Sitting down to eat a bowl of fresh cherries is one of life’s clean and honest pleasures. Thankfully, cherries are more than just a delectable fruit, they come packed with health benefits like protecting us against cancer and fighting free radical damage. Cherries come in both sweet and sour (or tart) varieties and are loaded with a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanin—water soluble pigments that, depending on their pH, give certain foods their red, purple, blue or black color. Cherries also contain abundant vitamin C, needed for a strong immune system, and are a superb source of dietary fiber.
Promote Weight Loss
Because they are high in dietary fiber and low in calories, cherries help you to feel full more quickly, so you eat less. Research has also shown cherries help promote weight loss. In a 2009 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, rats were split into two groups and both fed a high-fat diet for 90 days. One group received whole tart cherry powder and the other did not. Results showed that the rats who received the cherry powder did not gain as much weight or build as much body fat, and their blood showed much lower levels of inflammation than the rats who did not get cherry powder.
Improve Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with about 697,000 people dying from heart disease in 2020—accounting for one in five deaths. Heart disease costs the United States a staggering $229 billion each year which includes the cost of healthcare services, medicines and lost productivity due to premature death. Some key risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, having an unhealthy diet, not getting enough exercise and the excessive use of alcohol. Thankfully, a healthy diet that includes cherries can lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Research suggests that the anthocyanins, flavonols, vitamins, and fiber in cherries and other berries help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve heart health. Clinical studies in healthy humans, those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, dyslipidemia (an excess of cholesterol or fats in the blood), as well as smokers show a significant decrease in cardiovascular disease risk factors following berry consumption. The same research also suggests that the anthocyanins in cherries improve heart health by reducing metabolic risk factors, improving LDL cholesterol levels, improving glucose metabolism, and reducing fat and cholesterol levels in the blood.
A study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design in 2013, found that sour cherry seed extract had a cardioprotective effect in rabbits with high cholesterol. The study also showed that the animals who received sour cherry seed extract had significantly improved cardiac function, a decrease in atherosclerotic plaque formation and infarct size. An infarct is a small, localized area of dead tissue, resulting from a lack of blood supply.
Gout, or hyperuricemia, is a form of arthritis characterized by severe pain, redness, and inflammation and is caused when there is too much uric acid in the blood and it crystallizes in the joints. It most commonly affects the small bones in the feet, specifically the big toe. Gout is very common, affecting more than 9 million people in the United States (about 3.9 percent of the adult population). Gout is caused when your body produces too much uric acid, or your kidneys do not filter enough out. Foods high in purines can trigger an attack of gout because purines are broken down by the body and turned into uric acid.
Foods that can trigger gout because of their high purine content include:
- high fructose corn syrup
- sugary drinks
- organ meats
- game meats
- meats like beef, lamb, pork and bacon
- some seafood including herring, scallops, mussels, codfish, tuna, trout and haddock
- gravy and meat sauces
- yeast and yeast extract
Cherries have long been used as a remedy for gout for their ability to cleanse the blood and fight inflammation.
A study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism involving 633 individuals with gout set out to see if cherry extract could decrease the number of gout attacks sufferers experienced. Those who received cherry extract had a 35 percent lower risk of gout attacks compared to those in the control group. When allopurinol, a medication used to lower uric acid levels in the blood for those with gout and certain types of kidney stones, was added to the cherry extract group, the risk of gout attacks was reduced by 75 percent.
Inhibit Cancer Growth
Anthocyanins and cyanidin are potent antioxidants found in sour cherries, and have been shown to inhibit intestinal tumor development in mice and decrease the growth of human colon cancer cell lines, as shown in a study published in 2003 in the journal Cancer Letters.
A review published in Molecules in 2021 assessed sweet cherries as anti-cancer agents, noting that the effects of sweet cherries on suppressing important events in the carcinogenic process were well documented. The review’s research also added to the understanding of sweet cherries’ ability to protect healthy cells, which had previously been understood to be due to their well known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
The review found that cherry’s cell-protective capabilities were additionally due to their ability to regulate healthy cell division and death (cancer is the faulty regulation of this process, which then promotes uncontrolled growth and proliferation of cancer cells), and protect cells from metabolic reprogramming of cancer cells. Metabolic reprogramming is the ability of cancer cells to alter their metabolism to support their ever-increasing energy needs.
The authors stated that this knowledge opened the new possibility of strategically using sweet cherries as a dietary supplement or as a coadjuvant therapy in cancer treatment.
Cherries also naturally contain melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycles. Other foods that naturally contain melatonin are goji berries, pistachios, bananas, milk, eggs, nuts, and fatty fish. Melatonin has many important functions. It supports regular sleep cycles and circadian rhythm, and has been shown to improve immune system function, have neuroprotective effects, and slow processes associated with aging.
Cherries in Chinese Medicine
Cherries are also used in Chinese medicine, where they are considered warming and sweet. Cherries also build qi–the body’s vital energy, benefit the skin, stimulate the appetite, rejuvenate the body, regenerate fluids, treat diarrhea, and are a well-known remedy for arthritis, rheumatism, and gout. In Chinese medicine, cherries are even thought to prolong life.
Cherries are rich in iron and are often used in Chinese medicine to improve blood and treat anemia. Because of their warming properties, cherries are particularly beneficial for conditions accompanied by a cold.
Cherries, in addition to their deliciousness, are packed with medicinal benefits—from fighting cancer and improving heart health to helping you get a good, restful night’s sleep. Whole berries are preferable to processed ones as processing degrades their nutritional content. Adding fresh, organic cherries to your diet is a simple way to improve your health.
There are certain fruits and vegetables that are particularly susceptible to the accumulation of pesticides, and cherries are especially prone to these buildups. According to the consumer advocacy group EWG (the environmental working group) commercially grown cherries are on their top twelve list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues. In their 2022 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, they found that 90 percent of cherries tested had residues of two or more pesticides. Therefore, consuming organic cherries is strongly recommended whenever possible to avoid ingesting these dangerous chemicals.