Berries get a lot of love, but there’s another fruit that deserves equal attention: tart cherries. Despite their sour taste, tart cherries offer some seriously sweet health benefits, thanks to all the good-for-you nutrients packed inside their juicy red shells.
Not only are they full of antioxidants, tart cherries offer vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and copper—along with less sugar and fewer carbs than another favorite snack, blueberries. They also contain trace amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and both omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids, says William Newsome, M.D., of Solutions Weight Loss in Orlando, Florida.
Here are three solid ways eating tart cherries—or drinking tart cherry juice—can benefit your health.
1. They Can Help Protect Your Cells
Tart cherries’ antioxidant content is one of their biggest perks. A quick refresher: Antioxidants are compounds that naturally occur in certain foods and help protect your cells against damaging molecules called free radicals that are produced when you’re exposed to pollution or when your body breaks down food. Research has shown that damage from these free radicals can contribute to diseases like cancer, arthritis, and dementia. One of tart cherries’ most potent antioxidants is called anthocyanin, which gives cherries (and other fruits) their purple-y color.
One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that tart cherry extract (particularly that of a variety called Montmorency) can prevent some oxidation seen in cell membranes—so look for that variety at your supermarket!
(As a bonus, the researchers also discovered that one of the compounds found in tart cherries, chlorogenic acid, could help nix insulin spikes—sugar crashes—after meals.)
2. They Help Promote Healthy Sleep
Can’t seem to shut down at night? Consider sipping on tart cherry juice. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that elderly participants with trouble sleeping who drank two eight-ounce glasses of tart cherry each day for two weeks slept for a whopping 85 minutes longer than those who were given a placebo drink. The reason for this? Tart cherries contain melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles), says Matthew Kadey, R.D., author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure. Studies suggest both drinking tart cherry juice before bed and drinking it multiple times throughout the day seem to help, without any sleepy daytime effects.
3. They May Soothe Muscle Soreness Post-Workout
Because tart cherries contain antioxidants, they may help your body bounce back after a workout. “Research shows that if you consume tart cherry juice for several days before and after exercising, you can experience less muscle soreness and faster recovery,” says Kadey.
According to one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, runners who drank tart cherry juice for a week leading up to a race reported less pain and quicker recovery time afterward than runners who downed a placebo juice. (A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found similar results with marathoners.)
A disclaimer: Tart cherries’ post-exercise benefits seem to be far more noticeable in people who are working out hard (or long) every day—so if you take cardio or yoga classes here and there, you may not notice as much of a difference, Kadey says.
How to Add Tart Cherries to Your Diet
To reap health benefits from snacking on fresh tart cherries, aim for about a one-cup serving, suggests Newsome. If you can’t find them fresh, look for dried tart cherries, which are great added to oatmeal or trail mix. (Just cut your serving size down to a quarter cup and look for a brand without any added sugar.)
Same goes for sipping on tart cherry juice. Look for a bottle labeled ‘100 percent tart cherry juice’ that’s free of added sugar or any other juices, Kadey recommends. If you find the flavor of tart cherry juice is too sour for your tastes, try mixing a few tablespoons of juice into a few ounces of water.
Keep your tart cherry facts straight: