Aside from plain old H2O, there are a few healthy drinks that have competed for preeminence in the wellness world. Lemon water? Been there. Green juice? Done that. But there’s one underrated dark horse beverage that deserves a closer look: Tart cherry juice.
Tart cherry juice is made from tart cherries, also known as Montmorency cherries. These particular cherries are common in Europe, Canada, and the U.S., and like traditional cherries, come with their own substantial health benefits—particularly when juiced.
Here are all the reasons to sip on tart cherry juice—especially after a tough workout or before bedtime. You’ll be mad you hadn’t tried it before.
4 tart cherry juice benefits for your health and well-being
1. Improved heart health
That’s right—tart cherry juice may protect your heart for the long term. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherry juice have been associated with improved blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels when consumed for 12 weeks. And, “specifically, tart cherries are rich in polyphenol anthocyanins, known for their anti-inflammatory properties and support of antioxidant systems that slow the aging process,” says Kelly Jones, RD.
2. It can help you sleep better
Tart cherry juice intake has also been associated with improved sleep duration and sleep quality in healthy adults. Why? It’s rich in melatonin, Jones says, “and melatonin is critical for healthy sleep-wake cycles.” While many turn to melatonin or magnesium supplements for more ZZZs, tart cherry juice may be a more natural alternative, she explains. (It’s beloved by functional medicine doctors for a reason.)
Looking for other bedtime eats and drinks? Check out these RD-approved picks:
3. It can support workout recovery
Adding tart cherry juice to a post-workout smoothie with some protein powder could be a great way to speed up muscle recovery. “Tart cherry juice may get the most attention with athletes as its antioxidant polyphenols have been associated with reduced pain and improved muscle recovery after both endurance and strength training,” says Jones. “It may benefit athletes most after their heavy training and adaptation period,” she adds.
But it’s not necessarily a one-and-done kind of deal. “From personal experience as a sports dietitian…more consistent intake can be helpful for both direct recovery benefits and enhanced sleep,” Jones says, especially for people who play professional sports who compete consistently for several months out of the year.
4. It might help with osteoarthritis symptoms
While more research is needed, one study indicated that participants drinking tart cherry juice versus taking a placebo reported modest symptom relief from knee pain due to osteoarthritis, though it’s not statistically significant. A more recent, slightly larger study from 2019 found that those drinking tart cherry juice daily reported improvements in mobility, pain, and quality of life, though—so the jury’s not out yet on its potential here.
Are there any downsides to tart cherry juice?
Like any fruit juice, tart cherry juice is high in natural sugars—without any fiber to slow down its absorption. (For example, Cheribundi 100% Tart Cherry Juice, $23 for 12, has 25 grams of sugar per eight-ounce serving.) Since your body treats all sugars the same, regardless of the source, it’s important not to overdo it on this or any juice. “Those concerned with blood sugar management should pair their tart cherry juice with a protein source such as yogurt or hard-boiled eggs to blunt blood sugar spikes, especially if taking before bed for sleep benefits,” Jones explains.
Ironically, despite the sugar content, tart cherry juice doesn’t taste sweet—which might be offputting to some. “Some aren’t pleased with the tart taste, but many brands will sweeten their beverages with apple juice to make it more palatable,” Jones says. If that is appealing to you, just check the labels on what you buy to ensure that the sugar content isn’t too high for your unique health needs.
How to best enjoy tart cherry juice
Given the sugar content, Jones says you can consume between eight to 16 ounces per day—with the higher end being optimal for athletes. Start with the eight ounces and go up from there, if desired.
There are several ways to enjoy tart cherry juice at home besides, you know, just pouring yourself a glass. “Mixing tart cherry juice as your liquid into a smoothie is a great way to balance the sugar with fat, fiber, and protein from other ingredients,” Jones says.
For athletes, it can be a great post-workout mixer for a favorite protein powder, as it provides the necessary carbohydrates and fluid for recovery, along with the potent antioxidants.
“You can also reduce the juice to a syrup to add to pancakes and in dressings,” Jones says, as another way to integrate it into your meals, too. Just heat some on the stovetop until it reaches a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens and evaporates.
There are so many healthy drinks to keep track of, from turmeric-spiked apple smoothies to OG lemon waters and green juices. But if you’re looking for a drink with extra heart-health benefits, it can’t hurt to sip on tart cherry juice every now and then.
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