4 Benefits Of Tart Cherry Juice & How It Compares To Other Fruit Juices
Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies have investigated the potential benefits of tart cherry juice on various aspects of performance, including muscle damage, sleep, pain, vascular function, and antioxidant activity. But is the tart drink all it's cracked up to be—and who should be sipping it?
Here, we investigate the science-backed benefits of tart cherry juice and explore how it compares to other juices and sports drinks.
What is tart cherry juice?
Many people drink tart cherry juice, derived from Montmorency cherries, because of its potential to alleviate inflammation and aid in sleep regulation, thanks to its rich content of antioxidants, flavonoids, and naturally occurring melatonin.
Known for their vibrant red color, Montmorency cherries have a distinct sweet and sour taste.
Tart cherry juice nutrition
- Calories: 159
- Carbs: 36.9 grams
- Sugar: 32.8 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Protein: 0.83 gram
- Fat: 1.45 grams
- Potassium: 433 milligrams
Tart cherry juice benefits
Tart cherries contain high levels of antioxidants such as melatonin, carotenoids, hydroxycinnamates, and several flavonoid groups, including anthocyanins and the flavanol quercetin. Here's a deeper dive into the research on how these compounds might influence our health for the better:
It can support sleep—but don't expect it to work wonders.
While tart cherries naturally contain melatonin, it would take 50 pounds of cherries (over 2,700 fresh cherries) to get the physiological dose of 0.3 milligram of melatonin to initiate sleep. Some people swear they notice a difference in sleep quality and duration when taking tart cherry juice, but it won't work for everyone, as shown in this anecdotal experience.
"[Tart cherries] also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to both serotonin and melatonin," says Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian. "One small study found that sleep quality improved over the course of a week3, with participants taking 30 milliliters (roughly 2 tablespoons) of Montmorency cherry concentrate within waking and again in the evening."
"A small, preclinical study found that tart cherry juice improved sleep time and efficiency4, with participants drinking 1 cup of tart cherry juice twice daily," Torrisi adds. Another small study that included elite female athletes found that 30-mL servings of tart cherry concentrate improved the players' sleep quality but did not change melatonin levels5.
Given this research, Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, recommends combining tart cherry juice with good sleep habits.
"It's important to recognize that the benefits of drinking tart cherry juice are far less significant than following behavioral strategies that have been proven to improve sleep, such as following a consistent sleep-wake schedule and avoiding alcohol or caffeine," she says. "So while I don't see a downside in consuming tart cherry juice in moderation (a glass or two), a couple of hours before bedtime, it is unlikely to be the key to healthy sleep."
A better strategy, she explains, would be to combine drinking tart cherry juice with solid sleep habits: Maintain a relaxing bedtime routine, avoid technology use before bedtime, and set a consistent wake-up time seven days a week.
It can boost athletic performance
Several studies have investigated the effects of tart cherry juice on inflammation, muscle recovery, and performance with mixed results.
A systematic review and meta-analysis6 found that supplementing with tart cherry had a small beneficial effect in reducing muscle soreness, a moderate beneficial effect on the recovery of muscle strength, a moderate effect on muscle power, a large effect on the recovery of jump height, and a small effect on sprint time. These results indicate that consuming a tart cherry supplement can aid recovery from strenuous exercise.
Supplementation has been shown to lessen pain and accelerate strength recovery after exercise7 and decrease blood markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. These improvements occur in both strength and endurance exercises.
It may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation
"Scientific research on red-colored plant foods like cherries suggests that these foods are helpful for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities8," says Deanna Minich, M.S., Ph.D., CNS, a certified functional medicine practitioner (IFMCP). "[This is] likely due to their nutritional content, most notably polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants and inhibitors of cyclooxygenase enzymes (part of the inflammatory response)."
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 10 randomized clinical trials9 published in 2022 identified that tart cherry helped to lower plasma C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
It may support overall cardiometabolic health
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of tart cherry juice are important because inflammation contributes to several chronic conditions10, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, arthritis, and cognitive disorders.
"Because [tart] cherries can help reduce inflammation, they can decrease the risk for many health conditions and diseases with inflammation as their foundational root cause, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Minich.
How to add it to your routine
The exact amount of tart cherry juice you need to consume to reap these benefits and the best time of day for drinking it is still up for debate.
"There is a range of tart cherry juice used for different populations for various indications, so it's difficult to give a defined quantity to experience health benefits, particularly since there is so much variety among the different juices and even individual needs," explains Minich. "In general, the research supports relatively small amounts (30-60 mL) of juice or concentrate within hours or days of exercise, although two 8-ounce (237-mL) servings per day have also been recommended."
For athletic populations, 8 to 12 ounces of tart cherry juice (1 ounce of concentrate)7 consumed twice daily at least four days before, the day of, and two days after an event or competition may be beneficial. But further research needs to be carried out to recommend an optimal dose.
When it comes to the form of tart cherry, more research needs to be done to investigate the effect of concentrated versus non-concentrated cherry juice and the efficiency of liquid versus powdered cherry juice.
"A tart cherry juice tends to contain more sugar than a powdered format. Additionally, supplemental powders are often standardized to specific compounds, so you are getting known amounts of actives," says Minich. "With juice, there may be more variability of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients based on the crop, the processing method, and even the storage method (e.g., packaging in transparent glass bottles that may result in the oxidation of compounds by the light over time)."
Huma Chaudhry, R.D., LDN, a clinical nutrition expert and dietitian, adds that an extract can provide a more concentrated form of nutrients that can be used as a supplement to target specific health concerns.
There are many ways to enjoy the occasional serving of tart cherry juice. Thomason suggests these fun ideas to incorporate more tart cherry juice into your daily life.
- Add it to mocktails: Consider mixing tart cherry juice with lime, ginger, and seltzer for a fun mocktail to sip at home.
- Check out premade, canned options: You can also find tart cherry juice in a number of functional beverages. For example, OLIPOP's Cherry Cola combines it with 9 grams of prebiotic fiber (32% of the daily value for fiber) per can. Just beware of the added sugars in these drinks.
- Add the powder to your favorite recipes: "I find the easiest way to enjoy the benefits of tart cherries is with either the powder or extract," says Torrisi-Gorra. "The powder can be mixed into oatmeal, chia pudding, smoothies, or even yogurt."
- Look for it in recovery products: There are several tart cherry products geared toward athletes. Check out Cheribundi Pure Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate Shot or Sports Research Tart Cherry Fruit Complex.
- Drink it straight up: Tart cherry juice is slightly sweet and delicious served straight up! As little as a 2-ounce shot has been shown to have positive health benefits.
Does the type of cherry matter?
The most common type of cherry used for making tart cherry juice is the Montmorency cherry, which is a specific variety of sour cherry.
"Montmorency cherries are favored for tart cherry juice because they contain higher levels of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants responsible for the fruit's red color and many of its health benefits," explains Thomason. "These anthocyanins have been linked to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as well as potential benefits for sleep, muscle recovery, and other health concerns."
Thomason adds that other sour cherry varieties might also offer similar benefits. However, the specific concentrations of antioxidants and other compounds12 may vary between different cherry varieties, potentially affecting the overall health benefits of the juice.
Vs. other fruit juices
While tart cherry juice, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, and beetroot juice share some similarities in terms of color and polyphenol content, they have distinct antioxidant profiles.
Tart cherry juice is particularly rich in anthocyanins and other polyphenols. Anthocyanins are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
Cranberries are one of the few fruits high in proanthocyanidins13, potent antioxidants that may help prevent urinary tract infections. Pomegranate juice is rich in ellagitannins14, which have more antioxidant potential than red wine and green tea. Beetroot juice, on the other hand, is a good source of betalains15, which have potent free-radical-scavenging ability and may benefit brain and liver health and offer cancer-protective benefits.
Tart cherry juice side effects & claims
Although tart cherry juice is generally well-tolerated, there are a few side effects to be aware of.
Cherries are naturally high in sugar, and fruit juice consumption can lead to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Some brands also add sugar, so read labels carefully before buying. For best practice, we recommend consuming unsweetened (no added sugar) tart cherry juice with a meal so the meal's protein, fiber, or fat can slow the absorption of sugar from the juice.
"Speak to your doctor if you are taking blood thinners, antibiotics, or corticosteroids since tart cherry juice may interact with these or other medications," adds Chaudhry. "Other potential side effects can be diarrhea and abdominal discomfort due to consuming an excess amount of a sugar alcohol, sorbitol, present in some fruits and plants that can be added to tart cherry juice."
People who are allergic to cherries should avoid tart cherry juice. Those with pollen allergies should be mindful of consuming tart cherry juice as it could cause a secondary allergy reaction, also known as oral allergy syndrome or cross-reactivity.
The Environmental Working Group has listed cherries as No. 10 on their Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides. For best practices, we recommend buying organic tart cherry juice whenever possible. We also recommend looking for unsweetened tart cherry juice (with no added sugar) and minimal ingredients, as many brands contain added sugars or blends of other juices.
Can I drink tart cherry juice every day?
Tart cherry juice is generally considered safe for everyday use. However, it's important to consume a variety of foods and beverages to benefit from a diverse range of phytochemicals.
How much tart cherry juice should you drink a day?
Though a range of 130 to 490 mL per day has been studied, starting with an 8-ounce serving of tart cherry juice is best to see how you feel.
Who should not take tart cherry juice?
Anyone with a cherry allergy should avoid taking tart cherry juice. Tart cherry juice can interact with some medications. Check with your doctor if you're taking antibiotics or blood thinners.
With an extensive list of health benefits, it's no surprise that tart cherry juice continues to grow in popularity. Tart cherry juice is packed with antioxidants and flavonoids associated with reduced muscle soreness and improved recovery after strenuous physical activity, cardioprotective benefits, and reported sleep improvements. Drink 1 cup daily on its own or as a powder or extract mixed into recipes to help your body better recover from all that you put it through.
Melissa Boufounos is a certified holistic nutritionist, nutrition writer, and lifelong athlete in the greater Ottawa, Ontario, Canada area. She specializes in sports nutrition and works with teen hockey players and competitive obstacle course race athletes in her virtual private practice MB Performance Nutrition.