Are cherries good for you?
Bursting with vitamins and protective antioxidants, cherries are certainly good for us. Registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook explains why.
What are cherries?
Cherries are small, round, red stone fruits which are typically in season in the UK from June to July. Depending on the variety, of which there are hundreds, their size and flavour can vary but usually fall into one of two categories: sweet or tart (sour).
Sweet cherries are usually eaten as they come, while tart cherries are more likely to be used in cooking. The most familiar varieties include the black stone cherry, morello and the Spanish cherry. All cherries have a stone which must be removed before eating or cooking.
The health benefits of cherries include:
1. Low GI
2. Heart healthy
3. May lower blood pressure
4. May lower cholesterol
5. May help manage blood sugar
6. May help with inflammatory conditions
7. May enhance recovery after exercise
8. May help you sleep
9. May help alleviate symptoms of gout
10. May help prevent cancer
Nutritional profile of cherries
An 80g serving of cherries provides:
- 38 Kcal/162 KJ
- 0.7g protein
- 0.1g fat
- 9.2g carbohydrate
- 1.0g fibre
- 168mg potassium
- 9mg vitamin C
An 80g serving counts as one of your five-a-day – that’s approximately 14 cherries. Discover more in our infographic: What counts as five-a-day?
What are the health benefits of cherries?
Cherries are nutrient-rich, low in calories and are a valuable addition to your diet for numerous reasons. These include:
1. They're low-GI (glycaemic index)
2. They’re a heart-healthy choice
Rich in heart-friendly nutrients including potassium, vitamin C and fibre, the high concentrations of plant compounds (such as anthocyanins) in cherries also promotes the health of the heart and cardiovascular system.
3. May reduce blood pressure
Research by the British Journal of Nutrition found that a combined cherry and berry juice may help reduce blood pressure thanks to its high polyphenol content – these natural plant compounds have numerous health benefits. Another study, which looked at cherry juice alone, reported benefits for blood pressure and cholesterol management.
4. May help manage cholesterol
Consuming either sweet or tart cherries appears to help lower levels of cholesterol, most notably the very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). These results were seen in both diabetic women as well as those classified as obese. The effects were reported after only a short period, and in the case of the addition of Montmorency tart cherry juice, in just six days.
5. May help manage blood sugar levels
Studies suggest that consuming cherries may decrease haemoglobin A1C (HBA1C), a marker that provides an indication as to how well managed your blood sugar levels are. In addition to this, consuming the juice of Montmorency tart cherries appeared to lower fasting glucose in just one week.
6. May help inflammatory conditions
Well known for their protective antioxidant properties, cherries contain plant compounds called anthocyanins and cyanidin which may have anti-inflammatory effects. Initial research has shown that these antioxidants could be beneficial in inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, however, more research is needed to replicate these results in human studies.
Read more about the health benefits of anthocyanins.
7. May enhance recovery after exercise
There has been a fair amount of research into cherries, and specifically tart cherries, and the role they play in exercise and exercise recovery. Research by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that drinking tart cherry juice (355ml) for seven days before and during a strenuous running event minimised post-run muscle pain.
Another small study found that tart cherry juice appears to aid recovery and muscle function after strenuous exercise.
However, these effects seem to relate to weight bearing activity with those enjoying non-weight bearing exercise, such as water polo, unlikely to experience the same benefits.
8. May improve sleep
Tart cherries contain high concentrations of phytochemicals including melatonin, which is involved in the regulation of our sleep cycles. There has been mixed research as to whether cherries, and specifically cherry juice, is of benefit to those who have trouble sleeping but the signs are encouraging. Research by the European Journal of Nutrition found that tart cherry juice is beneficial in improving sleep both the quality and duration, and may be of benefit to those who have disturbed sleep, while another small study suggests that cherry juice may be beneficial to those with insomnia.
9. May help those with gout
There has been some research into the effects of cherry juice on gout. One study demonstrated that consuming cherries and cherry juice over a two-day period is associated with a lower risk of gout attacks while another study suggests that cherry juice needs to be consumed for at least four months to reduce acute attacks. Further research suggests that drinking cherry juice lowers the blood uric acid levels (which can trigger an attack of gout) in healthy volunteers.
However, these results have not yet been replicated in a large-scale study involving participants with gout. Currently, more research needs to be carried out before we can say that cherry juice prevents or eases gout.
10. May help prevent cancer
Cherries have a relatively high antioxidant activity and have demonstrated anti-carcinogenic effects both in vitro and in animal studies. The mechanism behind this is the ability of the active phytochemicals in cherries in reducing the oxidative stress and inflammatory processes involved in the development of cancer. However, more studies are needed to substantiate these health benefits in humans.
Are cherries safe for everyone?
Not everyone is able to enjoy cherries, as some people may have an allergy to the fruit. This can be a primary allergy, whereby you are allergic to the fruit, or secondary, when you are allergic to pollens from the same family of plants. A secondary allergy occurs as a result of cross reactivity, for example, if you are allergic to birch tree pollen you may experience an allergy to fruit such as cherries as well as others including apples, plums and peaches.
So, are cherries healthy?
Cherries are a nutritionally dense fruit, rich in plant chemicals called polyphenols, vitamins and minerals. As long as you do not have an allergy to the fruit, cherries make a valuable addition to the diet. Enjoy fresh when in season, or as a juice or dried.
More like this
Speak to your GP or registered dietician if you experience any concerning symptoms after eating cherries.
Read more from the NHS website about allergy symptoms.
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Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last two decades she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.