These delicious little fruits have long been associated with hot and sunny days, not only because of their cool, refreshing tartness, but also because they have an incredibly short growing season.
While they can be grown for a few months out of the year in sub-tropical regions, they’re really only “in season” for a few weeks in most parts of the United Stated. You may be inclined to think of cherries more as a summer treat than a superfood, but increasing evidence demonstrates that cherries offer serious health benefits—so stock up while you can!
Just one caveat, though: there’s a big difference between tart cherries and sweet cherries. Most of the fresh varieties you’ll see in stores, such as Bing, are sweet (sometimes they’re even labeled as “sweet cherries.”) These are okay in moderation, but do contain much more sugar than their tart cousins.
For real benefits (we’ll get to them in just a bit), choose tart cherries. Luckily, tart varieties are more often found in dried, frozen, or juice form, so they’re available more or less all year round. If you manage to find fresh tart cherries, you can also store them for year-round enjoyment. In this case, wash your cherries right before eating them (not prior to storage), as washing will decrease their shelf life.
Here’s some evidence that tart cherries offer more than just summer nostalgia.
Tart Cherries: superfood AND functional food
People have lots of opinions about what comprises a “superfood,” but there’s a few points about which everyone can agree. Superfoods must be nutrient-dense—that is, they must provide an above average level of critical nutrients per serving, compared to common foods. Ideally, superfoods should also be functional foods, meaning that they should have the capacity to address acute health concerns.
Tart cherries pass this unofficial superfood test with flying colors. In case you need some more proof, take a look at what research has revealed about them.
Exceptional nutrient density. Tart cherries are packed with a cornucopia of beneficial nutrients. Here’s a sampling: vitamin C (a powerful and underestimated antioxidant that boosts the immune system and scavenges free radicals), beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A that is immensely important for vision), quercetin and other anthocyanins (antioxidants that provide immune support and lowered cancer risk, among many other benefits), potassium, manganese, and copper (critical minerals in which many people are deficient), vitamin K (an important factor in calcium maintenance), cyanidin (another antioxidant with unique, cancer-preventing properties), and ellagic acid (which, according to researchers, “prevents the binding of carcinogens to DNA and strengthens connective tissue.”)
And you can get a significant percentage of your RDI (recommended daily intake) of all these nutrients from a single eight-ounce glass of tart cherry juice.
Tart cherries work remarkably well at preventing and soothing arthritis and gout
Potent anti-inflammatory action. Tart cherries also work wonders for inflammatory conditions, thanks to their rich anthocyanin and bioflavonoid content. These compounds inhibit enzymes called cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), which are largely responsible for triggering the inflammatory response associated with pain and stiffness.
COX inhibition is one of the mechanisms by which NSAIDs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen cool inflammation too, but their use comes with many potential side effects. Tart cherries work remarkably well at preventing and soothing arthritis and gout, all without the ulcers, gastrointestinal stress, and other side effects of OTC painkillers.
Melatonin and Sleep support. Cherries contain high levels of melatonin, an endogenous antioxidant that powerfully supports the brain, regulates circadian rhythms, and lets the body know when it’s bedtime.
Melatonin deficiency is rampant, because its production can be disrupted by the blue light emitted by most electronic devices, as well as by environmental toxin overload. Luckily, researchers have found that drinking a serving of tart cherry juice in the evening increases exogenous levels of melatonin, and thus improves sleep duration and quality.
Natural endurance. An increasing number of sports medicine experts are touting tart cherry juice as a powerful elixir for endurance and enhanced recovery. One study found that Montmorency tart cherry concentrate improved athletic performance, and decreased post-exercise inflammation and soreness. Subsequent studies have found that long-distance runners who drink tart cherry juice before marathons experience less muscle damage, and therefore experience less pain and faster recovery.
Reduced disease risk. The list above is only a sampling of the potential benefits tart cherries have to offer. While disease etiology can be difficult to trace when viewed on an individual basis, the fact remains that inflammation, oxidative stress, and nutrient deficiency are primary risk factors for nearly all diseases.
By targeting these key factors and supporting the body holistically, tart cherries reduce the risk of developing a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, dementia and general cognitive decline, and even cancer.
Get some tart cherry juice today!