After an exhausting day, many of us rely on a glass of wine (or two) to relax and unwind. We all know about the hazards of too much alcohol – an increased risk of liver disease, digestive cancers, as well as breast and reproductive cancers in women and prostate cancer in men – but breaking out of the habit and finding a good substitute can be a challenge. These days I’m obsessed with finding microbe-friendly options for things like alcohol and dessert that taste as good as the real thing but deliver health benefits rather than hindrances. On a quest, I recently stumbled across tart cherry juice, which I’ve been enjoying a couple nights a week chilled, in a rimless red wine glass, with a couple slices of navel oranges for some additional zest.
Higher in antioxidants than sweet cherries, tart cherries are especially high in the antioxidant anthocyanin, which gives the fruit its purple pigmentation and provides disease-fighting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
And for the cherry on top (pun intended!), tart cherry juice contains melatonin; the hormone secreted by the brain’s pineal gland that helps control your sleep promoting circadian rhythm.
A 2012 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that eating tart cherries increased melatonin levels in the body, which resulted in improved sleep. Drinking concentrated tart cherry juice within 30 minutes of waking and 30 minutes before bed resulted in significant increases in total sleep time and efficiency in the study subjects; about 40 minutes longer sleep than the placebo group.
There’s scientific research that promotes tart cherry use for a host of other conditions, including insomnia, gout, jetlag, and post exercise recovery.
While I was simply looking for a red wine alternative that tasted good and wouldn’t give me a headache the next day, I was thrilled to find my new night-time ritual had some additional benefits. I recommend 1 cup of organic, no-sugar-added tart cherry juice 30 minutes to an hour before bed. But keep in mind that despite the potential benefits, tart cherry juice still has a lot of sugar and no fiber so limit your consumption to not more than a couple times a week.