Cherries 101: Nutrition Facts and Potential Benefits

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Cherries are a delicious type of stone fruit that comes in two main varieties: sweet and sour.

These small fruits grow all around the world, and they are one of the most popular fruits globally.

In addition to their great taste, cherries may also offer several health benefits.

This article provides a guide to the nutrition profile and potential benefits of cherries.

Nutrition Facts

Sweet Red Cherries.
Sweet red cherries

First of all, the nutritional values of cherries will slightly differ depending on the variety, of which there are dozens.

With this in mind, the following table shows the full nutrition profile for general sweet and sour cherries per 100 grams.

The source of the data is the USDA Food Composition Databases (1, 2).

Nutrition Facts For Sweet and Sour Cherries (Per 100 g)
Calories/NutrientSweet CherriesSour Cherries
Calories63 kcal50 kcal
Carbohydrate16.0 g12.18 g
  Fiber2.1 g1.6 g
  Sugars12.8 g8.49 g
Fat0.20 g0.30 g
  Saturated Fat0.04 g0.07 g
  Monounsaturated Fat0.05 g0.08 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat0.05 g0.09 g
    Omega-3 Fatty Acids0.01 g<0.01 g
    Omega-6 Fatty Acids0.03 g0.05 g
Protein1.1 g1.00 g
VitaminsSweet CherriesSour Cherries
Thiamin (B1)0.03 mg (2.5% DV)0.03 mg (2.5% DV)
Riboflavin (B2)0.03 mg (2.3% DV)0.04 mg (3.1% DV)
Niacin (B3)0.15 mg (0.9% DV)0.40 mg (2.5% DV)
Pantothenic Acid (B5)0.20 mg (4% DV)0.14 mg (2.8% DV)
Vitamin B60.05 mg (2.9% DV)0.04 mg (2.4% DV)
Vitamin B120.0 mcg0.0 mcg
Choline6.10 mg (1.1% DV)6.10 mg (1.1% DV)
Folate4.0 mcg8.0 mcg
Vitamin A3.17 mcg RAE (0.4% DV)64.2 mcg RAE (7.1% DV)
Vitamin C7.0 mg (7.8% DV)10.0 mg (11.1% DV)
Vitamin D0.0 mcg0.0 mcg
Vitamin E0.06 mg (0.4% DV)0.07 mg (0.5% DV)
Vitamin K2.1 mcg (1.8% DV)2.1 mcg (1.8% DV)
MineralsSweet CherriesSour Cherries
Calcium13.0 mg (1% DV)16.0 mg (1.2% DV)
Copper0.06 mg (6.7% DV)0.10 mg (11.1% DV)
Iron0.36 mg (2% DV)0.32 mg (1.8% DV)
Magnesium11.0 mg (2.6% DV)9.0 mg (2.1% DV)
Manganese0.07 mg (3% DV)0.11 mg (4.8% DV)
Phosphorus21.0 mg (1.7% DV)15.0 mg (1.2% DV)
Potassium222.0 mg (4.7% DV)173.0 mg (3.7% DV)
Selenium0.0 mcg0.0 mcg
Sodium0.0 mg3.0 mg (0.1% DV)
Zinc0.07 mg (0.6% DV)0.10 mg (0.9% DV)

As shown in the nutritional values, sweet and sour cherries are fairly similar.

However, sweet cherries contain more carbohydrate and more sugar.

Sour cherries also offer higher concentrations of vitamin A carotenoids and vitamin C.

Health Benefits

Based on their nutrition profile and research into cherry consumption, here are some potential benefits the fruit may offer.

May Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Numerous studies have demonstrated that cherries or cherry products can have an anti-inflammatory effect.

In a trial featuring ten healthy women, a serving of 280-grams of cherries slightly decreased blood levels of uric acid and C-reactive protein (3).

A further randomized controlled trial in 47 healthy adults found that 30 ml of cherry concentrate slightly increased plasma antioxidant status (4).

Another randomized and double-blind trial found that 240 ml of tart cherry juice twice daily for two weeks decreased markers of oxidative stress compared to placebo (5).

Furthermore, a more extensive 12-week study demonstrated that 480-ml of tart cherry juice daily had positive impacts on health markers. For instance, compared to placebo, there was a reduction in markers of inflammation, reduced blood pressure, and “higher plasma levels of DNA repair activity” (6).

It is worth noting that 280 grams of cherries is a (perhaps unrealistically) large serving size.

However, it does seem that cherries contain compounds which can have a positive impact on markers of health.

Key Point: Cherries appear to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties.

Cherries Are a Natural Food Source of Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that can help to regulate our sleep cycle and improve sleep (7).

Interestingly, a small number of foods contain naturally-occurring melatonin. These foods include tomatoes, olives, certain types of meat and fish, a variety of herbs and spices, and cherries (8).

On this note, one randomized controlled trial demonstrated that cherry juice could significantly elevate melatonin levels (9).

Unfortunately, there is not a significant amount of research on whether this translates to potential sleep benefits. However, one randomized controlled trial, featuring forty-three adults aged over 65, found that cherry juice had “modest beneficial effects on sleep” (10).

To be precise, the cherry group of participants moderately had less insomnia, fell asleep quicker, had better sleep quality, and slept for longer.

On the downside, the amount of cherry juice used in this trial was equivalent to approximately 100 cherries per day, which is a significant serving size.

Key Point: Cherries provide naturally-occurring melatonin, and may potentially enhance sleep.

High In Antioxidants

Cherries contain various antioxidants in moderate to high amounts.

Firstly, cherries provide a good source of carotenoids and polyphenols (11).

Among the polyphenols that cherries contain, they are a particularly good source of anthocyanins, hydroxycinnamic acids, and flavonols (12, 13).

Regarding the bioavailability of these compounds, both rodent and human studies show that cherries exert antioxidant effects in vivo (within a living organism) (4, 14).

Also, the polyphenol/antioxidant content of cherries may be responsible for the (mild) anti-inflammatory effects seen in human trials (3, 5, 6).

That said, the precise mechanisms of polyphenols still aren’t fully understood, and research is ongoing (15).

Key Point: Cherries are a rich source of carotenoids, polyphenols, and other antioxidants.

Low Glycemic Index

Cherries are moderately high in carbohydrate for a fruit, and sweet and sour cherries contain 16 grams and 12 grams of carbs respectively.

Despite this, cherries have a very low glycemic index, which suggests that their effect on blood sugar levels is relatively mild compared to other foods.

To be precise, research shows that cherries have a glycemic index of 22 (16).

The table below shows how cherries compare to some other popular fruits regarding their glycemic index (16);

Glycemic Index of Cherries Versus Other Popular Fruits
FruitGlycemic Index
Apple38
Cherries22
Mango51
Orange42
Pineapple59
Strawberries40
Key Point: Cherries are a low glycemic index fruit.

Good Source of Vitamin C

While cherries are not a substantial source of any essential nutrient, they do offer a moderate source of vitamin C.

For the highest amount of the vitamin, sour cherries are the best option, and they offer around 10 mg vitamin C per 100 grams. This amount of vitamin C represents approximately 11% of the recommended daily intake (2).

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin that predominantly acts as an antioxidant in the body. Research shows that vitamin C can help to prevent free radical damage, and potentially play a role in long-term disease prevention (17).

Key Point: Cherries offer a moderate serving of vitamin C.

Cherries May Offer Benefits For Exercise Performance and Recovery

Interestingly, several studies—in the way of human clinical trials—have demonstrated that cherries may have performance-enhancing properties.

Here is a summary of the research in this area;

  • In a trial run by London South Bank University, tart cherry juice improved muscle recovery time after intense exercise (18).
  • A small trial using eight male cyclists found that sour cherry powder improved cycling time-trial performance (by 2.9%) compared to placebo (19).
  • A randomized controlled trial demonstrated that consuming tart cherry juice daily, for seven days before an intensive run, minimizes post-run muscle pain (20).
  • Several different studies investigated the performance benefits of cherries on marathon runners, water polo players, and English football (soccer) players. These trials showed that tart cherry juice could enhance next-day recovery (21, 22, 23).
  • In endurance runners, powdered tart cherry consumption reduced muscle catabolism and increased overall performance (24).

While the breadth of positive research in this area appears impressive, it is important to note that cherry powder and tart cherry juice are highly concentrated. In other words, consuming them is very different to eating a small handful of cherries.

For instance, according to research, a typical serving of tart cherry juice is roughly equivalent to 50-60 whole cherries (25).

Key Point: Cherries may help to improve exercise performance and post-exercise recovery.

Varieties of Cherries

Sour Red Cherries.
Sour red cherries

Some people may not be able to differentiate sweet and sour cherries.

For these people, here is a quick guide to what they look like and the different varieties of each.

First of all, sweet cherries tend to have a shade of color that can range from dark red to purple, burgundy, and near-black.

In contrast, the color of sour cherries tends to be bright red. These cherries are also smaller and softer than sweet cherries, and they have a very tart flavor.

However, this is not always the case, and sour cherries can sometimes be darker shades of color.

Due to their tart flavor, people generally use sour cherries for cooking purposes and eat sweet cherries on their own.

It is also worth noting that the majority of research into the potential benefits of cherries has focused on the sour variety.

In the table below, you can see some of the common cultivars of cherries and whether they are sweet or sour cherries.

Popular Cultivars of Sweet and Sour Cherries
Cultivars of Sweet CherryCultivars of Sour Cherry
AngelaBalaton
BentonEarly Richmond
BigarreauEnglish Morello
BingMeteor
Black GoldMontmorency
CelesteNorth Star
Glacier
Hedelfingen
Kordia
Kristin
Lapins
Moretta
Rainier
Regina
Selah
Skeena
Sweetheart

Final Thoughts

Cherries are one of the world’s most popular fruits for a good reason: they taste delicious.

As shown in this article, they may have some health benefits too, particularly in the case of sour cherries.

For more information on fruit, see this guide to the different varieties of olives.

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