On a summer’s day, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as diving into a bowl of plump, juicy cherries — and we’re not talking about the candied red orbs that adorn ice cream sundaes and cocktails (sorry, Old Fashioned lovers). Their healthier counterparts found in the produce section have some major benefits.

Natural cherries are stone fruits — close relatives of plums and peaches — and come in two general varieties: sweet and sour. Both kinds pack a nutritional punch for a small amount of calories. So whether you toss ’em in a salad, blend ’em into a smoothie, or sauce ’em into a fancy compote, we’ve got six reasons why cherries are seriously sweet for your health.

They’re not just delicious (and oh-so-photogenic) — cherries come with impressive nutrition stats. In a single cup (154 grams) of sweet, raw, pitted cherries you’ll get the following nutrients.

  • Calories: 97
  • Protein: 2 grams (g)
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Carbs: 25 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Vitamin C: 11 milligrams (mg) (17% DV)
  • Potassium: 342 mg (10% DV)
  • Copper: 0.01 mg (5% DV)
  • Manganese:0.1 mg (5% DV)

Wear those red stains on your shirt with pride! They’re a sign of cherries’ high antioxidant content. Antioxidants called anthocyanins give cherries their crimson color, so the richer the hue, the more abundant the benefits (as goes for most fruits and veggies).

Anthocyanins in foods have been associated with anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, and anti-obesity effects. (Whoa, that’s a lot of effects.) We won’t go so far as to say a cherry a day keeps the doctor away, but getting more of these compounds in your diet is definitely a good thing for overall well-being.

Want to get the most anthocyanin bang for your buck? Pucker up for sour cherries. Research shows they tend to contain higher concentrations than their sweeter cousins.

Cherries’ anthocyanins may also be a reason for gym-goers to celebrate — some studies show they may help aid in muscle recovery after strenuous exercise. Tart cherries have a natural anti-inflammatory effect that could help you bounce back faster from achy, exhausted muscles after a tough workout (especially if you eat them daily).

While solo raw cherries have their place in promoting workout recovery, their juice may be even more potent.

In one study, runners who drank 2 cups of tart cherry juice for several days before and after a marathon recovered their strength more rapidly than those who didn’t juice up. Additional studies found that runners who drank cherry juice reported less muscle pain after their workouts.

Not a juice drinker? You might try a cherry powder. One study showed that powdered tart cherries also significantly reduced post-running soreness.

Alongside that glass of warm milk before bed, consider adding a bowl of cherries. These super fruits contain the hormone melatonin, which the body produces naturally to control sleep and wake cycles. Getting extra melatonin in your diet could boost sleep quality, improve delayed sleep wake phase disorder, and even help you get over jet lag faster. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

Need evidence that cherries can help you nod off? Take your pick of research!

In one study from 2012, sleep duration and quality improved when 20 volunteers drank tart cherry juice before turning in for the night. Another small study on older adults found that two drinks of cherry juice a day helped them improve insomnia symptoms.

More research compared the effects of drinking a cherry-based product versus Kool-Aid, concluding that the cherry drink reduced nighttime waking and improved overall rest. (Spoiler alert: The Kool-Aid had no such effects.)

To support slumber even more, try Montmorency tart cherries, which have about 6 times more melatonin than other varieties.

Living with gout can be, well, the pits. This form of arthritis causes extreme pain in the joints, especially in the big toe. Fortunately, cherries’ anti-inflammatory effects could lessen the symptoms of this not-so-sweet condition.

Here’s how: Gout attacks are brought on by high levels of uric acid in the blood. Cherries’ anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties help bring these levels down, helping to prevent pain and swelling.

In one large study, drinking cherry juice over just 2 days reduced gout sufferers’ risk of attacks by 35 percent. This held true regardless of their sex, weight, alcohol intake, or medication use. So instead of reaching for cherry-flavored meds, it might be more worthwhile to try the real thing… with your doctor’s approval, of course.

Just about any fruit or veggie is a friend to your heart, but with fiber, potassium, and antioxidants galore, cherries are an especially solid snack for heart health. Their fiber content works to bring down blood pressure, while potassium (10 percent of your Daily Value in 1 cup!) helps balance out the negative effects of sodium in the bloodstream.

Since high blood pressure is a major factor in the development of heart disease, you can’t go wrong hanging around the cherry bowl.

Another reason to pop some cherries for heart health: Research from 2018 showed that 12 weeks of drinking tart cherry juice significantly brought down people’s total cholesterol and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). Keeping these numbers in the healthy range can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Cherries have a limited growing season, so take advantage of them in the summer months when they’re in peak form. At the grocery store or farmer’s market, look for plump, dark red fruits — and for the best taste, look for ones with glossy and unblemished skin.

The best part about these summer delights? Cherries are wonderful eaten raw — just wash and serve. To remove the pit, use a small paring knife to split the cherry in half, and the hard center can be taken out by hand. Or, of course, just chew the fruit and spit out the seeds (perfect picnic etiquette!).

Store cherries unwashed in the fridge in their original breathable packaging to prevent ripening too fast, and they’ll keep for up to 5 days. And make sure to keep the stems intact — they’ll last longer that way.

Even after summer days wane, you can keep enjoying these treats year-round. Look no further than your freezer! Frozen cherries have excellent nutritional value and make a great addition to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal. Freeze your own by pitting them and spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. After a couple of hours, they’ll be ready to transfer to a resealable bag, where they’ll keep for months.

Bonus recipe: Dark chocolate cherry granola bars

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

In need of a perfect post-workout snack? How about a beneficial breakfast on-the-go? Unlike store-bought granola bars that are often laden with sugar, this homemade option is full of healthy ingredients and gives you the option to control just how much sugar is included. Plus they’re a cinch to make!

These bars feature chewy, filling oats, are sweetened with all-natural honey, and even contain antioxidant-rich dark chocolate for heart health. And of course, they’re brimming with cherries — now that’s what we call the cherry on top!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups oats (half old-fashioned style, half steel-cut)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dried Montmorency cherries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C) degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the peanut butter, honey, oil, egg, and vanilla until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, and salt. Stir into the peanut butter mixture.
  4. Stir in cherries and chocolate chips. (Batter will be sticky.)
  5. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray, then transfer the granola bar mixture into the dish.
  6. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
  7. Cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator until they’re cooled completely.
  8. Cut into bars, and enjoy!

Pro Tip: For easy transport, individually wrap bars in wax paper.