They found that a compound known as anthocyanin, responsible for giving cherries their deep, rich red colour, could be behind the health benefits.
Previous research has looked at the potential of pure anthocyanin compounds rather than foods containing anthocyanin.
Forty-eight male rats, bred for their susceptibility to high BP, high cholesterol and impaired glucose tolerance, were fed for 90 days on either a normal diet or one that included 1 per cent or 10 per cent cherries.
By the end of the study, the rats that received the cherry diets had lower levels of total cholesterol, by around 10mg/dL, and lower levels of triglyceride, by 6mg/dL, than the rats on the normal diet. Glucose and insulin levels were also lower in the rats on the cherry diets, by 20mg/dL and 2pg/mL respectively.
The findings, presented this week at the Experimental Biology conference in Washington, revealed that the rats that received cherries had a higher antioxidant capacity, indicated by a 0.09mmol/l increase in plasma trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC).
The researchers concluded that the next step would be to conduct a small trial in humans.