Nutritional Composition of Cherries: A Diabetic-Friendly Fruit

Maraschino, sour, and sweet cherries, oh my! Cherries, with their beautifully vibrant red-hue and deliciously juicy flavor, are a summertime fan favorite for all ages.  Whether in baking, or eating them raw or canned, cherries can satisfy either a sweet tooth or give a burst of tartness like no other fruit can. But can people living with diabetes safely eat cherries? While it is a common belief that consuming cherries will cause a spike or fluctuation in blood sugar levels, there is a lot more that you need to be aware of before completely cutting out cherries from your nutritional meal plan.

Multiple animal studies have shown consuming a wide variety of fruits, including cherries, are beneficial to treating complications in type 2 diabetes. Cherries contain certain chemicals that give them their red color, carrying many health benefits. They may also help keep your blood sugar  levels under control and also help to prevent diabetes-related health complications.

Not all types of cherries provide you with the same benefits, however. Thus, it becomes even more important to be aware of each type’s nutritional benefits and effects.

From preventing cardiovascular ailments to aiding in exercise recovery, the nutritious  cherry is an amazing fruit with a lot to offer! Read on to discover the many benefits of cherries, tips to safely incorporate them into your nutritional meal plan, and side effects with which you need to be aware.

Cherries in bowl

Cherries: Types, Nutritional Info and Consumption Tips

People living with diabetes should be aware that there are different types of cherries, each having unique nutritional properties and offering different quantities of sugars, carbohydrates, and nutrients.  Listed below are the different types of cherries available with their nutritional information.

1. Sour Cherries

Sour cherries undergo a high-heat cooking process, which offers a unique tartness many people enjoy. Sour cherries have a very minimal amount of sugar, and the lowest amount of carbohydrates, making this type of cherry safe and healthy for consumption by people living with diabetes. A tip to try is to consume a small amount of sour cherries and monitor your sugar levels two hours after eating them. Gradually increase the amount of cherries eaten and test regularly to determine the optimal quantity you can safely consume without compromising your blood sugar levels.

Nutritional Info (per 100 g)

  • Calories: 50
  • Carbohydrates: 12.2 g
  • Fiber: 1.6 g
  • Vitamin C: 10 mg

2. Sweet (Fresh) Cherries

Sweet cherries are a delectably flavorful and juicy treat. Sweet cherries, however, contain a slightly higher quantity of carbohydrates or natural sugars than sour cherries.  Therefore, people living with diabetes should try to eat them moderately.  Again, start by eating a small portion of sweet cherries, then, test your blood sugar levels two hours after eating them. Continue to gradually increase the amount consumed and monitor their effect on your blood sugar levels to determine the optimal quantity you can safely eat without compromising your levels.

Nutritional Info (per 100 g)

  • Calories: 63
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
  • Fiber: 2.1 g
  • Vitamin C: 7 mg

3. Canned Cherries

Canned Cherries are a softer and sweeter variety of cherry that are usually packed in a sugar syrup. Canned cherries have the highest carbohydrates due to this sugar syrup in their packaging. Therefore, individuals living with diabetes should try to avoid canned cherries as they might cause a sudden spike in sugar levels and lead to unnecessary weight gain.  In some cases, you may be able to find canned cherries packed in water.  This would be the ideal choice, however, this type is rather hard to find in stores.

Nutritional Info (per 100 g)

  • Calories: 73
  • Carbohydrates: 18.8 g
  • Fiber: 1.4 g
  • Vitamin C: 2 mg

4. Maraschino Cherries

Maraschino cherries are extra-sweet cherries soaked and preserved in a sugar-based syrup. They are bleached, and dyed with artificial colors.  Consuming this variety of cherries should be avoided as much as possible as they may lead to health deterioration by people living with diabetes, or, otherwise healthy people, for that matter! 

Nutritional Info (per 100 g)

  • Calories: 165
  • Carbohydrates: 42 g
  • Vitamin C: 1 mg
  • Fiber: 5 g

5. Frozen Cherries

When fresh cherries are out of season, frozen cherries without added sugars are a great substitute!

Nutritional Info (1 cup)

  • Calories: 71
  • Carbohydrates: 17.1 g
  • Vitamin C: 2.6 mg
  • Fiber: 2.5 g

6. Dried Cherries

Dried cherries are another option, but you should be mindful of portion size due to the high concentration of sugars that occurs in the drying process. This also pertains to any other dried fruit.

            Nutritional Info (40 g)

  • Calories: 130
  • Carbohydrates: 32 g
  • Vitamin C: 0
  • Fiber: 1g

Beneficial Effects of Cherries on Diabetes

While there is the common belief that people living with diabetes should avoid sweet fruits like cherries as they might cause a blood sugar spike after eating them, this is only partially true. Moderation is key!  And, with all the health benefits cherries have to offer, they can be a great addition to your healthy meal plan!

Cherries have been shown to contain many health benefits that may help you manage your diabetes even more efficiently. For example, research shows that including fruits rich in polyphenolic compounds like anti-inflammatory anthocyanins into your nutritional meal plan may actually lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and improve insulin resistance.

Cherries and Blood Sugar Control: Exploring the Glycemic Index

Here are some other features that make cherries a suitable choice for people who are actively trying to manage their diabetes

  • Low GI Fruit: The Glycemic Index Level (GI) is a numeric level that shows how carbohydrate-laden foods may affect your blood sugar levels after consumption.  The higher the numeric level, the greater the chance of a spike. Sour cherries have a low GI score of 22, making them a safe choice to eat. On the other hand, sweet cherries have a GI score of 62, which puts them in the ‘Medium GI’ category. This does not mean, however, that one should avoid consuming them altogether. Instead, you may be better served to check with your health care team to see how you may incorporate sweet cherries into your meal plan safely, because low and medium GI foods do, in fact, help prevent high blood sugar levels long term.

Here’s a tip: if you pair cherries, or any fruit, for that matter, with a protein source this will help mitigate a possible spike.

Anti-inflammatory Benefits of Cherries: Potential Effects on Diabetes

  • Studies have shown that cherries are a powerful source of antioxidants. The anti-inflammatory compound Anthocyanin present in cherries gives it the rich red color, helps in increasing insulin production, and helps in regulating the blood sugar levels in patients affected by Type-2 diabetes. Cherries also offer anti-inflammatory properties due to a high concentration of polyphenols and vitamin C. These substances make pro-inflammatory factors inactive and help reduce inflammatory biomarkers. They protect against diabetes-related complications such as metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Cherries have also been shown to reduce inflammation in the liver-the main characteristic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Fiber Rich: Cherries are very rich in fiber. Did you know just ten cherries can provide you with 1.4 – 1.5 g of fiber which is almost a tenth of an adult’s recommended dietary allowance? It’s true! In addition, fiber delays the digestion process and prevents the carbohydrates from getting metabolized too quickly. As a result, there is no rapid blood sugar spike, making it safe for consumption by people living with diabetes.
  • Aid in Exercise Recovery: Did you know that athletes have been known to eat sour cherries for muscle recovery after workouts? You can, too!  A study shows that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenol compounds in tart cherry juice actually speed up strength and muscle recovery after exercise and reduce exercise-induced pain and inflammation in the joints.

Anti-inflammatory Benefits for Brain Health: Cognitive Function and Neurodegenerative Diseases

  •  Cherries contain plant compounds that may have brain-boosting capabilities. For example, the anthocyanins in cherries may help boost cognitive function, protect against Alzheimer’s Disease and prevent memory loss. Not only that, but cherries are a healthy source of tryptophan, an amino acid, which is essential for the production of serotonin, a hormone responsible for regulating mood and anxiety!
  • Improve Sleep Quality: You probably have heard of melatonin, a compound which can help you fall asleep faster. Did you know that cherries are rich in melatonin? Yes! The combination of melatonin and tryptophan, which can also induce sleep, work to produce serotonin to regulate your circadian rhythm. As a result, it helps to achieve better sleep quality! Nighty-night!
  • Potassium Rich: Fresh cherries contain a moderate amount of potassium, reducing the risk of developing gout.

What Happens if You Eat Cherries Every Day?

Eating cherries daily in moderation not only aids in promoting weight loss but also provides other health benefits you may be surprised to hear!  Did you know cherries act as an anti-ageing agent? They help maintain the body’s pH balance which can help give a healthy glow to your skin and hair! Cool, huh?

Side Effects of Eating Cherries

Cherries have a long list of benefits for your body, but they might cause some side effects too. For example, if you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to limit the number of cherries you eat as they can cause digestive distress. In addition, some people might be allergic to the salicylates present in cherries. Eating too many cherries trigger salicylate sensitivity, which can lead to diarrhea, gas, or bloating.  Also, because of their high fiber content, you may experience intestinal gas, abdominal cramps, or bloating, especially if you drastically increase your intake of cherries all at once. The key here is to slowly and moderately add cherries to your meal plan, so as to not cause ill effects.

Cherries are wonder fruits when it comes to managing diabetes. Although their sweetness might raise concerns over whether people living with diabetes should consume them, they are a safe choice and even recommended in specific diabetic diets, in moderate portions. While individuals living with diabetes may want to limit consumption of canned, maraschino, and dried cherries due to their high added sugar and carbohydrate content, the fresh, frozen, sour, and sweet cherries provide essential and abundant nutrients and antioxidants so beneficial to managing diabetes.

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