Health Benefits of Tart Cherry (+ Trail Mix Recipe)

Health Benefits of Tart Cherry (+ Trail Mix Recipe)

Want to put a cherry on top of your wellness routine? Make sure it's a tart cherry!

The tart cherry (Prunus cerasus L.), sometimes known as the sour cherry or pie cherry, has higher levels of antioxidants than the sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.)—the kind that you typically snack on from the produce section of your grocery store. You may also find the Montmorency cherry; it is a variety of tart cherry grown in Europe, Canada and the United States.

Here's why tart cherries are a healthy must-have, particularly for athletes, and how to get the maximum benefit from this superfruit—plus, a trail mix recipe that's the perfect post-workout treat.

Nutrition facts about tart cherries

Many of the health benefits attributed to tart cherries are due to their high antioxidant content—and, specifically, a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins that you will also find in other deeply colored fruits.

In addition, tart cherries are a source of:

  • Fiber
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin A (particularly great source)
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Choline
  • Melatonin
  • Tryptophan…and more!

Clearly, tart cherries are chock full of important nutrients! But perhaps you're wondering how the tart cherry's nutritional profile impacts your health.

Health benefits of tart cherries

Man riding down the mountain on a bike

Tart cherries promote health of people from all different walks of life—from athletes to aging individuals, to everyday people who are just seeking a better night's sleep. Here's how.

Healthy muscles

By supporting healthy blood flow and vascular function, tart cherries can benefit endurance athletes. Plus, tart cherries provide relief from muscle discomfort following strenuous activity.

In overweight or obese individuals, one cup (8 oz)/day of tart cherry juice promoted healthy uric acid level concentration by 19.2% and already-healthy C-reactive protein by 19.4%.

Cognitive health

Healthy older adults who drank two cups (16 oz) of tart cherry juice daily for 12 weeks had improved scores on tests of cognitive abilities, including reaction time, a learning task and spatial working memory compared to baseline.

Sweet dreams

Tart cherries can support several sleep parameters. And even though cherries contain melatonin (hormone) and tryptophan (amino acid), these sleep-supporting nutrients are only present in small amounts. Therefore, researchers hypothesize that this sleep-supporting benefit is once again attributed to their antioxidant content. Most notably, the anthocyanins promote a healthy inflammatory response and help inhibit the breakdown of tryptophan.

Is it better to drink tart cherry juice or take a supplement?

A glass of cherry juice full of antioxidants

You can find tart cherry as a food, a juice, or as a supplement. It's always great to eat fruits in their unaltered form as much as is possible—you'll get all of the nutrients, no added sugar and plenty of fiber. Alas, tart cherries, unlike sweet cherries, can be hard to come by, depending upon the time of year and where you live.

That might lead you to believe that juice is the next best option—but, this might not actually be true. Although some studies have shown benefit using the juice, others have shown success using supplements. An added benefit to supplementing with tart cherry, rather than drinking the juice, is skipping the sugar content of the juice. Sure, some sugar in the juice is naturally occurring from the fruit, but many juice manufacturers add sugars to sweeten up what is an otherwise sour fruit. Plus, when you drink the juice, you're not getting any of the fiber that's in the fruit.

How much tart cherry juice should you drink in a day?

If you do decide to get your tart cherry from juice, choose one that doesn't have added sugar. Based on the results of clinical studies, drinking 8–16 ounces of tart cherry juice daily can be beneficial, depending on your health goal.

How to choose a tart cherry supplement

A bowl of tart cherry supplement powder

If you're looking for a tart cherry supplement, you'll find lots of options. The Tart Cherry with CherryPURE® supplement formula from Life Extension is made from the whole cherry skin of the Montmorency tart cherry.

CherryPURE® is a trademarked raw material that has been used firsthand in human clinical studies. The anthocyanins and other phytonutrients in CherryPURE® freeze dried Montmorency tart cherry skin powder are protected by a skin matrix; this carrier results in a bioavailable product. You can't say this about many other supplements nor can you say it about the phytonutrients in tart cherry juice!

When are tart cherries harvested?

A basket of tart cherries during tart cherry harvest

The tart cherry harvest season in Traverse City, Michigan, is late June through late July, depending on how early the growing season starts—which, in turn, depends on how fast the area thaws out and warms up in the spring. These are the cherries that are used in Life Extension's CherryPURE® formula.

While you're looking critically how your tart cherry supplement is made—from extract v. powder—also consider where and when the cherries are harvested. Your supplement manufacturer should be choosing cherries at their prime picking time to ensure you get the maximum benefit from the fruit!

Also consider the harvesting process. CherryPURE® is sourced from orchards that are harvested using a process that cools the internal temperature of the individual tart cherries from 94 degrees to 38 degrees within an hour of being picked; the cherries are then frozen within 24 hours.

For supplements, you want tart cherries that are not only harvested at the peak of the season, but preserved immediately. This is because as soon as cherries are picked from the tree, anthocyanin potency degrades quickly. Freezing captures and maintains anthocyanin levels.

How do you use tart cherry supplements?

The recommended dosage for tart cherry is one 480 mg capsule once or twice daily, or as recommended by a healthcare practitioner.

In 2016, the amount of CherryPURE® per capsule changed from 615.5 mg to 480 mg based on clinical studies (Levers, 2016; Levers, 2015) showing that the lower dose offered clinically studied benefits.

So, you can still get powerful support for muscle health, exercise recovery, brain health and sleep—with slightly less powder.

Tart Cherry Trail Mix recipe

A bowl of Tart Chery Trail Mix

Of course, if you can get your hands on actual tart cherries—especially ones that don't have added sugar—you'll get the most benefit from eating it as a whole fruit. Like other dried fruit, dried tart cherries tend to be high in calories, but this also makes them the perfect fuel for an endurance athlete. That's why we love them in a trail mix.

Are you ready to hit the trails? If good-old-raisins-and-peanuts (or "GORP"), the original trail mix, doesn't thrill you, try this well-rounded mix that will please the palate and keep you energized.

The great thing about trail mix recipes is that you can easily omit or add any ingredients, so feel free to take liberties on the below based on your preferences.

Ingredients:

  • 1¼ cup dried tart cherries
  • ¾ cup dried banana chips
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips
  • ¾ cup vanilla granola
  • ½ cup cashews
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ¾ cup walnuts

Instructions: Use a dry measuring cup set to measure out ingredients then combine by gently mixing. Store in an airtight container.

While tart cherry juice and dried tart cherries may be easier to find year round, if you are able to find fresh tart cherries locally during their growing season, Martha Stewart has got you covered with 30 Sour Cherry Recipes Sure to Make Your Summer Sweeter!

CherryPURE® is a registered trademark of Shoreline Fruit, LLC.

 

Holli Ryan is a registered dietitian and nutritionist

About the Author: Holli Ryan is a food and nutrition expert, Registered and Licensed Dietitian-Nutritionist, health and wellness writer, blogger, and social media specialist based in South Florida. In her free time she enjoys photography, cooking, art, music, and nature.

 

References