Cherries Vs. Berries: A Nutritional Comparison

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It is well-established that all fruit contributes to a healthy diet, and contains thousands of micronutrients which benefit our bodies in a plethora of ways. However, several factors can affect which ones are best, especially when thinking of your characteristics and aims. Moreover, environmental factors can make a huge impact on our choices. This article will give you a full review of the nutritional profiles and health benefits of both cherries and berries, and whether one is more suited to your individual health goals! 

  • Both cherries and berries are packed full of nutrients, and both exhibit antioxidant effects
  • And benefits to cardiovascular health
  • Berries create smaller spikes in blood glucose levels
  • Cherries have greater effects on reducing inflammation and strengthening the  body’s immune response 

Introduction

Out of all fruits, cherries and berries are small but mighty. They are a popular choice due to their incredibly sweet taste, but also because of their diverse nutritional profiles. Both cherries and berries have a broad array of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that contribute to overall well-being. This article aims to provide a comprehensive nutritional comparison between cherries and berries, shedding light on their benefits and helping you make informed choices for a healthier lifestyle.

Cherries

Cherries, with their distinctive dark red colour, offer a great flavour and are packed with important micronutrients. Cherries are typically low in calories, making them a great snack for those wishing to reduce their caloric intake, whilst still enjoying their sweetness. Regarding vitamins and minerals, cherries contain vitamin C, potassium, and small amounts of B vitamins. However, the key to the cherry’s impact on human health is its high content of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants which are responsible for their vibrant colour.1 Anthocyanins have also been linked to several anti-inflammatory properties, and have also been noted to potentially counteract the outbreak of cancer in the body. These potent antioxidants have been extensively studied for their ability to offset inflammatory mechanisms, making cherries valuable in managing conditions related to chronic inflammation.2 This has been suggested throughout the current literature, as they have been demonstrated to reduce biomarkers that strongly correlate with inflammation, potentially alleviating symptoms associated with arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. 

These effects occur through several mechanisms. Firstly, anthocyanins have been shown to inhibit enzymes that are known to enhance inflammation, such as cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX). Both LOX and COX are heavily involved in the production of substances which induce the immune system’s inflammatory response. This includes both prostaglandins and leukotrienes. If the production of these inflammatory mediators is diminished, the response can be dampened, creating less inflammation in several body tissues. With this in mind, anthocyanins, and therefore increased consumption of cherries, may alleviate the further symptoms of inflammatory disorders. Their effect is essentially doubled by their ability to impact pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines, produced by the immune cells, can also increase inflammation in the body. Studies assessing the inflammatory cascade, have suggested that anthocyanins can downregulate their expression. By modulating the production of specific pro-inflammatory cytokines, anthocyanins ensure that the inflammatory response to specific triggers is less intense and shorter.3 

Additionally, inflammation is often associated with oxidative stress, in which there is an imbalance between reactive oxygen species and antioxidants. This can lead to irreparable cellular damage.4 Anthocyanins, as potent antioxidants, neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress, which further mitigates inflammation on a cellular level. Anthocyanins have been shown to influence the activity of immune cells, such as macrophages and T lymphocytes. These compounds can help balance and regulate the immune response to promote resolution of the inflammatory process. However, it is important to note that inflammation is a highly complex process in the body and has several contributory excess influences. For example, several foods can actively induce inflammation, such as red meat and refined sugar.5 

Therefore, consumption of cherries may not be adequate to offset the inflammation these foods cause, if they are also eaten in high quantities. Thus, it is recommended to assess the whole diet, however, the evidence does strongly suggest the benefit of anthocyanins. 

Moreover, these compounds may play an additional role in promoting cardiovascular health. Anthocyanins have been described to improve factors associated with heart health, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A 2016 review evaluated an increased dietary intake of anthocyanins and found several significant reductions in cardiovascular risk biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein and low-density lipoproteins.6 Furthermore, research suggests that anthocyanins may contribute to enhanced cognitive function and may have neuroprotective effects, potentially reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline.7 

Additionally, cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, which will have several impacts on overall health. One study illustrated how cherry juice improved overall sleep quality, and how participants consuming greater volumes of the juice had significantly higher melatonin levels.8 Overall, the health benefits of anthocyanins in cherries underscore the importance of incorporating this fruit into a well-balanced diet. 

Berries

The second fruit shown to improve several aspects of health is berries. The term berries include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Berries, like cherries, are low in calories and high in essential nutrients. They are rich in vitamins C and K, manganese, and dietary fibre. The standout feature of berries is the significant quantity of polyphenolic compounds, which contribute to their antioxidant properties. These compounds, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins, possess potent antioxidant properties. Therefore, berries have been found to combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals, which are implicated in various chronic diseases and ageing processes. Again, this is linked to both inflammation and cancer, with berry consumption also shown to reduce key biomarkers.9 

Studies suggest that the high polyphenolic content in berries contributes to improved cardiovascular health by promoting healthy blood pressure and reducing oxidative damage to blood vessels.10 Furthermore, polyphenols in berries, particularly flavonoids, have been linked to cognitive benefits, potentially enhancing memory, and reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline.11 These, like anthocyanins in cherries, polyphenolic compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, modulating the body's inflammatory response by also reducing COX levels, and contributing to the management of symptoms associated with many inflammatory conditions.12 

As mentioned previously, the cognitive benefits of berries are noteworthy, with research suggesting that regular consumption may help maintain brain function. Many studies have demonstrated their effect on both episodic and working memory.13 Studies suggest that regular intake of berries, particularly blueberries, is linked to enhanced memory performance and may slow down age-related cognitive decline. The flavonoids in berries are believed to exert their effects by promoting neuronal communication and supporting synaptic plasticity, proliferation and survival.15

Berries' impact on executive function and cognitive flexibility is another area of interest. Some research indicates that the polyphenols in berries may influence these cognitive processes, potentially aiding in tasks that require quick thinking, adaptability, and problem-solving skills.

Furthermore, these links between polyphenols and cognitive ability have been further researched in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease.14 However, these conditions are highly complex and multi-faceted, and more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms. Overall, the emerging evidence suggests that including berries in the diet may contribute to long-term brain health.

Cherries vs. berries: Is one better? 

When we compare cherries and berries, several factors must be considered. Calorically, both fruits are low, making them ideal for those intending to lose weight. However, calories are not always indicative of the health profile of a food. It's essential to consider the sugar content, as cherries tend to be slightly higher in natural sugars. This will create a higher spike in blood glucose levels when eating cherries, in comparison to eating berries. This is especially important to consider in those with diabetes, but also for those who can typically feel sleepy or lethargic after snacking or eating generally. Therefore, berries may be a better alternative, as they impact glucose levels less drastically. In terms of nutrient profiles, cherries and berries offer distinct advantages. Cherries contain anthocyanins, which contain all the aforementioned benefits, such as being anti-inflammatory. 

Whereas, berries boast a wider range of polyphenols, contributing to a variety of benefits to human health, including cognitive function and potential anti-cancer properties.

Health benefits, such as improved heart health, are common between the two fruits. Still, the properties unique to both fruits, emphasize and argue the importance of incorporating both into a balanced diet. 

Practical considerations

There are many practical considerations which affect the comparison between cherries and berries. The most impactful, more situational factor in choosing between the two is their seasonal availability. Typically, cherries are in season during the summer months, while berries have a more extended growing season, depending on the type.

Additionally, it is important to consider and compare the cost of each fruit, as the price of fresh cherries can vary, and certain berries may be more affordable depending on the region and time of year. Again, this is massively dependent on the time of year the fruits are being consumed. About incorporating fruit into your diet, it may be helpful to consider how they can be consumed not just in their natural, raw form. Both cherries and berries can be enjoyed fresh, frozen, or dried, and they can be incorporated into various dishes. Moreover, cherries are often found in many desserts, but these must be approached with caution, as they usually consist of cherry-flavoured additives, and are high in sugar. This also minimises their health benefits. 

On the whole, the fruits are both flexible, in terms of the dishes they can be added to. 

Summary 

To summarise, both cherries and berries are a great nutritious addition to your diet, each bringing multiple benefits. Cherries, with their anthocyanin-rich composition, may aid in reducing inflammation in the body and promoting better sleep. Whereas, berries have a unique diversity of polyphenols, which have been shown to contribute to cognitive health and are recognised to contradict the growth of cancerous cells. Various clinical studies and reviews strongly support their contribution to cardiovascular health. It is clear that not one fruit is better than the other, but that both have individual strengths. 

By eating more cherries and berries, you're not just enjoying their great taste and sweetness, but also elevating the nutrients which are abundant in both types of fruit, all of which are essential for optimal health.

References: 

  1. Kelley D, Adkins Y, Laugero K. A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 Mar 17;10(3):368. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872786/
  2. Ma Z, Du B, Li J, Yang Y, Zhu F. An Insight into Anti-Inflammatory Activities and Inflammation Related Diseases of Anthocyanins: A Review of Both In Vivo and In Vitro Investigations. International Journal of Molecular Sciences [Internet]. 2021 Oct 14;22(20):11076. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8540239/
  3. Kozłowska A, Dzierżanowski T. Targeting Inflammation by Anthocyanins as the Novel Therapeutic Potential for Chronic Diseases: An Update. Molecules. 2021 Jul 20;26(14):4380.
  4. Pizzino G, Irrera N, Cucinotta M, Pallio G, Mannino F, Arcoraci V, et al. Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity [Internet]. 2017 Jul 27;2017(8416763):1–13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/
  5. Snead L. Anti Inflammatory Diet [Internet]. www.hopkinsmedicine.org. 2023. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/anti-inflammatory-diet
  6. Reis JF, Monteiro VVS, de Souza Gomes R, do Carmo MM, da Costa GV, Ribera PC, et al. Action mechanism and cardiovascular effect of anthocyanins: a systematic review of animal and human studies. Journal of Translational Medicine [Internet]. 2016 Nov 15 [cited 2020 Jan 4];14(1). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5111351/
  7. Feng RC, Dong YH, Hong XL, Su Y, Wu XV. Effects of anthocyanin-rich supplementation on cognition of the cognitively healthy middle-aged and older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition Reviews. 2022 Aug 12;
  8. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European Journal of Nutrition. 2011 Oct 30;51(8):909–16.
  9. Bouyahya A, Omari NE, El Hachlafi N, Jemly ME, Hakkour M, Balahbib A, et al. Chemical Compounds of Berry-Derived Polyphenols and Their Effects on Gut Microbiota, Inflammation, and Cancer. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) [Internet]. 2022 May 20;27(10):3286. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35630763/
  10. Khurana S, Venkataraman K, Hollingsworth A, Piche M, Tai TC. Polyphenols: Benefits to the Cardiovascular System in Health and Aging. Nutrients [Internet]. 2013 Sep 26;5(10):3779–827. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820045/
  11. Vauzour D. Dietary Polyphenols as Modulators of Brain Functions: Biological Actions and Molecular Mechanisms Underpinning Their Beneficial Effects. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2012;2012:1–16.
  12. Hussain T, Tan B, Yin Y, Blachier F, Tossou MCB, Rahu N. Oxidative Stress and Inflammation: What Polyphenols Can Do for Us? Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity [Internet]. 2016;2016(7432797):1–9. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2016/7432797/
  13. de Vries K, Medawar E, Korosi A, Witte AV. The Effect of Polyphenols on Working and Episodic Memory in Non-pathological and Pathological Aging: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2022 Jan 26;8.
  14. Izabela Grabska-Kobyłecka, Szpakowski P, Aleksandra Król, Dominika Książek-Winiarek, Andrzej Kobyłecki, Andrzej Głąbiński, et al. Polyphenols and Their Impact on the Prevention of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Development. Nutrients. 2023 Aug 4;15(15):3454–4.
  15. Raziel Alejandro Arias-Sánchez, Torner L, Bertha Fenton Navarro. Polyphenols and Neurodegenerative Diseases: Potential Effects and Mechanisms of Neuroprotection. Molecules [Internet]. 2023 Jul 14;28(14):5415–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10385962/

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Mia - BS (Hons), UCL, London

Mia is a Medical Writer, specialising in Market Access, with a strong academic background in biomedical and life sciences. She has experience in both project management of pharmaceutical publications and medical affairs, as well as prior roles in various clinical settings.

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