You don’t have to know me very well to know how difficult it is for me to turn down something sweet. I have a major sweet tooth and I rarely ignore it! Luckily, I’ve found that there are many fresh fruits available during the spring and summer months that are great for satisfying a sweet craving, including a personal favorite, cherries.

Cherries are so sweet that eating a handful (or two!) might seem indulgent, but that’s not the case. The truth about cherries is that they taste good and are good for you too. Cherries are loaded with antioxidants and nutrients that make them a powerful superfood, and research has shown that eating cherries can help with a number of ailments and chronic diseases. In this post, I’ll give you the skinny on cherry nutrition so that you can enjoy this dessert fruit all summer without feeling an ounce of guilt!

Got Antioxidants?

Cherries do! In fact, WebMD ranks sweet cherries among the top 20 foods with the highest concentration of antioxidants (cherries are #15). The standard one-cup serving of cherries can hold up to 4,873 antioxidants. Antioxidants occur naturally in foods and may protect cells in the body from damage during oxidation, a chemical reaction in the body that can produce free radicals. These radicals start a chain reaction and if that reaction occurs in a cell, it can severely damage or kill the cell. Oxidative stress is the cause of many diseases and the antioxidants found in foods are a great way to combat that stress. Cherries contain several different antioxidants, including: melatonin, phenols, quercetin, and a flavonoid called anthocyanin.

Cherries and Heart Health

Anthocyanins give cherries their deep red color just like red wine, which means they too, are good for the heart. This is welcome news for all as cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in America. Anthocyanins help protect the heart, surrounding tissue, and inhibit plaque formation.

The Anti-Inflammatory

Eating cherries may help alleviate pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and gout (the most severe form of arthritis). A 2004 study by UC Davis researchers found that participants who ate 45 sweet cherries during breakfast had decreased blood plasma levels and increased the amount of uric acid removed through urine. Because gout attacks occur when uric acid accumulates in the joints, these two changes are a healthy sign of an immune system fighting inflammation.

Fiber, Vitamin C, and Potassium

Sweet cherries have it all! One cup of sweet cherries contains 3 grams of dietary fiber. It is recommended that adults consume between 20 and 30 grams of fiber each day. Research suggests that a high fiber diet can prevent constipation, lower the risk for developing digestive disorders, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, and aid in weight loss. That same one cup serving of cherries also has 16% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that is essential to keep the body functioning normally and driver in maintaining a healthy immune system. Lastly, cherries are a good source of the nutrient potassium, with approximately 260 milligrams in a one cup serving. Potassium is a main electrolyte that keeps the body functioning properly and plays an important role in muscle, heart, kidney, and nerve cell functions. It also works with another electrolyte, sodium, to balance water levels throughout the body.

The Natural Sleep Aid

Cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland that plays a key role in regulating the body’s internal clock. During the day, the pineal gland is inactive but as it turns dark outside at night, the pineal gland is turned on and begins to produce melatonin. Melatonin is released into the blood and you start to feel less alert, or sleepy. The melatonin levels remain elevated in the blood for about 12 hours, allowing for the body to rest and rejuvenate for the next day. Research suggests that consuming melatonin 30 minutes before going to bed can help improve sleep, especially when altering a schedule through shift work or traveling (say goodbye to jet lag). Melatonin is also an important antioxidant that helps maintain brain functioning and may deter the onset of age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Cherries and Bone Health

Cherries contain boron, a mineral that helps maintain calcium balance and promotes bone health. Some research suggests that boron may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. The level of boron needed in the diet is not known, but many nutritionists suggest consuming between 3 and 5 milligrams of boron each day. In addition to sweet cherries, boron is found in many other common fruits, leafy vegetables, and legumes.

Now that you know ALL about cherry nutrition, it’s about time you start enjoying these fruits! Currently, Stemilt is harvesting, packing, and shipping cherries daily from California to grocery stores all over the world, so be sure to keep your eye out for our delicious, ruby-colored fruits at your local store. Cherries are free of fat and cholesterol with less than 90 calories in a one cup serving, making them the perfect snack. Enjoy a handful of cherries today – you know that’s what I’m going to do as soon as my sweet tooth tells me to!

It’s your turn to share – What healthy foods do you turn to when you need to satisfy a sweet craving? Do you prefer sweet or salty foods? Tell me in the comments section below.