Drinking cherry juice is said to have many benefits. Weight loss, reduced inflammation, better sleep, improved heart health — the list goes on.
While there is science supporting these claims, not all of it is convincing. Nonetheless, the antioxidants in cherries do appear to have anti-inflammatory, health-promoting properties.
But here’s the thing. Cherry juice (even tart cherry juice) is rather high in sugar. If you’re on a keto diet, drinking this fruit juice could easily derail your keto-related goals.
So, what are these health benefits of cherry juice? Are there keto-friendly alternatives to cherry juice? And if you absolutely need cherries in your diet, how should you consume them? Read on to find out.
Cherries are fruits of course. Scientifically, they’re classified in the genus Prunus.
The most commonly consumed cherries are:
- Sweet or wild cherries (Prunus avium)
- Tart, sour, or Montmorency cherries (Prunus cerasus)
Most people tend to serve sweet cherries fresh, and consume tart cherries in juices, freeze-dried mixtures, or frozen blends.
Tart cherry juice, in fact, has generated a lot of interest in recent years. Researchers have discovered a number of health benefits related to tart cherry consumption, mostly due to their high antioxidant content.
Antioxidants In Cherries
To understand why eating cherries has health benefits, it’s important to understand a thing or two about antioxidants. (More specifically, a subcategory of antioxidants called polyphenols).
You’ve probably heard the advice “eat the rainbow.” The rainbow refers to colorful plant compounds – reds, yellows, blues, greens, purples, and oranges – that offer health benefits to the animals that eat them.
These compounds are broadly known as polyphenolic compounds or polyphenols for short. Resveratrol from grapes is a polyphenol. Oleuropein from olive oil is a polyphenol. Tannins from coffee and tea are polyphenols.
Tart cherries are extremely rich in polyphenols[*]. Some of these polyphenols include: anthocyanins, quercetin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin, neochlorogenic acid, chlorogenic acid, and p-coumaric acid.
Why eat antioxidant polyphenols? Because polyphenols help your body decrease disease-driving, age-accelerating oxidative stress.
They do so, in part, by reducing levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Your cells generate ROS — a kind of free radical — as a byproduct of normal metabolism.
Too much ROS, however, leads to oxidative stress, inflammation, obesity, Alzheimer’s, accelerated aging, and every other chronic condition associated with aging[*].
Polyphenols can help. Most benefits of tart cherry juice, researchers believe, are due to the ROS-reducing polyphenols within the fruit.
You’ll learn these benefits soon, but first: a quick overview of cherry juice nutrition facts. As you’ll see, cherry juice may contain polyphenols, but it’s not much of a keto health food.
If you’re tracking your daily macronutrients and micronutrients, good for you. It’s important to know what you’re putting in your body.
With that in mind, here’s the nutritional profile of 1 cup of tart cherry juice (not sweet cherry juice), straight from the USDA database[*]:
As you can see, tart cherry juice (like most fruit juices) is high-carb, with most of those carbs coming from sugar. Also, since you’re talking about juice (not whole fruit), there isn’t any blood sugar-stabilizing fiber on the label.
Thanks to their fiber content, whole tart cherries are fairly low-glycemic. Tart cherry juice, however, is most certainly not.
Here’s the thing. If you’re on a low-carb ketogenic diet (less than 20 grams net carbs per day), 1 cup of cherry juice pushes you over your daily carb limit.
But it’s not all bad news for cherries. Read on for the benefits of cherries, plus more keto-friendly ways to get crucial antioxidants.
Cherry juice isn’t keto, but researchers have nonetheless found health benefits from controlled supplementation. Tart cherries are high in sugar — yes — but they’re also high in polyphenols.
Fortunately, cherries aren’t the only dietary source of polyphenols. Nature in Her infinite wisdom has given us a broad spectrum of antioxidant-rich foods to choose from, many of them keto-friendly. Keep reading.
#1 Cherry Juice for Weight Loss
The only evidence that cherry juice stimulates fat loss comes from a 2009 study on rats[*]. In that study, researchers fed obese Zucker rats tart cherries for 90 days. (Zucker rats, by the way, are especially prone to getting fat).
The researchers hypothesized that anthocyanins, a class of polyphenol found in tart cherries, would decrease oxidative stress and improve Zucker rat metabolism. As expected, after 90 days the tart cherry rats had less belly fat, less inflammation, and better metabolic gene expression.
Does this apply to humans? Hard to say. These Zucker rats were extremely unhealthy to begin with, and it’s possible that any antioxidant-rich food would have helped them lose abdominal fat.
For instance, studies show that adding EGCG — a polyphenol found in green tea — helps rats lose weight.
KETO SWAP: For a polyphenol-rich beverage that supports weight loss (and doesn’t kick you out of keto), skip the tart cherry juice. Try green tea or coffee instead.
#2: Cherry Juice for Better Sleep
A few small studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice improves sleep. How? Probably because tart cherries may contain melatonin, your sleep hormone[*].
In one double-blind controlled trial, researchers gave 20 volunteers either placebo or tart cherry juice concentrate, then measured sleep with questionnaires and actigraphy. (Actigraphy is a somewhat unreliable way to record sleep stages).
Results? Compared to placebo, cherry juice supplementation increased melatonin, sleep time, and sleep efficiency (fewer wakeups)[*].
Another trial on cherry juice in older adults with insomnia was less promising[*].
According to the researchers, “effect sizes were moderate and in some cases negligible” for sleep efficiency, sleep latency, and sleep — though some benefit was found for insomnia. The researchers, however, note that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) would be more efficacious.
For better sleep:
- Maximize daytime light and minimize nighttime light, especially blue light from screens
- Keep your bedroom under 70 degrees
- Exercise regularly
- Don’t check email before bed
- Try a nightly dose of 400-500 milligrams magnesium glycinate[*]
And for tough cases of insomnia, consider CBTI[*].
#3: Cherry Juice for Heart Health
Heart disease involves a number of biochemical processes, including blood lipids, inflammation, oxidative stress, high blood pressure, and a host of other factors. Antioxidant-rich berries, like tart cherry, may improve these markers in certain populations.
Researchers have show that 12 weeks of tart cherry supplementation lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels in older adults.
These same researchers also showed that the same supplementation program lowers levels of c-reactive-protein (CRP) and oxidized LDL — both strongly linked to higher risk of atherosclerosis (heart disease)[*].
But it’s not just tart cherries that help. Other berries have similar effects against the very same heart disease risk markers: LDL, oxLDL, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
These berries increase nitric oxide production (which increases blood flow), and decrease inflammation (which prevents arterial plaques from forming)[*].
KETO SWAP: For potential cardioprotection without the fruit juice sugar load, eat small amounts of whole fruit berries like tart cherries, chokeberries, blueberries, raspberries, or cranberries.
#4: Cherry Juice for Gout
Gout is a form of arthritis driven by high levels of uric acid in the blood. Tart cherries, it’s been shown, can reduce uric acid levels and may reduce the risk of gout attack. Researchers believe this effect is partially driven by cyanidin, a purple polyphenol found in tart cherries.
One study showed that tart cherry juice supplementation reduced both uric acid and CRP (a marker of inflammation), while another found that sweet cherries reduced plasma urate (a form of uric acid) in healthy women aged 22-40[*][*]. Both findings suggest you can reduce your risk of gout with cherry consumption.
Observational studies support this theory. For instance, a group of researchers tracked 633 people over a year and found that “cherry intake is associated with a lower risk of gout attacks”[*].
This isn’t solid proof, however, that cherries prevent gout. It just means that, for whatever reason, people who eat more cherries have less gout attacks. Could be the cherries, could be something else — like healthier habits.
KETO SWAP: Try coffee, vitamin C, and exercise to reduce your risk of gout[*][*]. Avoid cherry juice, because consuming fructose drives uric acid production[*]. Finally, long-term ketogenic diets appear to reduce gout risk, though more research is needed[*].
#5: Cherry Juice for Potassium
Recall that 1 cup of cherry juice contains 433 milligrams of potassium. The potassium RDA for males and females 19 and older is 3400 and 2600 milligrams, respectively[*]. Cherry juice, it’s clear, is a potassium-rich food.
Why eat potassium? Potassium is crucial for:
- Regulating blood pressure
- Maintaining fluid inside and outside your cells
- Muscle contraction
- Kidney function
- Nerve transmission
- Mediating the effects of sodium
In other words, you need potassium for pretty much everything. Must you drink cherry juice to ensure adequate potassium intake? Not at all.
KETO SWAP: Instead of fruit juice, incorporate these low-carb potassium-rich foods into your diet:
- Avocado (690 milligrams per avocado)
- Asparagus (271 milligrams per cup)
- Spinach (271 milligrams per cup)
- Watercress (112 milligrams per cup)
- Salmon (624 milligrams per 6 ounce filet)
- Chicken breast (358 milligrams per cup)
#6: Cherry Juice for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that impacts nearly 25% of U.S. adults. It results in the degradation of cartilage between the bones and joints[*], causing pain, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Cherry juice may help.
In one study, researchers gave 20 women with OA tart cherry juice for three weeks. This intervention was successful in reducing inflammation, as measured by CRP[*]. Another small study found that sour cherry seed extract reduced joint pain, oxidative stress, and inflammation in OA patients[*].
Not all studies, however, have found notable effects. In one randomized double-blind trial on 58 patients with OA, six weeks of tart cherry juice did not provide significant pain relief over placebo[*].
KETO SWAP: For osteoarthritis, consider supplementing collagen protein (shown in a recent meta-analysis to improve OA symptoms[*]). Collagen supplements can increase your rate of collagen synthesis, and may help you form new cartilage. Collagen is generally scarce in the modern diet.
As always, consult your medical professional for medical conditions like OA.
#7: Cherry Juice for Pain and Muscle Soreness
Cherry juice may help with recovery from strength and endurance exercise[*]. That includes measures of strength, pain, and muscle damage. Several studies support this.
For example, one group of researchers asked: would seven days of tart cherry juice supplementation before (and during) a long distance run reduce post-race muscle pain?
The answer was yes. Cherry juice drinkers reported less pain after the race. Unsurprisingly, these athletes wanted to use cherry juice again in the future[*].
Cherry juice supplementation may have similar results for marathon runners. Post-marathon, these runners had increased markers of isometric strength recovery and antioxidant status[*]. The magnitude of the benefits, however, was relatively modest.
KETO SWAP: To maximize post-workout recovery while minimizing inflammation, eat keto-friendly, anti-inflammatory post-workout foods like avocados, nuts, and greens. For more on this topic, check out our comprehensive guide to the Top 10 Keto Post-Workout Foods.
If your heart is set on drinking cherry juice, at least have tart cherry juice. Tart cherry juice has less sugar than sweet cherry blends.
There are, however, better ways to get cherry polyphenols into your system. You could:
#1 Eat whole cherries
Unlike fruit juice, cherries have fiber — which lowers their glycemic load. For reference, one cup of sour cherries contains 19 grams carbs and 2.5 grams fiber (16.5 net carbs)[*].
Bottom line: Cherries have fewer carbs than cherry juice, but you should still limit them on a keto diet.
#2 Try cherry juice powders or pills
You might, instead of cherries or cherry juice, try a tart cherry extract supplement. The typical dose used in studies is 480 milligrams per day.
It’s generally better, however, to get your nutrients from whole foods. Eating whole foods instead of supplements:
- Reduces the risk of overdoing one nutrient, which is potentially toxic.
- Provides you with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. Many of these compounds are still undiscovered, yet still likely have benefits.
- Harnesses the power of food synergy (nutrients work better together than in isolation)[*].
Bottom line: Unless you have a specific nutrient need, favor whole foods over supplements.
The Takeaway: Avoid Cherry Juice if You’re in Ketosis
Drinking a cup of tart cherry juice adds 37 grams of high-glycemic carbs to your daily tally. If you’re lean, active, and uninterested in ketosis — you can handle these carbs.
But if you’re trying to lose weight, get fat-adapted, or generate ketones — cherry juice is not an optimal choice for achieving your goals.
Fortunately, there are keto-friendly alternatives to cherry juice. Right. Most cherry-related benefits come from polyphenols, and you can find polyphenols elsewhere. Without the sugar.
This is good news, of course, for those of you on a keto diet.