While all fruit is wholesome and worth noshing on, there’s one summer staple that has some seriously impressive health benefits: sweet cherries. (Think: Bing and Rainier cherries.)
These yummy little fruits have some solid nutritional value—you get 1.5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and a bunch of vitamins and nutrients in just one cup, according to the USDA. But there’s so much more to sweet cherries than that. They’ve been linked to things like a lower risk of oxidative stress (which may mean fewer wrinkles down the road) and even better sleep. Basically, sweet cherries are the delicious fruit that keeps on giving.
Delish ways to eat ALL the sweet cherries
“Sweet cherries are an amazing flavorful option in smoothies, in a yogurt parfait, or a fun salad addition,” says Beth Warren, MS, RD, author of Living a Real Life with Real Food. You can also add them to cottage cheese, oatmeal, or baked goods, suggests Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of The Small Change Diet.
If you’re nervous about your ability to work your way through a bag of sweet cherries, consider freezing them, says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert and co-author of Sugar Shock. Then, you can heat them in a saucepan when the moment is right, add them to a bowl, and add a little chia seeds and cinnamon on top. Or simply pop them in your mouth to enjoy as a cool treat on a hot day.
Sweet cherry health benefits
Circling back to those benefits now. Here’s a breakdown of what sweet cherries can add to your life—ya know, besides tastiness.
1. They may help ward off wrinkles
Fact: Sweet cherries are loaded with vitamin C (10 milligrams per cup, TYVM) and other antioxidants, which can help tamp down on inflammation and oxidative stress in your body, Gans says. “At the cellular level, oxidative stress is a process that damages our cells and potentially our DNA,” Cassetty explains. It plays a big role in the aging process and can even lead to fine wrinkles. Sure, there’s a lot you can do to fight premature wrinkles, like wearing sunscreen regularly, but adding sweet cherries to the mix definitely won’t hurt.
2. They may help lower your risk of cancer.
This takes a lil’ cherry 101 to understand. Sweet cherries contain polyphenols, which are beneficial compounds that you get from certain plant-based foods. There is some research to suggest that these polyphenols may have anti-cancer benefits.
One 2019 study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer treated breast cancer cells with dark sweet cherry extract in a lab and found that it inhibited the growth of the cancer cells by 50 percent. Another study published in the Journal of Functional Foods in 2020 found that dark sweet cherry extract kept breast cancer cells from growing.
“If you are at risk of certain cancers, consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds, would possibly help because these compounds may fight off free radicals that cause damage to your body,” Gans says. (In case you’re not familiar with them, free radicals are unstable atoms that can cause damage to your cells.) Again, cherries alone are unlikely to get rid of your cancer risk, but eating them reguarly could help lower it, along with other anti-cancer lifestyle moves like exercising regularly and avoiding smoking.
3. They might help with blood pressure.
High blood pressure can do everything from raise your risk of heart attack to increasing the odds that you’ll have a stroke. But sweet cherries have some elements that may help lower your risk. It all goes back to the polyphenols. “Sweet cherries are rich in protective polyphenol compounds, which have been linked to better blood pressure levels,” Cassetty says. “These compounds increase nitric oxide production and help improve the function of the cells that line our blood vessels.” This, Cassetty adds, “helps widen and relax our blood vessels so blood can flow through more efficiently, resulting in healthier blood pressure levels.”
4. They may lower your dementia risk.
Cognitive decline is one of those things you don’t really think about until you’re older—but the stuff you do now can contribute to it down the line. Sweet cherries contain anthocyanins, a class of polyphenol antioxidants that give them their pretty dark red color. “Numerous studies link better brain function and memory skills with higher levels of anthocyanin intake,” Cassetty says.
There are a few different things going on here: They lower inflammation and counter oxidative stress in the brain that can raise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, Cassetty explains. Basically, popping some sweet cherries in your mouth on the reg now may help lower your risk of having brain disease down the road.
5. They may help lower your risk of heart disease.
This goes back to the anthocyanins, Cassetty says. “Chronic inflammation contributes to plaque development in the lining of your blood vessels, which can reduce blood flow and lead to hardening of the arteries,” she explains. “The antioxidants in sweet cherries help keep your blood vessels relaxed, and they influence the process that enables your blood vessels to widen, which results in healthier blood pressure levels.” Not only that, keeping inflammation levels low helps protect your blood vessels from plaque forming in your vessels, she says. As a result, you would have a lowered risk of heart disease.
Of course, just eating sweet cherries all day won’t torpedo your risk of heart disease. “For overall health, and the health of your heart, it’s also important to eat other nutritious whole foods, stay active, get enough sleep, and find healthy ways to cope with stress,” Cassetty says.
6. They may help combat type 2 diabetes.
About 10.5 percent of Americans have diabetes and 21 percent of those aren’t aware of it, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, more than one in three Americans has prediabetes, a condition that causes high blood sugar but isn’t quite high enough to qualify as diabetes, and 84 percent of those don’t know they have the condition either, the CDC says. Basically, there are a lot of people out there either with diabetes or at high risk for the condition who don’t know it.
A quick primer on type 2 diabetes, the most common type: When you have the condition, your cells become resistant to insulin, which helps transport sugar to your cells, per the CDC. As a result, you develop high blood sugar, which can lead to all kinds of health issues, including heart disease and kidney disease. Polyphenols, like the ones found in sweet cherries, “have been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity, which means that your cells are more responsive to insulin’s actions so that glucose can get taken in by your cells and used for energy,” Cassetty says.
7. They may even help you get better sleep.
This is seriously cool: Sweet cherries contain melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle. “When melatonin rises, you feel sleepy, and when it falls, it’s time to wake up,” Cassetty explains. All kinds of things you deal with during the day can mess with the process, like not being exposed to sunlight in the morning or spending too much time on your phone before bed.
But adding more melatonin-rich foods like cherries to your diet “is a way to promote better sleep,” Cassetty says. Plus, she adds, “research suggests that people with insomnia have higher levels of oxidative stress, so it’s also possible that the antioxidants in cherries help counter that damage to help with sleep.”