The Science Behind Tart Cherries
After years in the shadow of other fruit, tart cherries are emerging as a major Super Fruit. A substantial and growing body of scientific research has linked tart cherries to anti-inflammatory benefits, reduced pain from gout and arthritis and an extensive list of heart health benefits. Recent studies even suggest tart cherries can help reduce post-exercise muscle and joint pain.
Available dried, frozen and in juice and concentrate, tart cherries contain a unique package of antioxidants and beneficial phytonutrients, including anthocyanins — the pigments that give cherries their bright red color. There are now more than 50 studies specifically on tart cherries and scientists continue to uncover new and important benefits of this fruit.
THE RED REPORT takes a new, scientific look at the power of tart cherries — a red hot Super Fruit.
Tart Cherries: America’s Naturally Functional Super Fruit
Homegrown and long a part of America’s history, cherries are truly an American favorite. Technically known as Prunus cerasus, tart cherries’ nutrition, unique flavor and naturally functional properties are right on target with today’s new food and beverage trends.
Now more than ever, Americans are aware of health and nutrition and look to their diets as a means to deliver nutrients and health benefits. Naturally functional foods — or foods with inherent benefits — are now preferred to traditional fortification or dietary supplements as a source of nutrients.1 Tart cherries’ nutritional profile contributes a number of powerful antioxidants, and their sweet-tart taste adds a unique flavor boost.
AN ANTIOXIDANT POWERHOUSE
Tart cherries are packed with powerful antioxidants. In fact, they have among the highest levels of antioxidants of other superfoods. Tart cherries ranked 14 in the top 50 foods for highest antioxidant content per serving size — surpassing well-known leaders such as red wine, prunes, dark chocolate and orange juice, according to one recent study.
Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a measure of antioxidant strength. ORAC measures how many oxygen radicals a specific food can absorb and deactivate. The more oxygen radicals a food can absorb, the higher its ORAC score.
HOW TART CHERRIES STACK UP
Tart cherries have as much, if not more, antioxidants than many other fruits
Even more important than antioxidant levels alone, the natural compounds in tart cherries may work synergistically to deliver powerful health benefits, according to research from the University of Michigan.The researchers isolated individual cherry phytonutrients and tested the antioxidant power alone, or paired together. They found that the “whole” was greater than the sum of its parts — specific compounds worked together to boost antioxidant power more than would be expected for any compound on its own.
Anthocyanins are the key antioxidant compounds in cherries. Along with providing the bright red pigment to tart cherries, these phytonutrients have been specifically linked to high antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation, at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications.
Tart cherries are also sources of other phenolic compounds, such as gallic acid, p-coumaric acid, kaempferol, and quercetin, all of which are potent antioxidants.
Tart cherries contain the highest concentrations of anthocyanins 1 and 2 which help block enzymes associated with inflammation. Tart cherries contain significantly more anthocyanins than other fruits, including sweet cherries.
See how other fruits match up to cherries’ powerful phytonutrient profile.
Data were collected from the USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods - 2003, and published peer-reviewed scientific research. Compounds shown represent the main compounds in tart cherries and were not intended to show exhaustive list of all phytonutrients.
The Power of Red: Health Benefits of Tart Cherries
An extensive and growing body of research suggests that the powerful antioxidants in tart cherries that give the super fruit its bright red color are also responsible for their anti-inflammatory properties and health benefits.
A number of studies have specifically linked tart cherry consumption and cherry anthocyanins to decreased inflammation and inflammatory-related conditions. One study from University of Michigan researchers revealed a cherry-enriched diet reduced inflammation markers in animals by up to 50 percent and another found drinking eight ounces of tart cherry juice daily for four weeks significantly reduced important markers of inflammation in overweight and obese adults.
This inflammatory benefit is behind cherries’ ability to reduce risk for arthritis and gout, promote cardiovascular health and most recently to aid muscle recovery and reduce oxidative stress in athletes.
GOUT AND ARTHRITIS
For decades arthritis and gout sufferers have regularly consumed tart cherry juice for relief of symptoms. As early as the 1950’s, the science began to support this long-held tradition, linking cherry consumption to less pain associated with gout attacks.
More recent studies have supported this finding. One study found that when healthy women ate two servings (280 grams) of cherries after an overnight fast, they showed a 15 percent reduction in uric acid levels, as well as lowered nitric oxide and C-reactive protein levels – all of which is associated with inflammatory diseases like gout. Another study supported a lower uric acid level after cherry consumption, finding that after drinking eight ounces of tart cherry juice daily for four weeks, many adults had lower levels of uric acid.
The inflammatory benefits have potential to extend to arthritis sufferers too. In a 12-week pilot study conducted by researchers at Baylor Research Institute, a daily dose of tart cherries (as cherry extract) helped reduce osteoarthritis pain by more than 20 percent for the majority of men and women.
CARDIOVASCULAR AND HEART HEALTH
Tart cherry consumption has been linked to a number of cardiovascular benefits — from overall anti-inflammation to reductions in cholesterol levels, to decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome — all important heart disease risk factors.
Research from the University of Michigan has found that cherry-enriched diets in animals lowered multiple risk factors for heart disease, from lowering total blood cholesterol levels to reducing total body weight and fat, in particular the “belly fat” that is most often associated with heart disease risk. A recent study found that a cherry diet (at 1 percent of diet as tart cherry powder) reduced C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation by up to 36 percent and lowered levels of total cholesterol by 26 percent in a five-month mouse study. The mice fed a cherry diet had a 65 percent reduction in early death, likely due to improved cardiovascular health.
The University of Michigan researchers also found the cherry-enriched diets reduced not only overall body inflammation, but inflammation at key sites (belly fat, heart) known to affect heart disease risk in obese, at-risk rats.
The anthocyanins in tart cherries may also lower blood lipid levels. In an animal study, rats who were fed tart cherry-enriched diets for 90 days demonstrated significantly lower plasma triglyceride and total cholesterol, fasting glucose and insulin, and a plasma marker of oxidative damage.They also had slightly higher high-density lipoproteins (HDL – the “good” cholesterol) and significantly elevated blood antioxidant capacity.
EXERCISE RECOVERY AND PAIN RELIEF
The same RED compounds linked to cherries’ arthritis and cardiovascular benefits have now shown promise for athletes and sports recovery to help relieve muscle and joint soreness. Tart cherries could help athletes reduce muscle damage to recover faster from a tough workout, according to a growing body of research.
A study conducted at the University of Vermont gave 12 ounces of cherry juice or a placebo twice a day for eight days to 14 college men. On the fourth day, the men were asked to perform strenuous weight lifting of two sets of 20 repetitions each. Strength loss after exercise was only 4 percent with the juice compared to 22 percent with the other beverage, and pain significantly decreased after cherry juice consumption. The researchers concluded that “consumption of tart cherry juice before and after eccentric exercise significantly reduced symptoms of muscle damage.
Other research supports the pain relief benefits of incorporating tart cherries in a training routine. In one study, runners who drank cherry juice twice a day for seven days prior to and on the day of a long-distance relay had significantly less muscle pain following the race.55 A similar study in marathoners found that runners who drank cherry juice 5 days before, the day of and 2 days after running a marathon experienced a faster recovery of strength, increased total antioxidant capacity and reduced inflammation and lipid peroxidation compared to a non-cherry beverage.
Increasingly, sports nutritionists are using tart cherries as part of a recovery program to support athletic performance and recovery. Here’s a sample “red recovery” routine designed to minimize inflammation, boost hydration and fuel the body.
Researchers continue to uncover new and novel benefits of tart cherries. Some preliminary research has linked tart cherry juice to improvements in sleep and sleep patterns.
In one pilot study, a team of University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester and VA Center of Canandaigua researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice daily helped reduce the severity of insomnia and time spent awake after going to sleep. The 15 older adults saved about 17 minutes of wake time after going to sleep, on average, when drinking cherry juice daily, compared to when they were drinking the juice drink.
A second study found that healthy adults experienced improved sleep time and a 5-6 percent increase in overall sleep efficiency after drinking two servings of tart cherry juice for a week, compared to drinking a fruit cocktail. The volunteers also reported less daytime napping time while drinking the tart cherry juice.
Go Red Instead
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and USDA’s MyPlate encourage Americans to “make half their plate fruits and vegetables.” Colorful fruits provide a number of benefits — from contributing important vitamins and minerals, to reducing risk factors for many diseases.
Only one in five Americans is currently getting the recommended fruit each day, which could put their health at risk.59 For adults, that means incorporating 2 cups daily. To help boost fruit intake, the Dietary Guidelines remind us to think about variety and taste. Now more than ever, there are good reasons to choose cherries.
Since tart cherries are available year-round as dried, frozen or juice, it’s easy to add this RED super fruit to your diet. In addition to their unique sweet-tart taste, they’re versatile enough to include in any dish.
FIVE WAYS TO ADD TART CHERRIES TO YOUR ROUTINE
1 - Brighten up Breakfast
Swap your typical berries for dried cherries and add them to your cereal, oatmeal, yogurt or pancakes.
2 - Juice on the Run
Grab some 100% cherry juice or fill a water bottle with diluted cherry juice concentrate each morning before you hit the gym to help aid in muscle recovery.
3 - Switch from Blue to Red
Make a change from your standard blueberry muffin recipe and use dried or frozen cherries instead.
4 - A Perfect Parfait
Keep a bag of frozen cherries in the freezer and layer with lowfat vanilla yogurt and granola.
5 - Fruit Fiz
Make a refreshing cherry spritzer by adding cherry juice concentrate to ice cold seltzer water for a refreshing treat.
The Red Report is a summary of the literature on the health benefits of tart cherries. The report was commissioned by the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI), an organization funded by North American tart cherry processors and growers. The intent of the report is to provide an overview of the scientific evidence and the information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician or other healthcare professional.
Technical review of the report was provided by: E Mitchell Seymour, PhD., University of Michigan
© 2012 Cherry Marketing Institute