Not quite popular in some circles is it? Well for me, sort of true as I have not eaten cherries or cherry related products in quite a while. Typically, cherries are not one of those fruits you will see at the farmers market. However, you can find this nutrient-dense fruit in your local supermarkets, mostly in frozen or in juice forms. So, while they may not be readily accessible as most other fruits, they are worth consuming due to their concentration of critical vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and potassium.
Additionally, research has shown that cherries can greatly improve health due to its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, lower blood sugar and blood pressure as well as helps with muscle recovery after that intense workout. Let’s discuss!
Cherries are considered a nutrient-dense food that is low in calorie but high in important nutrients such as fiber, polyphenols, carotenoids, vitamin C and potassium (McCune et al. 2011). Cherries are also known to help with sleep and brain health due to its high levels of the amino acid, tryptophan, the neurotransmitter serotonin as well as the hormone, melatonin.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is required for biosynthesis of protein and as such acts as a precursor for both serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin, the precursor for melatonin, is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for mood, appetite, sleep as well as the brain and other cognitive functions while the hormone – melatonin regulates the sleep and wake cycle. As such, melatonin helps the body to know when it’s time to go to sleep and wake up (Garrido et al. 2012; Cubero et al. 2010). While there are many varieties of cherries, they are usually categorized in two (2) broad categories – Sweet and Tart. The most common sweet cherry is that of the ‘Bing’ variety while ‘Montmorency’ is the most sour or tart variety.
These two (2) types of cherries are consumed differently. The sweet kind is largely consumed fresh with about twenty-five (25%) percent processed and used in canned, frozen or in juice products etc. On the other hand, majority of tart or sour cherries are processed for used in baking or general cooking (McCune et al. 2011). As with almost all foods, these two (2) main varieties have had its share of debates, especially as it relates to which pack the most punch, nutrient wise.
However, while each may have varying levels of the same nutrients, both have proven to contain nutrients that are critical to one’s overall health and well-being. Nonetheless, research has shown that tart cherries have up to 40% of the flavonoids – flavin-3-ols with sweet cherries containing only five ( 5%) percent (Kelley et al. 2006; Wojdylo et al. 2014). Flavin-3-ols is the most common flavonoids found in our foods as is therefore considered the functional ingredient in many foods such as beverages, whole and processed foods, herbal teas and supplements (Aron and Kennedy, 2008).
Additionally, research purports that tart cherries have a higher concentration of phenolic compounds while sweet cherries have more anthocyananins (McCune et al. 2011). As such, due to cherries high nutrient profile, consuming them, especially the tart variety has been shown to provide several health benefits which include – antioxidants, the potential to reduce both blood pressure and blood sugar and is thus great for diabetic health, as well as helping with muscle recovery, especially after a workout. Cherries also have an impressive anti- inflammatory profile, which makes it an all-around favourite for many culinary pleasures. These benefits will be further explored in this article. You can read more on vitamins and their benefits in this article.
Five (5) Health Benefits of Eating Cherries
1.Cherries and Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is considered a chronic and debilitating condition that affects many individuals. However, studies have shown that the consumption of cherries can significantly benefit individuals living with this condition or serve as a preventive source for others, coupled with a healthy diet. In fact, studies have shown that supplementation with cherries or cherry-related products decreased the hemoglobin levels of diabetic women (Ataie-Jafari et al. 2008). The fasting glucose of the women was also decreased by 8% during this six (6) weeks study. On the other hand, in a study conducted by Kelley, et al (2006) and Garrido etl al. (2013), there was no significant effect on the consumption of cherry or its supplementation on both the blood glucose and fasting insulin levels of healthy participants.
Additionally, in an animal study conducted by (Lachin, 2014), it was found that the consumption of extracts of both sweet and tart cherries prevented alloxan-induced diabetes. Alloxan-induced diabetes is a form of insulin dependent diabetes mellitus that occurs as a result of injecting the chemical ‘alloxan’ in animals (Sciencedirect.com). As such, it is usually used for experimental purposes in animal studies.
Further, when cherry extract or purified anthocyanins were added to the the high fat diets fed to mice, there was a decrease in circulating glucose, insulin as well as triglycerides levels when compared to mice with just a pure high fat diet without the cherry extract or cherry-related products (Jayaprakasam, et al. 2006; Seymour et al. 2008 and Synder et al. 2016). As such, both sweet and tart cherries or the particularly nutrients in both are beneficial to one’s health.
In fact, the aqueous extract that is made from sweet cherries was shown to inhibit the enzyme –glucosidase which helps in the intestinal absorption of carbohydrates (Goncalves et al. 2017). On the other hand, chlorogenic acid, a major polyphenol in tart cherry juice was found to inhibit glucosidase as well as dipeptidyl peptidase-4 which promotes the development of diabetes (Casedas et al. 2016; Crepaldi et al. 2007).
Additionally, anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant found in cherries, particularly sweet cherries was found to decrease blood glucose by slowing down the production of glucose from complex carbohydrates, hepatic glucose and thus decrease the production of glucagon by the pancreatic cells (Crepaldi et al. 2007). As such, these studies provide support that the consumption of cherries may help to promote healthy glucose regulation in the body which is necessary for diabetic health and prevention. Nonetheless, more studies are needed to truly confirm if these findings can be translated into the risk of diabetes in humans.
2. Cherries and Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a serious condition that can lead to the development of several chronic diseases, especially heart disease. As such, consuming foods high in vitamins and minerals is a meaningful health decision. Studies have shown that both the consumption of sweet and tart cherries concentrate has the potential to lower total cholesterol in unhealthy individual especially those who were overweight and obese. This was observed in a 4-week study with participants who were obese or overweight.
The cherries used in this study however were that of the tart variety. On the other hand, no significant changes into the markers of high cholesterol including triglycerides and lower density lipoprotein (LDL) were observed in individuals who were considered otherwise healthy (Kelley et al. 2006; Lynn et al. 2014). As such, the type of cherry will depict the health impact on particular individual’s health. Nonetheless, studies continues to show that cherry extract as well as purified anthocyanins is able to reduced liver triglycerides and cholesterol in animal studies as well as decrease the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease due to diets high in fat , et al. 2006; Seymour et al. 2008 and Synder et al. 2016).
3. Cherries and Blood Pressure
High Blood pressure or hypertension is considered a silent killer. However, the consumption of cherry has been proven to be effective in balancing or decreasing blood pressure in individuals plagued with the disease. Nonetheless, the types of cherry as well as the dosage and time after ingestion are central to the duration or extent of the blood pressure lowing effects of cherry juice – sweet or tart.
This was supported in a study conducted by (Keane, George, et al.2016; Keane, Haskell-Ramsay et al. 2016 and Kent et al. 2016) where both the systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic Blood pressure (DBP) was lowered within two (2) hours of consuming three hundred milliliters (300 ml) of sweet cherry juice from Bing Cherries. However, blood pressure returned to baseline levels after six (6) hours in both the young and elderly adult participants.
On the other hand, in two (2) other studies conducted with tart or Montgomery cherry juice concentrate, it was found that only systolic blood pressure (SBP) was significantly reduced after one (1) and two (2) hours after ingestion. Further, in a six (6) –weeks study with diabetic women, it was found that the consumption of tart cherry juice concentrate of forty grams (40g) per day significantly reduced both systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) in diabetic women (ataie-jafari, et al. 2008).
Nonetheless, the results were not the same with the consumption of sweet cherry juice concentrate of two hundred milliliters (200 ml) per day with one hundred and thirty-eight (138 mg/day anthocyanins. The results showed only a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure (SBP) and not diastolic blood pressure (DBP) at both the 6th week and the 12th week markers of the study (Kent et al. 2017).
It must be noted that both systolic and diastolic blood pressure are the means in which hypertension (high blood pressure) is defined and stage in humans. However, systolic blood pressure (SBP) is used in most medical circles as a frequent indicator of cardiovascular risk factor than diastolic blood pressure (DBP).
The positive effect of cherry juice concentrate is largely due to its ability to increase plasma concentration of vanillic and protocatechuic acids (Keane et al. 2016). Vanillic and protocatechuic are naturally occurring aromatic acid usually found in soil (Sciencedirect.com). However, researchers contend that more research is needed as it relates to the impact of the chronic consumption of cherries on blood pressure, especially with individuals with borderline blood pressure (Kelley et al. 2018).
4. Cherries and Arthritis and Gout
Consumption of cherries both fresh and canned was proven beneficial in the prevention of the attacks of arthritis and gout due to the restoration of plasma uric acid to normal levels. This was evident in a 1950s study, which was considered one of the earliest studies of this nature (Blau, 1950). The study was conducted with twelve (12) participants with four (4) of them reported even greater movements in their fingers and toes after the consumption of the cherry concentrate. Additionally, in a study by Jacob et al. (2003), it was found that the consumption of a bolus of forty-five (45) bing or sweet cherries in ten (10) healthy young women showed a decrease in the plasma indicators for both oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
A bolus of food is simple that large mass of food inside the mouth which one then proceed to swallow. Oxidative stress and inflammation have been cited as significant markers for the development of chronic diseases in many studies over the years. As such, it was found that a dietary bolus of sweet cherries was capable of reducing plasma uric acid concentration after five (5) hours in otherwise healthy individuals (Jacob et al. 2003).
The consumption of tart cherry juice over a four (4) -week period was also observed to significantly reduce the plasma concentration of uric acid in the body(Martin, et al. 2011), no significant effect in participants with osteoarthritis (Schumacher, et al. 2013). Nonetheless, the consumption of tart cherry juice did reduce plasma C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in patients with osteoarthritis (Kelly et al. 2018). C-Reactive Protein is a type of protein that is found in the blood plasma. CRP usually rises upon the body’s natural response to inflammation, as such, it provide a way in which to detect inflammation in the body. While there are known inconsistencies in these studies as it relates to the effects of cherry on gout and arthritis in humans, findings sustains the conclusion that the consumption of cherries may be able to reduce the incidences of both gout and arthritis attacks. However, additional long term studies are needed to confirm the benefits of cherry or cherry related products on arthritis patients.
5. Cherries and Sleep
Both the quantity and quality of sleep is critical to overall health and well-being. Therefore, the lack of or quality sleep can lead to fatigue, headaches as well as conditions such as sleepiness during the day, snoring and other sleep related conditions (Cao, et al. 2018). Nonetheless, studies have found that the consumption of cherries can somewhat help in this area. In fact, studies have shown that both sweet and tart cherries can help with both the quality and quantity of sleep (Garrido et al. 2009; Garrido et al. 2013; Pigeon, et al. 2010; Howatson, et al. 2012). In these studies, the benefits of cherry consumption were actually observed within three (3) days of consuming sweet cherries and five (5) days after the consumption of tart cherries. It must be noted that the amount of the sweet cherries consume in these studies were 141 grams or 25 cherries/day and 240 milliliters of tart cherry juice or 100 cherries /day for tart cherries.
Additionally, participants in the sweet cherry study also experienced improvements in anxiety and general mood. Meanwhile, the supplementation of tart cherry powder was found to improve the working memory and autophagy in animal studies of aged rats (Thangthaeng, et al. 2016). However, the consumption of sweet cherries was found to protect neuronal cells from damage due to oxidative stress on the body (Kim et al. 2005). Generally though, it was found that the anthocyanins in cherry improves memory in animal studies (Tan, et al. 2014; Varadinova, et al. 2013). Nonetheless, more research is required as it relates to the effects of cherry consumption on cognitive functions in humans.
Here is a summary of the health benefits of eating Cherries – Sweet or Tart.
Let’s Sum Up!
Sometimes, we may discount the benefits of some fruits or food kind in general for various reasons. However, every food has its own particular nutrients that are beneficial to our overall health regardless of their colour, size or shape. Cherry is certainly one such fruit. This little fruit has been proven to contain a myriad of health benefits due largely to its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some of the benefits of eating cherries include its ability to reduce glucose and insulin levels in individuals with diabetes, its positive effects in reducing triglycerides levels and overall cholesterol and as such highly beneficial for heart health.
Thirdly, cherry has been proven to be able to reduce both systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) levels in humans. However, the type of cherry or cherry juice concentrate will dictate the impact and duration as it relates to the reduction of blood pressure. Cherries are also found to be able to reduce uric acid levels and other markers of gout and arthritis.
Finally, the consumption of cherries have been found to be beneficial on the amount of sleep as well as the quality of sleep just after 3 days of its consumption, particularly as it relates to sweet cherry juice concentrate. So, see, little fruit, awesome benefits.
Now that we have discussed the importance of cherries, how will you add more of it to your diet?
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