1. Tap into their nutrient power.
When it comes to nutrition, tart cherries offer a lot of nutritional bang for the calorie buck. In fact, when you look at a bright red tart cherry, the nutrition power is staring right back at you! Rich in anthocyanins, a powerful plant nutrient that not only gives tart cherries their sparkly red hue, but has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pain-reducing properties, too. Tart cherries are also packed with other easier-to-pronounce nutrients, including vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. A half cup of dried cherries provides nearly 50% of our daily recommended amount of vitamin A, a nutrient that’s essential for a healthy immune system, eye health, and that helps preserve healthy skin. And tart cherries are one of the few known natural sources of melatonin, a hormone that is important for promoting a healthy sleep cycle.
2. Optimize your exercise recovery.
More than 50 studies have looked at the health benefits associated with tart cherries, and many have been in the area of sports nutrition and recovery. Consuming tart cherries (in juice and concentrate) as part of a training routine for athletes, from runners to cyclists, has shown to decrease inflammation and oxidative damage and reduce muscle damage and pain and speed recovery from exercise. Now that’s a tart and tasty performance plus!
3. Get more—and better—zzz’s.
A good night’s sleep doesn’t simply come from the number hours your head actually hits the pillow. The quality of that time spent on your mattress matters, and important research has shown that tart cherries can help improve sleep quality, duration, and efficiency in individuals with insomnia. With more than 30 percent of Americans suffering from sleep disturbances, finding natural ways to help has become a priority. Studies in which adults consumed tart cherries twice daily for period of time have shown benefits ranging from speeding up that challenging transition from ”restless to rest” (falling asleep!) to less waking up during the night. Research has even shown to help increase the overall duration of sleep in those suffering from insomnia. One recently presented study from Louisiana State University found that when older adults with insomnia drank Montmorency tart cherry juice regularly for two weeks, their sleep times increased by nearly 90 minutes! You can rest easier knowing there may be a simple solution to ease into better sleep.
4. Keep your ticker tickin’.
A growing body of research has shown that tart cherries offer help for our hearts. Studies published out of Michigan State University and other research institutions have shown that tart cherries can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Also, the anthocyanins in tart cherries have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties; inflammation has been tagged as a risk factor for heart disease and a number of other chronic health issues, from metabolic syndrome to diabetes. Yet another reason to show some heart-felt love for the tart cherry.
5. Make a healthy plant-based diet more exciting.
From the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to the American College of Cardiology, we are increasingly encouraged to eat a more plant-based diet for good health. Tart cherries offer a versatile and unique opportunity to help us make our plates more interesting and higher in health-promoting plant foods. Tart cherries are available in dried, juice, and frozen forms; they fit conveniently onto our plates year-round. Moreover, the sour flavor has been trending and gaining traction everywhere from restaurant menus to food trucks to the grocery aisle over the last several years. Tart flavor adds a perfect complement — a flavorful punctuation — to sweet, savory, and even spicy dishes in our day-to-day meals. You can incorporate tart cherries with sweet for the classic sweet and sour combination. It’ll make your smoothies more interesting and tasty, and your oatmeal extra-special with a pop of flavor and color. You can also create salad dressings and marinades with tart cherry juice. I like to combine them into savory dishes, from Moroccan-style bean stews flavored with cinnamon and cumin to pepper-roasted Brussels sprouts with a tart cherry glaze, making plant-based dining even more delicious. And don’t miss the opportunity to combine tart cherries with a little cayenne for a spicy-sour sensation to accompany seared ahi or even dark chocolate-cayenne-cherry bark.
Wendy Bazilian is a doctor of public health, registered dietitian, and American College of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist. She co-owns Bazilian’s Health Clinic with her husband and business partner, Dr. Jason Bazilian. Dr. Wendy is author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale). Wendy has been an expert consultant and advisor to the Cherry Marketing Institute and knows her way around the science (and many uses!) of tart cherries.