Are Cherries Good for You?

But the real key to cherries’ health benefits lies in their antioxidant content. Sweet and tart cherries each contain high amounts of polyphenols—a category of antioxidants that includes anthocyanins, hydroxycinnamic acid, and flavanols, which are found in cherries. These compounds have anti-inflammatory properties.

“Anthocyanins seem to be the most active antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound in cherries,” says Darshan Kelley, PhD, a nutrition research chemist at the Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. They may help decrease the risk and severity of inflammatory diseases—such as arthritis, gout, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. 

Anthocyanins are also the compound that gives the fruit its deep, red color. “This antioxidant is not unique to cherries—they are also plentiful in strawberries, blueberries, and red grapes,” says Giuliana Noratto, PhD, an associate research scientist in the department of nutrition and food science at Texas A&M University in College Station. “But the amounts and proportions of anthocyanins and other antioxidants that cherries contain are unique.” 

Because the exact polyphenol composition of every fruit is different, no two will have the exact same effects on the body. Even the two types of cherries contain different compositions of antioxidants. The concentration of total polyphenols is 30 percent higher in tart cherries, while sweet cherries contain 300 percent more anthocyanins, according to Kelley.

How many cherries do you need to eat a day to get these benefits? Ten to 20 (½ to 1 cup) a few days a week is a reasonable amount when cherries are in season. You need a total of 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day, but you don’t want to have all of it come from one type of fruit every day.