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Time to stop underestimating these little guys.
Most people know that oranges are packed with vitamin C and that apples are a solid source of fiber. But cherries? Um…they’re delicious in pie?
Cherries are actually low-key pretty solid in the health benefits department—so you might just want to give the health perk-packed fruit a little more cred.
“I love cherries,” says New York City-based nutritionist Alisa Rumsey, RD. “Cherries are a versatile fruit that offer great flavor and a lot of health benefits—especially Montmorency tart cherries, which are the most common variety of tart cherries in the U.S. and the most-researched.”
Yep, there’s actually a lot of legit science that links cherries (particularly tart cherries) with all sorts of health benefits.
Jessica Cording, RD, nutritionist and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers, is also a cherry fan. “Cherries have a lot going for them from a nutritional standpoint,” she says. “Sure, they’re tiny, but they have so much to offer.”
In case you’re wondering, here’s what you get in one cup of tart cherries:
That’s just the beginning, though. Here are eight legit benefits cherries have to offer.
“One of the main things I like about cherries is that they’re really high in antioxidants,” Cording says. “The pigments that give cherries their great color also signify that they have a lot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.”
Anthocyanins, for example, are a type of polyphenol that give foods a deep red color and act as an antioxidant in the body, Rumsey explains.
Those antioxidants pack a punch. Drinking eight ounces of tart cherry juice (about the same as eating 50 cherries) daily for four weeks can significantly reduce markers of inflammation associated with chronic disease, according to a study published in the journal Food & Function.
The benefits of cherries’ polyphenols don’t end with fighting inflammation. “Diets rich in polyphenols may help protect against conditions like heart disease,” Cording says.
How? Drinking eight ounces of tart cherry juice daily may help lower triglycerides (high levels of which can raise your risk of heart disease), found another Food & Function study.
Cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle. “Not a lot of foods contain melatonin, but tart cherries are an exception,” Cording points out.
Though getting proper sleep is complicated (and involves way more than just eating cherries), the fruit can “help promote healthy sleep and regulate your circadian rhythm,” she says.
If you’re struggling with sleep, good sleep hygiene (avoiding screens before bed, keeping your room cool and dark) is crucial, but incorporating more cherries or cherry juice into your diet could also help.
“Tart cherry juice has been shown to boost exercise performance and post-workout recovery,” Rumsey says. In fact, research has been looking into this benefit for years.
One older study, for instance, found that runners who drank tart cherry juice before and after long-distance races recovered faster than those who drank something else. Cherries’ antioxidants may also help decrease soreness after you exercise, according to nurtitionist Sonya Angelone, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Plus, a more recent meta-analysis (which analyzed the data of multiple studies), found that consuming tart cherry juice or powder before biking, swimming, or running significantly improved exercise endurance.
“Some emerging research suggests that Montmorency tart cherries may play a role in gut health,” Rumsey says.
One study, for instance, found that tart cherries’ polyphenols may have a positive impact on the gut microbiome. Plus, the fruit contains fiber, which is basically the wizard of gut health and supports digestive regularity.
Though there’s more research to be done here, Rumsey and other nutrition pros are certainly intrigued.
“Cherries are flavorful, and a lot of people find that they satisfy their desire for something sweet,” Cording says.
One unique perk of this sweet treat: “They take a while to eat, which slows down your eating,” she adds. (I mean, de-stemming and pitting those things takes a while.) “If you struggle with mindless snacking, cherries are good for that,” says Cording.
In the long run, eating more mindfully and satisfying your sweet tooth with something nutritious can make all the difference in your weight-loss journey.
Cherries are rich in the antioxidant vitamin C (one cup provides nearly 10 milligrams, almost 15 percent of your daily needs), says Cording.
Along with an overall healthy diet and regular exercise, loading up on vitamin C supports a healthy immune system, she explains. And who doesn’t want that?
The vitamin C in cherries can also help improve the health of your skin, Cording says. After all, the free radical damage that antioxidants fight throughout the body occurs in your skin, too—so getting your fill of antioxidants does your body good, inside and out.
The bottom line: Cherries (especially tart cherries!) are an antioxidant-packed way to satisfy your sweet tooth, support quality sleep, and ward off inflammation and chronic disease.