From weight loss to muscle recovery, the benefits of tart cherry juice have been a hot topic in health—but what do the facts really say? Tart cherry juice has been making headlines in the world of food and nutrition lately. Articles have been praising the juice for its miraculous ability to speed up weight loss, help you with insomnia, prevent and treat certain autoimmune diseases, and relieve sore muscles after an intense workout. However, the difference between online claims and the actual research-based benefits of tart cherry juice is substantial. We took a closer look at tart cherry juice and its perceived health benefits while also debunking some common misconceptions about it along the way. But first, the basics: What is tart cherry juice, and why is it being touted as a miracle dietary supplement?
What is tart cherry juice?
Tart cherry juice—not to be confused with the super sweet black cherry concentrate you can buy in the frozen juice section of the grocery store—can be found on the shelves of natural food stores, specialty supplement stores, and online. As its name suggests, this type of cherry juice can be so tart it will make your mouth pucker, which is why experts suggest drinking 1 ounce of juice diluted with water (using ½ cup of tart cherry juice to 3½ cups of water). Avoid eating whole tart cherries; they have an unpleasantly sour taste and firm texture that can cause seriously uncomfortable stomach aches.
Why drink tart cherry juice in the first place?
The biggest nutritional boon that tart cherry juice has to offer comes in the form of anthocyanins. As Toby Amidor, registered dietitian, nutrition expert, columnist for Today’s Dietitian magazine, and author of the upcoming book Smart Meal Prep for Beginners, explains, “tart cherries (in juice or dried form) do provide a great deal of nutrients including anthocyanins, a natural plant chemical found in tart cherries that is responsible for many of its health benefits.” Anthocyanins are found in red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables such as cherries, beets, raspberries, strawberries, radishes, and purple cabbage. According to an article in Today’s Dietitian by registered dietitian Densie Webb, PhD, anthocyanins have been successfully studied for their positive impact on cognitive function, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. Andrew Hall, sports and performance dietitian at Apple to Zucchini Sports Nutrition, makes an important distinction between drinking tart cherry juice and snacking on cherries:
Unfortunately, we can’t just eat the cherries for the same benefit. Normally, a whole foods and real food approach is best. In this instance, however, the supplement contains a concentrated amount of the hundreds of cherries compressed into one drink/product. We wouldn’t be able to eat enough cherries to get the equivalent concentration.
Are there any harmful side effects to drinking tart cherry juice?
Tart cherries and tart cherry juice contain sorbitol, a naturally occurring sweetener that is very difficult for your digestive system to break down. Consuming tart cherry juice and whole cherries can lead to uncomfortable gas, flatulence, and diarrhea (especially if you’re sensitive to other products containing sorbitol such as chewing gum and “sugar-free” candy). If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, it’s recommended that you try to avoid all food and drink containing sorbitol.
Tart Cherry Juice and Weight Loss
Some of the more exciting recent headlines about the benefits of tart cherry juice are about its potential effect on weight loss. Sadly, there haven’t been any conclusive studies that have shown a link between weight loss and tart cherry juice. Despite a lack of evidence to support this claim, there’s no reason to stop drinking tart cherry juice if it’s something you enjoy. Amidor says, “There is no current research supporting that tart cherry juice can help with weight loss. Drinking tart cherry juice or eating dried tart cherries, however, can be part of a well-balanced weight loss plan.” Hall agrees with Amidor when it comes to tart cherry juice and weight loss: “There is no evidence that tart cherry juice has weight loss benefits. Very few foods/compounds do in isolation. An overall approach to creating a negative energy balance is the primary method of weight loss. All the other stuff is essentially just marketing.”
Tart Cherry Juice and Muscle Recovery
Athletes who experience soreness after an intense workout might benefit from drinking tart cherry juice. Studies have shown that sustained consumption of tart cherries, in both juice and supplement form, has helped to minimize pain after an intense workout. As studies were conducted specifically on athletes, however, it is unknown whether tart cherry juice has benefits for muscle recovery in non-athletes, but Amidor says it doesn’t hurt to try. For the average gym-goer or casual runner, Amidor recommends the following tart cherry juice regimen: “10 fluid ounces of [diluted] tart cherry juice pre-workout and an additional 10 fluid ounces or eating dried tart cherries within 30 minutes post-workout.”
[pullquote align=”center”] Studies have shown that sustained consumption of tart cherries, in both juice and supplement form, has helped to minimize pain after an intense workout. [/pullquote]
Tart Cherry Juice and Inflammatory Arthritis
A review of several pilot studies examining the effects of tart cherry juice on gout shows some promise in using anthocyanins as a potential treatment option. Hall likes to recommend tart cherry juice to his clients who suffer from gout. “Anthocyanins possess natural, anti-inflammatory properties that can help joint pain caused by gout and arthritis,” says Hall. “Anthocyanins help to maintain healthy levels of uric acid and joint mobility.” Tart cherry juice is also currently being studied for its effect on inflammatory osteoarthritis. The results have been mixed to positive; one study published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage gave participants two 8-ounce bottles of tart cherry juice per day (or a placebo) and researchers then examined the impact tart cherry juice had on osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants who drank the tart cherry juice experienced a net positive effect on their mild to moderate arthritis, although the relief wasn’t significantly different from that of the control group.
Tart Cherry Juice and Insomnia
Tart cherry juice contains melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep in humans and animals. A pilot study that examined the effects of tart cherry juice on insomnia in older adults found that the juice had no effect on the participants’ sleeping habits. However, another study that used tart Montmorency cherries found that regular consumption of the cherries before bedtime had a beneficial effect on melatonin levels and sleep efficiency.
Tart Cherry Juice Options for Every Preference
You don’t have to drink tart cherry juice to reap the benefits of this antioxidant-rich supplement (although you might fall in love with it if you’re a fan of sour and slightly bitter flavors). Here are some of our favorite ways to include more tart cherries in our lives: Dynamic Health 100% Pure Organic Certified Tart Cherry Concentrate: Dilute with water and add a slice of lime for a refreshing and healthy summer beverage! Tart Cherry Concentrate: A great option if you’re not a fan of tart cherry juice. Take one or two of these softgel capsules every day. Naturevibe Botanicals Tart Cherry Extract: Add a scoop of this tart cherry powder to plain or sparkling water or try mixing it with your favorite smoothie. Although the benefits of tart cherry juice may be slightly inflated by media exaggeration and weight-loss hype, it does offer some health benefits that are backed by research. As Amidor says, just because tart cherry juice won’t cause you to lose weight or instantly reduce inflammation, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a nutritious and enjoyable part of your eating plan.