Michigan is home to 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-documented health benefits.
Greg Stacey, a dietician with Spectrum health, strongly believes in the consumption of cherries and in the consumption of cherry juice. Not only are cherries low in calories (75-100 calories per cup), they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
“Over time I have been bombarded with articles on cherries,” he said. “Finally, I said, ‘This is something I have to eat every day.’ “
Stacey’s Top 6 Health Reasons Why You Should Eat Cherries:
1. Cherries help athletes recover faster.
Research shows that tart cherry juice will improve athletic performance and recovery in strength and endurance events, Stacey said.
“If you drink 8-10 ounces before the event, you will get better results,” he said. “And if you drink another 8-10 ounces after the event, you’ll recover faster.”
The reason: The carbohydrates in cherries provide energy, the electrolytes keep you well hydrated, and the antioxidants decrease inflammation and oxidative stress, Stacey said. Research shows that cherry juice alone can reduce markers used to measure inflammation by 20%.
So, if athletes are looking for a simple, natural alternative to sports drinks before and after a workout, use Stacey’s recipe: 1 cup to 1 ½ cups of tangy cherry juice mixed with a quart of water.
2. Cherries can improve your memory.
Stacey said this claim is well researched and has been found to be 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 per day for eight weeks and compared them to a group of patients who drank another juice without antioxidants.
The result for patients drinking cherry juice: improved short-term memory, long-term memory, and verbal fluency.
3. Cherries can lower your blood pressure.
One cup of cherry juice or two pitted cups (three unpitted cups) of sweet or tart cherries can improve your blood pressure. In fact, one study showed that cherries lowered systolic blood pressure by up to 10 points. Stacey attributes this to antioxidants, as well as the high potassium content of cherries.
“Less than 3% of Americans get enough potassium,” he said. “And most Americans eat a lot of sodium. Sodium and potassium create a balance in our body.
Cherries can improve this 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 have to eat whole cherries because the juice doesn’t do the trick. This is because whole cherries are high in fiber, which helps our body to eliminate bile and therefore lower cholesterol.
The average American eats 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day, while the norm for women is 25 grams and for men 38 grams, Stacey said.
So anything like cherries that adds fiber to your diet is good 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 that 2 to 3 cups of sweet cherries alone can cut gout attacks in half. Eating cherries and taking doctor-prescribed gout medication can reduce gout attacks by up to 75%, Stacey said.
This is good news for people with gout.
6. Cherries can help you get better Zzzs.
Cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep.
According to a study that Stacey said showed a “significant but not deep” effect, people who ate two cups of cherries or drank a cup of cherry juice fell asleep faster and woke up less during the night.
Besides, raspberries are even better, because they contain more melatonin than cherries.
So if you’re looking to improve on an already healthy diet, Stacey invites you to incorporate the consumption of cherries (or raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries) into your daily routine.
“Although cherries and all berries are very, very good for us, no food will put you on the path to good health,” he said. “Eating healthy and avoiding processed foods, sweets and sodas is the main predictor of health. … You can’t eat a cheeseburger and ice cream, then throw cherries in it and think you’ve eaten well.
If you decide to add cherries to your diet, Stacey recommends washing fresh cherries well before eating. And while fresh cherries are best, frozen cherries are also great.
For cherry juice, he recommends freshly squeezed juice, but concentrated juice also works.
“Regardless of how you get more cherries in your diet, that’s what’s best for you,” he said.