell division, cell growth, the digestion of carbohydrates, as well as wound healing.
Antioxidants in Cherries
Just like all colorful fruits and vegetables, cherries keep you healthy with their antioxidant profile. In fact, the USDA tested over 100 foods and came up with a list of the top 20 foods highest in antioxidants. Sweet cherries made the list at number 15, with approximately 4,873 antioxidants in a 1-cup serving size!
The antioxidants in cherries, such as beta carotene, melatonin, quercetin, and anthocyanin, boost the immune system to fend off disease. The anthocyanins in Bing cherries, in particular, have been shown to bring osteoarthritis sufferers relief in clinical studies due to their anti-inflammatory properties, including their ability to lower C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker. Let’s find out more!
Cherry Juice for Arthritis Inflammation
Drinking tart cherry juice has been found to help treat inflammation in arthritis sufferers.
A 2013 paper in Osteoarthritis in Cartilages showed that two 8-ounce tart cherry juice glasses per day improved mobility and function and reduced pain significantly among subjects in a small clinical trial.
For gout sufferers, cherry juice for inflammation sometimes offers the only relief they can find. Numerous studies point to the powers of the cherry for arthritis relief, even in seemingly hopeless cases of acute gout, which is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints. In fact, the Nutrients paper dated research proving treating gout with cherries (even canned cherries) is effective all the way back to 1950.
And cherry consumption can reduce the risk of gout attack by 35%, according to a 2013 paper published in Arthritis Rheumatology. Using allopurinol prescription medication in combination with cherries reduces the risk of gout attack by 75%, the same study determined.
More Benefits of Cherries
The journal Nutrients published a March 2018 analysis of all the current medical research on cherries. The authors, hailing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service and University of California Davis, cited more than 100 studies. The studies showed cherries can help with:
- A better night’s sleep: Studies have shown that both tart and sweet cherries help with sleep, according to the Nutrients analysis. Sweet cherries in particular have been shown to reduce anxiety, according to the paper.
- Sore muscle relief: A small sample of 10 professional weightlifters who performed intense weight training showed that cherry juice reduced muscle damage and “significantly” speeded up exercise recovery. The study appeared in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
- Reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, and HDL “bad” cholesterol in diabetic women and the obese: The small study, conducted in Iran, included 19 women. The paper was published in the journal Nutrition and Food Science.
The authors of the Nutrients paper categorized the quality of the evidence in the study as “strong” or “limited” as it pertains to the various health claims of cherries.
Strong: “Decreased markers for oxidative stress, inflammation, exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength, and blood pressure acutely after ingesting cherries.”
Limited: “Beneficial effects of consuming cherries on arthritis, diabetes, blood lipids, sleep, cognitive functions and possibly mood.”
Types of Cherries
The two primary types of cherries consumed in the United States are red cherries and dark cherries, or tart cherries and sweet cherries, respectively, with California, Washington, and Oregon churning out the most cherries for appreciative consumers.
The red cherry, also known as the tart cherry, or Montmorency cherry (a common variety), can be consumed as dried, juiced, or frozen cherries.
Darker cherries, known as sweet cherries, usually are eaten as fresh cherries and are typically dark red to purplish to black in color. When it comes to sweet cherries, Bing cherries are the most well-known and set the standard.
When it comes to disease-fighting nutrients, red and dark cherries are relatively similar, so it’s really a matter of taste preference.
Other Cherry Varieties
The University of California at Berkeley has a web page dedicated to varieties of cherries. In addition to the Bing and Montmorency cherries (which also are referred to as sour or pie cherries), cherry varieties include:
- Morello cherries: These cherries are tart. They are dark and used in pies and such.
- Rainier and Royal Ann cherries: These are sweet and light in color (pinkish or yellow).
- Balaton cherries: These cherries are both tart and sweet.
Finally, you may have heard of the Maraschino cherry. It’s that cherry that comes atop the whipped cream on delectable frozen treats. But, it’s not really a unique strain of a cherry. It has been doctored up to the hilt (Sugar! Food coloring! Bad!) and actually originates as a Rainier or Royal Ann cherry.
Adding Cherries to Your Diet
Let’s face it: the cherry is one fruit that requires no dressing. A bowl of cherries will do for most people. But if you’re looking for other ways to add more cherries to your diet, you could put them in smoothies, like our Cranberry-Orange Power Smoothie, toss some dried cherries on a breakfast bowl, or splurge with a cherry pie!