Turmeric, beet juice, goji and chia seeds – all will forever hold a place among the top-ranked superfoods. But quickly rising to the top of that list are tart cherries, which are popping up in everything from bars and juices to powders and supplements.
The reason? Their potent nutritional properties – particularly for athletes. In addition to being rich in nutrients including iron, potassium, magnesium, folate, fiber and vitamins A, C and E, tart cherries are also packed with potent antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which are responsible for fighting inflammation and oxidative damage to body cells. (Anthocyanins also give cherries their beautiful deep red hue.) The antioxidants – say, in the form of tart cherry juice – may be especially ideal to consume after a workout since studies show they may help repair and rebuild muscles that are torn during exercise.
Tart cherries have also been proven to have a natural anti-inflammatory effect on the body, reducing swelling in fatigued muscles as well as helping to lessen general aches and pains linked to conditions such as arthritis and gout. Tart cherries are also good for your heart. More and more research is revealing links between the fruit and a number of cardiovascular benefits, including a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome and atherosclerosis, lower blood cholesterol levels and lower triglycerides – all contributors to heart disease. Anthocyanins are also believed to have the ability to lower blood lipid levels.
Convinced yet? You can fairly easily incorporate more tart cherries into your diet by adding them to salads, smoothies, marinades, desserts and more. Here are a few ideas for using four varieties of tart cherries:
Take advantage of the summer season and purchase dark-colored, unblemished cherries. Store them in your refrigerator (within eyeshot and easily accessible) in breathable packaging. To preserve freshness, wait to wash them until right before you’re ready to eat or use them. Beyond just snacking on them, fresh cherries make a bright addition to a summer salad or a grain salad with farro, mint, feta and fresh baby spinach.
When fresh cherries aren’t in season, you can easily purchase frozen organic tart cherries, which are identical in nutritional value. You can easily defrost them and add them to pre-workout oatmeal or blend them with protein powder for a post-workout recovery smoothie. Try combining one scoop of chocolate protein powder, a half-cup of frozen cherries and 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk or liquid of your choice.
You can purchase concentrated tart cherry juice to mix into a drink since it’s too intense to drink alone. A refreshing combination is tart cherry juice concentrate (around a quarter-cup) mixed with the juice of half a lemon and sparkling water. You can also buy pre-made juices; just be sure read the ingredients to make sure there’s no added sugar or preservatives. WTRMLN WTR, a company I do contract work for, recently launched a new flavor I’ve been enjoying that combines fresh cold-pressed watermelon juice and tart cherry. The mix is perfect for post-run recovery, thanks to the antioxidants in the cherry and L-citrulline in watermelon.
You can take the fruit in supplement form by purchasing tart cherry capsules or even gummies. This method might be best for people who are looking for a concentrated dose of anti-inflammatory and health-protecting properties. Tart cherries also naturally contain melatonin, which makes it a nice supplement for athletes to take in the evening to help with a good night’s sleep, as well as the repair and recovery of their bodies. I do recommend purchasing your supplement from a trusted brand that you know will contain pure tart cherry in a therapeutic dose.