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The Sweet Truth About Tart Cherries

These sour berries are delicious dried, juiced or baked into a pie, but they do more than taste good. Get to know tart cherries.

If a beauty contest were held for fruits, cherries would be the runaway winner. Their bright red skin makes them stand out  atop sweet confections like ice cream sundaes. But cherries aren’t only pretty on the outside -- these tiny fruits are packed with nutrients.

All About Tart Cherries

There are two basic types of cherries -- sweet and tart. Sweet cherries are eaten fresh while tart cherries are often used in baking, dried as fruit snacks and used to produce cherry juice. Although both types of cherries contain vitamins, some minerals and the phenolic compounds that make potent antioxidants, studies have shown the tart cherry variety contain more antioxidants and less sugar than its sweet counterpart. One hundred grams of tart cherries contains eight grams of sugar and 36 calories while the same amount of sweet cherries has ten grams of sugar and 46 calories, according to the Nutrition Data website. Tart cherries contain the vitamins A and C as well as iron and calcium. They also contain anthocyanins, the source of their antioxidant properties, and melatonin which regulates the body’s circadian rhythm.

Tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) are predominantly grown in the United States, primarily in Michigan, between the months of June and August. Large quantities are grown during this brief season, then frozen, canned and juiced to meet the year-round demand. There are more than 300 varieties of the tart cherry but the most common are the Montmorency, Early Richmond, English Morello and Balaton. The Montmorency is believed to have the highest content of antioxidants and is one of the most produced varieties.

Health Benefits

Tart cherries and their reported medicinal effects have been the subject of several scientific studies. Educational institutions including the University of Michigan, Cornell University in New York and The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland have all taken a closer look at this little drupe. Tart cherries were also studied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the British Journal of Sports Medicine. All of these independent studies concluded that the anthocyanins and melatonin in tart cherries produced positive results in the relief of symptoms and treatment of various diseases and conditions. Here are their combined findings:

  • Reduces the pain and inflammation in arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia:
    The anthocyanins in tart cherries inhibit the release of two enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2, which promote the production of the inflammatory compound prostaglandin.
  • Promotes muscle recovery and reduces strength loss:
    In a study done on athletes and college students, those who were given tart cherry juice and had a lower level of SAT (serum aspartate aminotransferase). A rise in this enzyme is an indication of liver damage and also a measure of skeletal muscle damage. Marathon runners also had faster recovery of muscle function after a strenuous run when they drank tart juice before and after a race.
  • Reduces vascular inflammation and lowers the risk for cardiovascular diseases:
    In the University of Michigan report, individuals who ate one and a half cups of tart cherries had an increase in their levels of five different anthocyanins, thus boosting antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are known defenders of the body against free radical damage that can lead to heart disease. One serving of canned tart cherries is equivalent to a standard aspirin tablet, a scientist from the University of Texas reports. Aspirin is prescribed by doctors to improve blood flow and prevent heart illnesses.
  • Lowers blood sugar levels:
    Two different studies reported the anthocyanins in tart cherries increased the production of insulin in the pancreatic cells by 50 percent in individuals with diabetes when they were given sugar. Further, the chemicals produced by diabetes leading to complications are blocked by these antioxidants.
  • Promotes sleep:
    The melatonin in tart cherries helps in regulating the body’s hormones and the biological clock. By promoting proper sleep, the body’s immune system is enhanced, protecting the body from disease. Melanin is also an antioxidant that functions as an anti-aging substance.

Tart cherries can be enjoyed all year long as a whole fruit or a supplement, available in pill, juice and powder form. Take advantage of this home-grown produce and reap the health benefits of tart cherries. What could be better than that?


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