Myth Busters: Tart Cherry Juice

cherries

Warning: In an effort to promote full disclosure, the author admits that this post was inspired by her own love of cherries and her realization that the product was initially developed at her alma mater, Cornell University. While she has attempted to approach the topic from a professional, unbiased angle, traces of summer-induced cherry love and memory-induced college pride may still permeate the text of the article. Read at your own risk!

 

Raise your hand if you love cherries…

Now raise them again if you love eating 50 cherries in less than 10 seconds!

 

I’m going to guess that you didn’t raise your hand a second time, and though I’ll never know your exact reaction to the question, I can tell you that mine was a sour face and a churning stomach. It’s hard to imagine eating 50 cherries so quickly, even if they were already pitted and chopped up into little toddler-sized bites for quicker consumption. All the fiber would fill your stomach like a batch of cement, your tongue would instantly be tinted an unnatural shade of purple-red, and, if the cherries were tart, then you’d be left with a rather unattractive pucker face. All in all, not a good idea.

Enter tart cherry juice, one of the most popular nutrition trends to hit the market in recent years! An 8-oz serving includes the juice from about 50 cherries. It gives athletes and other health-minded people the ability to harness all of that cherry-goodness in a smaller, easier-to-consume form. But is it worth the hype?

 

What are the supposed benefits?  Cherry juice is hailed as a sleep aid, a protector against heart disease, and a powerful source of antioxidants to help decrease muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress after exercise. Some companies also offer juices that blend cherries with whey protein, electrolytes, or other ingredients to make the product more attractive to athletes as a source of pre- and post-workout fuel.

 

Does it really work?  I am surprised and excited to say that, as far as my research shows, the answer is a tentative yes! Of course the evidence produced by manufacturer-funded research must be taken with a grain of salt, but there are several independent studies demonstrating that cherry juice may help decrease muscle pain, swelling, and inflammation after a workout. Links to some of the studies are provided below.

I won’t comment on the heart disease or sleep aid claims here, though there is also fair evidence of that these claims may be true. (Again, take them with a grain of salt considering the funding source.)

Honestly, even if the exercise-related claims fall short, tart cherry juice is still an acceptable option in my book because it’s a good source of antioxidants and other nutrients such as vitamins A and C. But keep in mind that it doesn’t contain any fiber, which is important for digestion and helps protect against cardiovascular disease. So if your goal is to get your daily fiber from this fruit, then I recommend eating whole cherries instead!

 

Are there harmful side effects? Since it has a strong, tart flavor, drinking large quantities may cause a stomach ache or other undesirable digestive outcomes on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise there is not much risk! It is, after all, sort of like sitting down to eat a bowl of cherries. But somehow not as relaxing…

 

When should I drink it, and how much should I drink? Cherry juice is not a one-time “magic bullet” supplement with eternal effects. Instead, it must be incorporated into your regular routine to have an effect because the nutrients it contains are water-soluble and get flushed out in your… errr… fluid waste pretty quickly.

In most studies, participants drank the juice twice per day (before and after exercise) for several days (7+) before the effects were tested. However, I haven’t seen any specific recommendations or guidelines on any product websites, and twice-daily consumption may be unreasonably expensive, not to mention hard on the ole’ taste buds. So if it was me, I would only drink the product once per day, just after a workout. But there is certainly room for experimentation with timing and frequency of intake!

In any case, I wouldn’t recommend drinking cherry juice more than twice per day unless you have an iron-clad stomach and very high calorie needs. (Even fruit juices contain calories from sugar, you know!)

 

Where can I get it?  Pretty much anywhere, from specialty stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market right on down to Wal-Mart. Expect to pay about $0.20 per ounce of juice, depending on whether you buy in bulk or stick to single servings.

 

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Copyright: All content © 2010-2017 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.