Bowl full of cherries

From tarts to pies to garnishes, cherries may be best known as a delicious filling or the finishing touch on that ice cream sundae.

But this sweet or sour little fruit actually has a number of health benefits that make it a really great addition to your diet. They helped it land a spot on the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)'s Foods that Fight Cancer.

Here’s what you should know about cherries, plus a few tasty ways to add them to your diet.

Nutritional benefits of cherries

Cherries are bursting with antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. All of which can help support a healthy system and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancers.

Antioxidants

It’s the high anthocyanin content that gives tart cherries that telltale dark red shade. In fact, the more sour the cherry, the higher the amount of anthocyanins. These powerful antioxidants, a type of phytochemical, help your body’s cells protect themselves from free radicals and are likely the source for the cherry’s other health benefits. Cherries also have two other potent antioxidants: hydroxycinnamic acid and perillyl alcohol.

Phytochemicals

This large category of substances protects your body against certain enzymes that can lead to inflammation, which can help reduce arthritis pain.

Vitamin C and potassium

Cherries are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. Potassium can reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke, and cherries have more per serving than strawberries or apples.

Dietary fiber

This has been linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, and a diet high in fiber can also help with weight loss by contributing to a feeling of fullness and reducing the spike of insulin and blood sugar. Seven different cancers are associated with excess body fat, so maintaining a healthy weight is important.

Fresh, frozen, juiced, and dried: What’s better?

According to the AICR, the antioxidants in cherries are similar whether you’re drinking cherry juice or eating dried cherries. You’ll get fewer antioxidants if your cherries have been frozen, and even fewer if you’re eating canned cherries. The good news is that no matter how you get your cherries, the antioxidant content is still significant.

How to enjoy cherries in your diet

While cherries are great as a snack all by themselves, this versatile fruit works well in all kinds of recipes. We’ve rounded up a few you have to try.

Cherry compote and goat cheese

Simple and delicious, this sweet cherry compote is a tangy accompaniment to smooth goat cheese. The recipe from Health magazine is quick to prep and serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. sweet cherries, pitted
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. minced fresh thyme
  • 4 oz. goat cheese

In a medium skillet, cook cherries and sugar over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally and cook about 4 minutes. Add thyme and vinegar and cook 1 minute. Slice goat cheese into rounds and top with warm compote. Compote will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Cherry chia jam

This three-ingredient recipe from My Heart Beets is simple, sweet, and fruity, perfect for topping everything from waffles to ice cream. Plus, it will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pitted frozen cherries, thawed
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. chia seeds

Combine thawed cherries and honey in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. As they heat, gently mash the cherries with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to a low boil, cover, and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chia seeds. The jam will thicken as it cools. When cool, taste and adjust for sweetness. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Black forest smoothie

Cherries and cocoa are naturally sweetened with dates and thickened with oats and chia seeds in this thick and creamy smoothie from Running with Spoons. Even better? It’s ready in about 5 minutes!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen cherries
  • 1-2 Medjool dates
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 scoop protein powder (optional)
  • 1-2 handfuls baby spinach (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Make this smoothie ahead of time for a thicker, creamier texture.

Cherry walnut chicken salad

Spinach, walnuts, dried cherries, and a simple dressing make this salad recipe from Diethood easy, delicious, and nutritious.

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
  • 8 oz. baby spinach
  • 1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 5 oz. dried cherries (or chopped fresh if in season)
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, to taste

Place spinach in a large salad bowl. Top with chicken, cheese, cherries, and walnuts. Add oil and vinegar, tossing to combine.

Cherry crisp

An easy, classic cherry crisp from I Heart Eating, this simple recipe highlights the cherries beautifully.

Ingredients:

Cherries

  • 5 cups fresh cherries, pitted
  • 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract

Topping

  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/3 cup almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 375˚F (190.6°C). In a medium bowl, toss cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and extracts. Set aside. Prepare topping by whisking flours, sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Add butter, oats and almonds, mixing until crumbly. Divide cherries evenly into small ramekins or a small baking dish. Mound topping evenly over cherries in ramekins, or sprinkle evenly over cherries in the baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until topping is lightly browned and cherries are bubbly. Serve warm or let cool at room temperature.

The takeaway

Cherries are a wonderful addition to a nutritious diet. Whether you add sweet or tart cherries, this little fruit is versatile and delicious. Eating cherries are an easy way to get important nutrients and lots of flavor, too.

Jessica