Fighting Inflammation With Tart and Sweet Cherries

By Frank Forza 

Gout, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, disturbed sleep and accelerated athlete recovery. Cherries are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammation properties that may alleviate symptoms for certain chronic diseases. Since they have shown much promise in short-term scientific studies, cherries have become a growing part of my personal ForzaFit eating program.

If you’re reading this article, you may be wondering: Do tart and sweet cherries actually live up to the hype? 

It is worth remembering — modern-day nutritional science is a very young field, only about 100 years old or so. That’s an extremely small slice of history, so nutrition science is still very much in its infancy. Also keep in mind that relatively few doctors receive more than a few hours of formal nutrition training in medical school.

Further complicating matters, there aren’t a ton of scientific cherry studies out there — one team of in-depth researchers found only 29 cherry studies featuring humans, but thankfully they published their meta-analysis findings to NCBI (the National Center for Biotechnology Information, an extension of NIH, or National Institute of Health).

The aforementioned review, published in 2018 by Darshan S. Kelley, Yuriko Adkins and Kevin D. Laugero on, basically represents the Gold Standard so far on cherry research. And their findings suggest that cherries may be the Real Deal after all.

These results suggest that the consumption of sweet or tart cherries can promote health by preventing or decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation,” the researchers concluded in their 36-page review.

Researchers Kelley, Adkins and Laugero called cherries “a good source of tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin.” This is significant because tryptophan and melatonin can impact our sleep and mood, and many scientists regard seratonin as a crucial neurotransmitter that plays a role in how happy or sad someone is.

(Interesting Fun Fact — the vast majority of your body’s serotonin mood factory is located in your gut, which serves as Ground Zero for more study of the all-important gut-brain connection. This relationship suggests that what happens in your gut can significantly impact what goes on in your brain, and of course vice-versa).

Because of their impressive nutritional profile — rich in Vitamin C, carotenoids, fiber and antioxidants — cherries seem to be a low-risk, high-reward food. Tart cherries, are on the bitter side taste-wise and commonly used for baking and cooking. Sweet cherries are best known, unfortunately, for being the “cherry on top” of an alcoholic beverage or ice cream Sunday. I view sweet cherries as sort of the “Little Red Corvette” of the fruits. They are super flashy and technically part of the ‘drupe” family of fruits — they are not a berry.

To me, cherries are a vastly under-estimated and under-utilized food. They are traditionally a summertime seasonal fruit, and so they seem to only capture our attention in small bursts throughout the calender year. People eat some cherry pie around the holidays — and then forget about cherries. Or they order an ice cream Sunday — and then forget about cherries for weeks or months. For some reason, a lot of us fall in love with bananas, apples and oranges the entire year-round… while cherries get reduced to a summer fling.

Now, a lot of cherries are pitted; could that minor annoyance, be forced to occasionally spit out the pits, be hurting their year-round popularity? Perhaps.

But as far as I’m concerned, cherries have become a regular on my grocery shopping list. They are in-season from roughly May to August, according to The Spruce Eats, and tart cherries have a much shorter growing season (which perhaps limits their supply).

When they are not in-season, I buy frozen cherries and often add them to my morning oatmeal. As always, I do my best to always buy Organic or Biodynamic. If that’s not available, I buy Non-GMO verified cherries — and non-GMO does NOT mean it’s organic! There’s a big difference. Non-GMO simply certifies that the food was not genetically engineered or modified. Non-GMO foods are often still produced with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides that I personally strive to avoid, and recommend the same for you.

Now, none of us lives in a vacuum, a bubble or a cave… so it’s near-impossible for most of us to eat 100% organic all of the time. Do your best and when faced with the choose of, “Do I eat the pesticided fruit or do I eat nothing?” … in that case, wash the pesticided fruit or veggie (preferably with warm salt water or in vinegar) and then consume it. I try to avoid pesticide and chemicals on my food, but fruits and vegetables offer so many vital nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants that we must eat them regularly (I aim for 10-15 servings per day).