Q: I've heard that tart cherry juice has all sorts of health benefits. But a cup has 125 calories, almost all from sugar. Is it worth drinking?
A: Tart cherry juice is okay in moderation, but don't count on it to prevent or treat any medical condition. Many health claims have been made about the benefits of cherries, especially tart ones: that they can lower blood sugar, regulate sleep, restore energy, and relieve arthritis and gout, among other conditions. A few years ago the FDA warned some companies to stop making such unproven claims.
Cherries are rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins—pigments that give red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables their intense color. Lab studies show that these anthocyanins help block inflammation.
Other lab studies have suggested that compounds in cherries may lower cholesterol and blood sugar, inhibit cancer cell growth, and protect brain cells. But what happens in animals and in test tubes may not happen in people.
The few human studies have been small, usually used large amounts of cherries or juice (in some cases supplying 250 calories or more a day), and showed modest benefits (helping older people with insomnia sleep a little better, for instance). Even if the results are confirmed by larger studies, the calories can be a problem.
Keep in mind, too, that much of the research has been funded by the cherry industry. It may be good research, but such sources are not likely to publish negative findings. Moreover, many red/blue/purple foods—including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and pomegranates—are also rich in anthocyanins (and other antioxidants) and have similar potential benefits.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (May 2011)