Sweet or tart, cherries are the bomb

A dietitian shares 6 surprising health reasons why you should eat this magical fruit.
Cherries are seemingly magical. They are incredibly good for your health. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Cherries are seemingly magical. They are incredibly good for your health. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Michigan is home of the Cherry Capital of the World and produces more tart cherries than any other state.

So it’s good news for Michigan residents—and those beyond—that cherries offer several unique and well-researched health benefits.

Greg Stacey, a heart and lung transplant dietitian with Spectrum Health, is a firm believer in eating cherries and drinking cherry juice. Not only are cherries low in calories (75 to 100 calories per cup), they are bursting with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

“Over time, I was bombarded with articles about cherries,” he said. “Finally I said, ‘This is something I need to eat every day.’”

Stacey’s top 6 health reasons why you should eat cherries:

1. Cherries help athletes recover more quickly.

Research shows that tart cherry juice will improve athletic performance and recovery in both strength and endurance events, Stacey said.

“If you drink 8 to 10 ounces before the event, you will perform better,” he said. “And if you drink another 8 to 10 ounces after the event, you will recover quicker.”

The reason: cherries’ carbohydrates provide energy, electrolytes keep you well hydrated, and antioxidants decrease inflammation and oxidative stress, Stacey said. Research shows that cherry juice alone can reduce markers used to measure inflammation by 20 percent.

So, if athletes are looking for a simple, natural alternative to sports drinks for before and after a workout, use Stacey’s recipe: 1 cup to 1 ½ cups tart cherry juice mixed with one liter of water.

2. Cherries can improve your memory.

Stacey said this claim is well studied and has proven true for sweet cherries (as opposed to tart cherries).

One study gave elderly patients with dementia 200 ml (just under a cup) of cherry juice every day for eight weeks and compared them with a group of patients who drank another juice without antioxidants.

The result for the patients drinking cherry juice: improved short-term memory, long-term memory and verbal fluency.

3. Cherries can lower your blood pressure.

A cup of cherry juice or two cups pitted (three cups non-pitted) of sweet or tart cherries can improve your blood pressure. In fact, one study showed cherries lowered systolic blood pressure as much as 10 points. Stacey attributes this to antioxidants, as well as the high potassium content of cherries.

“Less than 3 percent of Americans get enough potassium,” he said. “And most Americans eat a lot of sodium. Sodium and potassium create a balance in our bodies.”

Cherries can improve that balance, and therefore lower blood pressure. (Other great sources of potassium, Stacey said, are bananas with 400 mg and potatoes with 1,600 mg.)

4. Cherries can lower your cholesterol.

To use cherries to help lower cholesterol, Stacey said, you must eat whole cherries, as juice doesn’t do the trick. That’s because whole cherries have high fiber content, which helps our body eliminate bile and therefore lower cholesterol.

The average American eats 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day, while the standard for women is 25 grams and for men is 38 grams, Stacey said.

So anything, like cherries, that adds fiber to your diet is great for you.

5. Cherries can improve gout and arthritis.

Because gout and arthritis are both inflammatory diseases, cherries can help reduce symptoms.

In fact, studies show 2-3 cups of sweet cherries alone can cut gout attacks in half. Eating cherries plus taking medicines the doctor prescribes for gout can reduce gout attacks by up to 75 percent, Stacey said.

That’s sweet news for gout sufferers.

6. Cherries can help you get better Zzzs.

Cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep.

According to one study, which Stacey said showed a “significant but not profound” effect, people who ate two cups of cherries or drank one cup of cherry juice fell asleep faster and woke up less during the night.

Even better, by the way, are raspberries, which contain more melatonin than cherries.

So if you’re looking to improve an already healthy diet, Stacey urges incorporating eating cherries (or raspberries, blackberries or blueberries) into your daily routine.

“While cherries, and all berries, are very, very good for us, no one food is going to set you on the path to good health,” he said. “Eating a healthy diet and avoiding processed foods, candy and soda is the main predictor of health. …You can’t eat a cheeseburger and ice cream and then throw some cherries in there and think you have eaten well.”

If you do decide to add cherries to your diet, Stacey urges washing fresh cherries well before eating. And while fresh is best, frozen cherries are great, too.

For cherry juice, he recommends fresh squeezed, but juice concentrate also works.

“Whatever way gets more cherries in your diet is what’s best for you,” he said.

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