A table adorned by a bowl of shining red, perfectly ripe cherries is a sure sign that summer has arrived.
Cherries have a very short growing season (May to July), so even with our modern world’s privileged supply chains, they most often make an appearance on hot and sunny days.
They’re usually considered a tasty delicacy, as well as a great ingredient for pies and other desserts. As it turns out, though, they’re also great for your health.
All types of cherries fall into one of two categories: sweet and tart (for obvious reasons). While all cherries boast some impressive health benefits, this article will focus on tart cherries, which contain a fraction of the sugar content of sweet cherries (as the name suggests).
Minimizing refined sugar intake is one of the most important measures you can take to optimize your diet and overall health—sugar is detrimental to the body, even when you consume it in the form of fruits that are otherwise healthy for you.
So let’s look at some of the reasons why tart cherries are one summer staple that you needn’t feel guilt about.
Powerful antioxidants (the body’s best friend)
Tart cherries are packed with potent antioxidants, the essential compounds that scavenge free radicals, lower oxidative stress, and balance the body’s immune and detoxification systems.
And while cherries may not have the highest ORAC rating (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), the specific antioxidants that they contain seem to be uniquely talented at carrying out their job.
In fact, one study even showed that the anthocyanins and cyanidin in tart cherries are superior to isolated vitamin E, and as effective as many commercial antioxidants.
That’s right: enjoying a delicious handful of fresh cherries can be just as beneficial for your body (or more so) than swallowing a bunch of expensive pills. While supplementation is certainly important these days, food really is the best medicine.
Proven effective against Gout and Arthritis
The same antioxidant compounds mentioned above also make tart cherries an excellent natural anti-inflammatory. A half cup of cherries can even relieve pain just as effectively as NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen), without any of the negative side effects.
Their inflammation-fighting ability has proven particularly effective for those suffering from gout and arthritis. According to recent studies, gout patients who consumed just 10-12 cherries per day (or a single serving of cherry extract) reduced their risk of an attack by 35%, and arthritis patients experienced a 20% reduction in pain from the same regimen.
And even if you don’t have gout or arthritis, the anti-inflammatory action of cherries can still be a godsend. Athletes who consume tart cherries or tart cherry extract after exercising experience significantly less pain, and those who combine cherry consumption with a high-fat diet can reduce their body’s fat storage—which means less belly flab, easier weight loss, and more balanced metabolism.
This is because tart cherries reduce the buildup of uric acid, which collects around joints and muscles, causing pain and stiffness. They also directly combat inflammation and oxidative stress, and activate PPAR (peroxisome proliferator activating receptors), which help balance and regulate genes involved in fat and glucose metabolism. This mechanism not only helps with weight management, but also lowers triglycerides and reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease (tart cherries even mimic the effects of heart medications called PPAR agonists).
They’ll even help you sleep better
And the list goes on.
Another antioxidant that tart cherries contain is melatonin, which is not only one of the most potent brain-supporting substances known to man, but also an invaluable compound for healthy sleep.
Your brain’s pineal gland acts like a sort of photosensitive receptor. When it senses that the sun is going down, it naturally increases its production and release of melatonin, thus allowing for proper maintenance of circadian rhythms and deep, restorative sleep.
Many people who suffer from disturbed sleep end up having a melatonin deficiency. So, by improving melatonin levels, tart cherries have been shown to increase the duration, quality, and efficiency of sleep.
How to enjoy tart cherries all year long
There’s nothing like a fresh cherry on a summer day—but how can you reap all of the benefits discussed above throughout the rest of the year?
One way is to freeze your summer cherry stash (they’ll be fine to eat for the next year, at which point the next summer harvest should be available).
It’s also worth trying tart cherry concentrates or extracts, of which you’ll find an abundance in most health food stores (it’s nice living during a natural health revival). Some studies have found them to be even more strongly beneficial than fresh cherries, since they can contain higher levels of therapeutic compounds.
Whichever route you choose, your body will thank you. While you’re enjoying those little medicinal morsels, let them remind you how great it is that good health and healing can be delicious too.