Cherry season is upon us and, chances are, we have all been enjoying copious amounts of the fragrant, bright-colored summer fruit. Whether we have been having golden yellow cherries, bright red or black cherries, we know with certainty that it was a healthy choice irrespective of color. Cherries are proven to be one of the healthiest fruit you can eat, good for digestion and arthritis and the heart and so many more aspects of our health. But what are some real, verifiable health benefits we should be expecting from eating cherries? Read on to find out all about these 7 health benefits you can experience if you’re eating cherries.
(1) Constipation relief
One of the biggest benefits of eating cherries daily, or almost daily, is constipation relief. Cherries, whether they’re red, yellow or black, naturally have laxative properties. A serving of 100 g of cherries provides about 2.1 g of dietary fiber, while a cup of pitted cherries at a little over 150 g provides 3.2 g of dietary fiber. While it may not seem like much, considering that the average adult requires between 20-38 g of dietary fiber per day, eating a cup every day for a few days can effectively help relieve constipation by adding to one’s daily fiber intake. Drinking plenty of water also helps. If your fiber intake is generally low, a cup of cherries can cause a stomach ache with cramps, gas and even diarrhea.
But does your stomach hurt every time after eating cherries? If it’s not an issue of overeating cherries, then the cause behind the stomach hurt may be a malabsorption issue or a matter of intolerance, for example. Some people are less tolerant of fructose, a sugar found naturally in cherries and other fruits, and eating too many cherries, or other fruits, can result in digestive symptoms such as stomach ache, cramps, gas, burping and loose stools and diarrhea. A cup of cherries without pits (at a little over 150 g a cup) provides a little over 8.2 g of fructose.
Similarly, some people experience difficulty digesting sugar alcohols such as sorbitol – there are around 0.45-6.8 g of sorbitol/100 g of fresh sweet cherries. This is why eating the fresh fruit over a certain amount can result in digestive upset and associated symptoms. But it can’t really be said that it’s a matter of overeating since the side effects are directly proportional to the degree of intolerance to sorbitol. The same goes for other components in cherries that may elicit digestive side effects. It’s important to understand that different people tolerate different amounts. It’s a good idea to determine your individual tolerance to various kinds of fruit, cherries or others, by gradually increasing your intake until you find the perfect amount for you, one that does not elicit digestive upset, but still gets you nutritional and other benefits.
(2) Benefits for diabetes
Fresh cherries are a type of fruit diabetics can eat, but in reasonable amounts, as part of a balanced, varied and overall sensible diet. Cherries are actually one of the best fruit for diabetics to eat because of their low glycemic index (GI) score. More specifically, fresh cherries have a GI score of 20, 20-something out of 100, making them low-glycemic (the fluctuation in GI score accounts for variations in nutritional status between varieties of cherry).
This means that eating cherries with diabetes will not raise blood sugar levels too much or too fast. A reasonable intake would lead to a modest, but relatively steady increase in blood sugar levels in diabetics (and non-diabetics alike) and should not jeopardize any aspect of diabetic health, despite providing, on average, 19.7 g of sugar per cup (154 g) of fruit without pits and 12.8 g of sugar/100 g serving. Find out more about the glycemic index of cherries and how they impact blood sugar.
To further reduce the effects of eating cherries on blood sugar in diabetes, you can reduce serving size and pair the fruit with a source of protein and fat (e.g. a few walnuts, a boiled egg, a piece of cheese). Protein and fat delay digestion and should help better control blood sugar levels post-meal. Other benefits of cherries for diabetes stem from their low energetic value (only 97 kilocalories/kcal per cup of pitted fruit at 154 g a cup) and extremely low fat content (only 0.3 g of fat per cup of pitted fruit at 154 g) which contribute to weight control, a major aspect of diabetic health. Find out more about cherries and diabetes.
(3) Benefits for weight loss
One of the biggest benefits of cherries is they help with weight loss. A cup of pitted cherries at 154 g provides just 97 kilocalories/kcal and only 0.3 g of fat, making it as low-calorie as it gets. It also provides 24.7 g of carbs and 19.7 g of sugar (fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltose, galactose). But even so, if consumed reasonably, cherries are a good diet food to consider for healthy weight loss, especially since they also provide essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to nutritional status and important antioxidants with reparative and anti-inflammatory properties.
(4) Prebiotic properties
Fresh cherries have prebiotic properties, meaning they help feed the good bacteria populations in the gut. Their prebiotic properties are owed to dietary fiber, sugars, sugar alcohols and other carbohydrate-type components (e.g. pectin, sorbitol, mannitol) which are sources of fermentation in the digestive tract and thus help grow populations of beneficial gut bacteria. Being source of fermentation, some of these same components in cherries can also cause digestive upset with symptoms such as painful abdominal cramps, bloating, gas and loose stools and diarrhea.
(5) Minor benefits for blood pressure
Fresh cherries are a good food to eat for anyone looking to up their intake of the dietary mineral potassium needed for better blood pressure numbers. A cup (154 g) of fresh cherries without pits provides around 342 mg of potassium, out of a total of 4500 mg daily recommended intake. Potassium is an electrolyte that relieves pressure in blood vessels and maintains electrolyte balance within blood plasma, as well as regulates sodium levels. Meeting daily requirements to the best of our efforts holds benefits first and foremost for cardiovascular health, lowering high blood pressure numbers.
For more benefits for blood pressure, fresh cherry juice might be an even better idea than whole cherries. Since potassium is water-soluble, you will be getting more from the juice than the whole fruit overall. At the same time, the juice is not very satiating and you do end up drinking more of it and thus also getting more carbs and sugar along with more potassium, but almost no fiber (if it’s pure cherry juice) or very little of it (if it’s cherry juice with pulp). Over time, it can lead to side effects such as weight gain or high blood sugar levels in diabetes.
(6) Restore vitality
How do cherries restore vitality? First of all, by correcting dehydration – the fresh fruit is over 82% water. A serving of 1 cup (154 g) of fresh cherries, without pits, provides 127 g of water. While it may not seem like much, and certainly does not substitute drinking water, a cup of fresh cherries really does have an invigorating effect. Secondly, fresh cherries provide modest amounts of several B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9) and dietary minerals (magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron). Both B vitamins and dietary minerals such as iron contribute to red blood cell production, combat anemia and associated tiredness and fatigue, while magnesium, potassium and calcium contribute to electrolyte balance and improve blood pressure numbers, resulting in a revitalizing effect.
(7) Anti-inflammatory benefits
Cherries are proven to contain a host of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components, including anthocyanins, carotenoids such as carotenes (e.g. beta-carotene) and xanthophylls (e.g lutein, zeaxanthin), catechin, epicatechin, quercetin 3-glucoside, quercetin 3-rutinoside, kaempferol 3-rutinoside and other Flavonols and flavan-3-ols, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), gallic acid, ellagic acid, Queritrin, neochlorogenic acid, p-coumaroylquinic acid and many other phenolic acids and polyphenols. Studies show these biologically active components in the fruit inhibit inflammation and exert antioxidant, antimutagenic, antiproliferative and reparative effects (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4, source 5 etc.). Regular consumption of the fruit, irrespective of variety, is a source of real anti-inflammatory benefits with potential applications for diabetes, gout, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions and potentially also cancer prevention.